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I'm setting up a new Linux (Mint Cinnamon 19.1) on a new machine. My old machine is very similar hardware-wise and also runs Linux (Mint Cinnamon 16). I have a ton of settings for the system and individual programs (zsh, Sublime Text, Double Commander and and and) amassed over time; this got me thinking:

  • Can I just so copy everything in the home directory from the old to new computer?

  • Is there any best practice that makes this migration less of a painful chore?

  • Given that this is happening on a netbook with tiny internal SSD, I want to put all my personal stuff on a removable SD (that I plan to always have inserted); can I symlink my homedirectory? Or mount a removable disk as home directory? What would happen if I removed the disk? Would it help if setup a secondary user with home on the internal disk for that case?

  • Is there such a concept as a 'portable home directory' in Linux (one that is kept on an SD/USB medium to be used in more than a single machine)?

  • An alternative procedure would be to keep the primary user that is set up during system installation as a fallback and to log in as a secondary user.

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Given both systems are the same architecture(x86-64, I assume) and running close versions of the same distro, you shouldn't have a problem just doing the install with the same username as the previous machine and copying over the whole home directory onto the new machine.

As you may be aware, Linux frequently makes use of dotfiles to manage user-specific configuration to programs, which are stored in the user's home directory. You may also consider implementing some form of dotfile management to facilitate the move.

On the whole, this question has a broad nature to it since your personalized machine could hold individual configuration in the tiniest cracks of every file on the system. You may have personalized etc files, custom binaries in /usr/local/bin, etc. Only you know your system in its entirety. Further, there isn't really a standardized best practice when it comes to migrating from one system to another. Although, in particular, I would advise against having the home directory on an external SSD since this may cause you a lot more headache than it's worth, unfortunately. See first answer here.

Ultimately, when it comes to the home directory, copying and moving it should be a trivial affair if it's to a near-identical machine that has the same kind of CPU and a relatively similar distro version. You might wish to peruse the Ubuntu docs article on home directory migrations since it touches on a lot of relevant points like custom partitioning, mounting, etc. though not with the exact same goal as yourself.

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