Open Directory home folders missing after Catalina upgrade

New Contributor III

Working with a teacher right now who administers a Mac lab at their high school. Currently in a panic because the students home folders appear to be gone. Hoping someone can give us a nod in the right direction on this.

The setup pre-Catalina:
- Mac OSX 10.11.6
- Server App (5.7 I believe)
- Student accounts created and managed through Open Directory, they appear to have had local home folders on the server
- Students would connect to their home folders from the lab Macs via SMB/AFP

What the upgrade process looked like:
- Originally installed 10.12.6 so they could use Adobe CC 2019 but something didn't work right with Adobe so they moved up
- Installed 10.14 but then Server app wouldn't allow them to update
- Installed 10.15, updated Server app, and set up file sharing for their main file shares

System Preferences > Users & Groups... you can view all of the expected user accounts and see that their home folder is set to /Users/<shortname> but browsing out to /Users only returns the single local admin account.

I created a test account for myself via Open Directory and it created a home folder for me at /Users/the_lapin.

Right now it looks like all of their students (and the preupgrade content of the admin account) home folders are gone.

I encouraged a full backup but teacher resources don't allow for a spare drive to hold a bootable backup. They did run carbon copy cloner though and cloned to a thunderbolt drive with all of the big projects but the /Users folder appears to be empty in that location as well.

Have I missed some detail with how Catalina upgrades and shifts data around while creating the System / Data volumes? Where else should we be looking?


New Contributor III

Ok, the main panic is over.

We realized that a year or two ago the /Users folder was offloaded to an external drive and a symlink was setup to point /Users to /Volumes/Users. But, Catalina doesn't like this. The Users volume refused to mount on the server but other Macs could mount it without issue by physically connecting it. Right now we're in the process of offloading all of the user folders off of the external to another Mac so we can recreate the partition, then move the data back in place.

In the meantime though I recalled hearing that Catalina wasn't going to allow symbolic links, so I assume the existing one pointing /Users to /Volumes/Users is what was preventing that volume from mounting. They will still need to host the Users folders on the external hard drive, but without symbolic links how can I set that up?

I've dug through the man page for synthetic.conf a bit and created a synthetic.conf file in /etc pointing foo to /Volumes/ExternalName/foo but upon restart the Mac hangs then shuts down during the apfs_get_firmlink_target_vnode steps. Obviously I'm doing something wrong in setting up the synthetic.conf file but after trying three times I'm still not seeing where the issue is.

I'm building the synthetic.conf file using sublime text, it's formatted like this:
foo (tab character) /Volumes/ExternalName/foo

Any ideas what I'm doing wrong? Is there another way to build a symlink in Catalina to host Users on an external volume?