Today’s Question: Can a [Lightroom] catalog currently on an external drive just be moved to a location on an internal drive, removing the catalog file from the external drive? Will this create a problem?
Tim’s Quick Answer: You can indeed move a catalog to a different location, such as from an external hard drive to an internal hard drive. As long as you move the entire folder containing the catalog, you’ll be able to re-open that catalog after moving it, with no problems at all.
More Detail: The files associated with your Lightroom catalog can be stored on an internal or external hard drive, and you can move the catalog files from one location to another as needed. Naturally I don’t recommend moving your catalog on a regular basis, as doing so can lead to a degree of confusion in your workflow. But if circumstances warrant moving a catalog, it can most certainly be done.
The process of moving your Lightroom catalog is relatively straightforward. First you need to know where the catalog folder actually is, which you can determine in the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom. Then close Lightroom, at which point you can move the folder containing your catalog files.
Out of an abundance of caution, I recommend copying the folder containing your catalog files (rather than moving it) and then renaming the original version to make it clear that it is now just a backup copy of your catalog. For example, you could add the word “BACKUP” to the beginning of the folder name for the original folder after you’ve copied that folder to a new location.
Once you have the catalog folder in the new location, you can launch Lightroom. You’ll receive an indication that the catalog couldn’t be found, since you’ve moved (or renamed) the folder containing the catalog files Lightroom is looking for. Simply direct Lightroom to open the catalog file (the file with the “lrcat” filename extension) from the new location and you’ll be back to working with your catalog, even though the catalog has been moved.
Note that the catalog references the specific location for all of your photos. When you move a catalog, that catalog will still reference the original location for your photos. So as long as you haven’t moved any photos outside the context of Lightroom, after you open a newly moved catalog, all of your photos will still be right where Lightroom expects to find them.