How to use Recovery mode on Mac

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11 min read
Key takeaways:
  • To boot an Intel-based Mac in Recovery mode: Shut down your Mac. Press and hold Command + R, then press the power button. Release Command + R when you see the Apple logo or another image.
  • To boot a Mac with Apple silicon in Recovery mode: Shut down your Mac. Press and hold the power button until you see the startup options screen.

Curious about what macOS Recovery mode is all about? It's a handy feature built right into your Mac, perfect for recovering your system from all sorts of tricky situations. Say, you need to repair the internal storage device or tweak security settings, Recovery mode to the rescue! Plus, you can use it to reinstall macOS or restore files through the Mac Time Machine backup.

Knowing how to boot your Mac into Recovery mode can be a real lifesaver, making it a breeze to fix files or reinstall the macOS base system. In this article, we're going to explore all there is to know about Mac Recovery mode in a friendly, easy-to-understand way.

What is Recovery mode on Mac?

As the name suggests: Mac Recovery mode is designed to recover your Mac. Specifically, it's a software tool that loads before macOS starts, so you can fix your Mac even if you can't boot the operating system.

Why use macOS Recovery

There are a number of uses for macOS Recovery tool. Below are a few of them

  • You want to sell your Mac. When you sell your Mac, it's important to erase all your data, including your Apple ID. Recovery mode is a valuable tool for doing just that.
  • You need to fix a problem on a Mac. Recovery mode lets you boot your computer with minimal resources so you can troubleshoot problems.
  • You need to use Disk Utility. If there's a problem with your Mac's hard drive, you can use Recovery mode to boot into Disk Utility to fix it.
  • Restore from a Time Machine backup. Recovery mode makes it easy to restore your system from a Time Machine backup.

How to restart Mac in Recovery mode

Before we get into instructions on how to enter Recovery mode on a Mac, it’s important to mention that the procedures will be different for Intel-based and M1 Macs. Let us explain how to find out what type of processor you have.

On Mac computers with Apple silicon, System Settings > About This Mac displays an item called Chip, followed by the name of the chip.

On Mac computers with an Intel processor, System Settings > About This Mac displays an item called Processor, followed by the name of an Intel processor.

Reboot M1 Mac in Apple Recovery mode

Now, let’s see how to restart your Mac in Recovery mode if you are using an Apple silicon machine.

  1. Shut down your Mac.
  2. Press the power button on your device. Hold until you see Loading startup options on your screen.
  3. Click Options > Continue.
  4. Enter password for the admin account on your Mac.

Start Intel Mac in OSX Recovery mode

Here's how to start your Intel-based Mac in Recovery mode:

  1. Click the Apple logo at the top left corner of your screen and then find and click Restart...
  2. Press and hold Command + R keys until you see the startup screen.
  3. Enter password for your Mac if required.
  4. If you have several volumes, select the one you want to recover.
  5. If there are multiple accounts on your device, select an admin one and enter the password for it to proceed.

Depending on what you want to do, there are different key combinations you can use to boot into Recovery mode.

Command + R

Use this to install the latest version of macOS you had installed on your Mac (it won’t install a newer version if you haven’t upgraded). Note that if you’re selling or giving away a Mac running OS X El Capitan or earlier, you should also use Command + R – this will ensure that the installation is not associated with your Apple ID.

Option/Alt + Command + R

Use this to upgrade to the latest version of macOS compatible with your Mac.

Shift + Option + Command + R

This will install the version of macOS that came with your Mac, or the closest version if it’s not available for download.

How to start MacBook Pro in Recovery mode over the internet

If the local recovery is corrupted or inaccessible, you may need to use internet recovery. Using this method, you can load recovery utilities from Apple’s servers. Here's how you can do it:

For Intel-based Macs:

  1. Shut down your Mac completely.
  2. Press the Power button or Touch ID button and immediately press and hold Command + Option + R or Command + Shift + Option + R.
  3. Hold until a spinning globe appears on the screen with the message “Starting Internet Recovery.” It may take some time.
  4. When a Wi-Fi menu appears, select Wi-Fi and enter your Wi-Fi password if prompted. Starting your Mac in internet Recovery mode requires a network connection to load tools from Apple’s servers.
  5. Wait until your Mac boots into internet Recovery. Make sure your Mac is fully charged, as this can take minutes or hours, depending on your internet speed.

For M1 Macs:

In fact, on Apple silicon Macs, the internet Recovery mode has been combined with standard macOS Recovery mode. So booting into Mac internet Recovery on an M1 MacBook is no different than booting into standard Recovery. In both cases, you need an internet connection.

Turn on your Mac by pressing and holding the Touch ID button for a few seconds. Click the Wi-Fi icon to make sure the network is available. Then click Options and Continue to enter the macOS internet Recovery mode on M1.

Alternate choices available within Recovery mode

Once you've put your Mac into Recovery mode, you can do a number of things with it. Let's take a look at some of them. 

Use Terminal in macOS Recovery

Here’s how to access Terminal from within macOS Recovery mode:

  1. Start in Recovery mode as described above.
  2. Then click Utilities in the menu bar.
  3. Click Terminal.

Access Startup Security Utility

This is a critical setting if you’re using a T2 Mac (which, as of 2018, many Intel Macs are), because you need to make sure you can boot from an external media before you can use a bootable installer.

Here’s how to open Startup Security Utility:

  1. Turn on your Mac, then press and hold Command + R right after you see the Apple logo. Your Mac will boot from macOS Recovery mode.
  2. When you’re prompted to choose a user whose password you know, do it. Then click Next and enter the administrator password. 
  3. When you see the macOS Utilities window, choose Utilities > Startup Security Utility from the menu bar.
  4. You’ll be prompted to authenticate. Click Enter macOS password, then choose an administrator account and enter the password.

Access Network Utility

Network Utility gives you access to tools and information to help you troubleshoot your network connections. Click the Network Utility option to test ping on your Mac.

Restore from Time Machine backup

You can use Mac Restore mode to restore your Mac from a Time Machine backup. This allows you to return your Mac to a point in time when you know it was working. It can also help you recover files you've accidentally deleted.

View your recovery log

As the name implies, the recovery log records messages logged by macOS Recovery mode. In Recovery mode, go to Window > Recovery Log. You can then filter messages or search for specific text. You can also save the recovery log to a file, which might be useful if you need help with Mac problems.

macOS Recovery mode: Final thoughts 

Mastering macOS Recovery mode is a key skill for any Mac user. Whether you're preparing to sell your Mac, troubleshooting, or restoring from a Time Machine backup, Recovery mode is an indispensable tool. Understanding the nuances of Recovery mode for different Mac models – Intel-based or Apple silicon – will help you navigate these processes smoothly. We hope that this guide will help you with that.

And remember, that regular maintenance and backups are essential for a healthy Mac. Tools like Get Backup Pro , Chronosync Express, and CleanMyMac X can make these tasks easier, keeping your data safe and your Mac running smoothly. The best part? You can find these and 240+ other apps on Setapp. Explore the tools we mentioned along with numerous other apps under a single Setapp subscription! What’s more, you can try out Setapp and the tools in it with a 7-day free trial and see if it fits your needs.

FAQ

How to exit Recovery mode on Mac?

To exit macOS Recovery, just restart your device. You can also just shut down your device. If you need to select a different startup disk, click on the Apple menu, then select Startup Disk and choose your desired startup disk. Click Restart. If your device restarted as part of the Time Machine restoration or macOS reinstall, the restart will exit recovery mode as well.

Can I restart a Mac into Recovery mode without a keyboard?

Since the process requires you to press key combinations to enter macOS Recovery, you’ll need a keyboard to perform this action. If your laptop’s keyboard isn’t working, you can try to attach an external keyboard to see if that would help.

What to do if my Mac won’t boot into Recovery mode?

If your Mac is too old and doesn’t have a recovery mode or your keyboard is not working, you might not be able to boot your computer in Recovery. We’ve found a few solutions you can try:

  • Restart your Mac and try to enter Recovery again as outlined above.
  • Check if your keyboard is working or try connecting an external keyboard and booting your device in Recovery that way. If you are using an external keyboard, make sure it’s connected properly.
  • Load your Mac in Safe mode, restart, and try to boot in Recovery again.
  • If your system is damaged for some reason, but you happen to have a Time Machine backup, you can try to restore it to your device and see if your system works well enough to enter Recovery after a Time Machine restoration.
  • In the case of your Mac’s Recovery partition being damaged or absent (e.g. on older Macs), you may want to try and create a bootable installer to reinstall a macOS on your device from there.
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