What Is Mac Recovery Mode and How To Use It

What Is Mac Recovery Mode and How To Use It

If your Mac doesn’t start normally, it’s likely that its startup disk is damaged or corrupted. Well, the reasons behind this could be a corrupt file or a slight power surge that you may not be aware of. In either case, how macOS is recovered can be instrumental in resolving these issues without resorting to extreme measures like reinstalling macOS.

With the Mac Recovery Mode function, you can resolve this issue and repair the startup disk, restore from a backup after a fatal error that prevented it from starting properly, or reinstall macOS.

We will explain what macOS recovery mode is and the steps necessary to use it when diagnosing and solving problems, or to completely reinstall macOS.

What is Mac recovery mode

Boot mac safe mode when using the definition

Mac recovery mode is a special mode in macOS that loads native recovery tools that help you restore from a Time Machine backup, get online help, reinstall macOS, or erase a hard drive , etc.

Recovery tools are loaded from a special disk partition containing a recovery image and a copy of the macOS installer.

If you can’t recover your computer by other means, recovery mode is handy for diagnosing disk problems, installing the previous macOS running on your Mac, or getting online help.

Mac recovery mode has four main features:

  • Restore from Time Machine backup: Time Machine copies all of your files, operating system, and settings, which you can then copy to an external hard drive and use it to restore data to your Mac. This erases the current disc.
  • Disk Utility: This function analyzes, checks and repairs your discs from the recovery screen in the event of a problem. It is a faster and more convenient method than erasing and reinstalling your computer.
  • Reinstall macOS: This feature erases the current operating system and its data, replacing it with a clean version. Before using it, download your files to iCloud or other storage, then reinstall the operating system.
  • Get help online: This feature allows you to use Safari to resolve any Internet connection or any other problem you are having with your computer.

When to use recovery mode in macOS

Mac recovery mode how to use the application

The Recovery Mode tool debuted with OS X 10.7 Lion in 2010. It contains the latest version of macOS that you have installed, so that you can resolve problems with your computer. You may never need to use it unless you want to do the following:

  • Wipe your computer to pass it on or sell it. The recovery mode allows you to erase it and delete all your data and your Apple ID.
  • Troubleshoot problems such as startup failures.
  • Use Disk Utility to perform repairs when there are problems with your disk, or the Disk Utility tool was unable to repair problems with your drive.
  • Revert to an older version of macOS.
  • Perform a fresh installation of macOS to resolve any issues that are slowing it down.

  • Erase your disc.
  • Internet connectivity troubleshooting.
  • You want to restore your Mac from a Time Machine backup.

How to use recovery mode in macOS

Step 1: Boot into recovery mode by shutting down your Mac and then restarting it. During startup, press and hold the Command and “R” keys to enter recovery mode.

Mac recovery mode how to use the restart mac command r

2nd step: When you see the Apple logo, a rotating globe, or any other splash screen, release the Command and “R” keys. Enter a Mac password (administrator password or user firmware) if prompted and go to the next step.

Mac recovery mode how to use password

Stage 3: If you see the macOS utilities window, it means that the startup is finished. Here you will see the four services offered by recovery mode: restore from Time Machine backup, reinstall macOS, get online help and disk utility. There are additional utilities, including Network Utility, Startup Security Utility, and Terminal in the Utilities menu on the menu bar.

Mac recovery mode how to use the macos utilities window

Step 4: Exit recovery mode by going to the Apple menu and click Restart or Stop. Before exiting, you can choose a different boot disk from the Apple menu.

Mac recovery mode how to use the restart menu

There are different key combinations to use at startup, depending on what you want to do with recovery mode. The Command + R shortcut helps you install the latest version of macOS that you had on your Mac before the problem. The Option / Alt + Command + R shortcut works when upgrading to the latest version of macOS compatible with your Mac. The Shift + Option + Command + R shortcut works when installing the macOS version of your Mac or the nearest available version, if it is not available for download.

What to do if you can’t boot into macOS recovery mode

If macOS Recovery does not work, force it to start in Internet recovery mode. You can do this manually by pressing and holding Option / Alt + Command + R or Shift + Option + Command + R at startup.

Mac recovery mode how to use the opt alt r command

When you do this, you will see a rotating globe instead of the usual Apple logo at startup.

If that doesn’t help booting the Mac, try booting using an external Mac boot disk or a bootable installer.

Note: To use Internet recovery, get online help, or reinstall the macOS utility, you must have an Internet connection.

When to use Internet Recovery

Boot into Mac Safe Mode when using Internet Recovery

Internet Recovery comes in handy when your Mac cannot create a partition for Recovery HD, either because the disk is partitioned with Boot Camp Assistant and modified, or you are using a RAID volume that does not support the recovery partition.

Even if the partition was successfully created, recovery mode may not access it due to serious system errors or damage to the drive.

In such cases, your Mac will automatically start Internet Recovery, but if there is a working recovery partition, you will not enter this mode. It reinstalls the original macOS version that came with your Mac – the factory installed version. And this may not be the latest version.

Internet Recovery uses code built into your computer, which includes an image for the specific operating system. When you enter this mode, a request for the correct reinstallation codes is sent by forwarding this image to Apple servers.

Boot from Internet recovery mode takes longer than it would with normal partition based recovery. In addition, it requires an Internet connection, so make sure yours is solid and stable and that your Mac is sufficiently charged.

Restore your beloved Mac to full health

Recovery mode is the last method to use when troubleshooting startup problems with your Mac. Regular analysis of problems before they escalate into more serious problems is a better way to make sure you don’t have to use this tool anytime soon.


If you’re having trouble updating or restoring your Apple TV, switching to recovery mode may fix the problem. Learn how to do it in our next article.

Last updated on February 12, 2020

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