How to access Recovery Mode in OS X

HelpIconXRecovery mode in OS X is a special boot options that allows you to run repair and reinstallation tools for your system, in addition to setting a firmware password, if needed.

Through the development of OS X, these tools have been provided in several different forms, and subsequently several different approaches for loading them.

DVD installation

If your system came with a gray recovery DVD, or if you purchased a retail copy of OS X on DVD, then you can use either of these discs to run recovery routines. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Insert your recovery DVD and reboot the system
  2. Hold the C key when your system sounds the boot chimes

After doing this, the system may take a while to load the recovery tools, but they should eventually show up. Note that you may need to access some from a Utilities menu in the standard OS X installer application that loads.

Local Recovery

Recovery HD in OS X

The recovery drive contains a number of tools for reinstalling OS X, setting firmware passwords, and resetting system account passwords (click for larger view).

Starting with OS X Lion, Apple introduced a local 650MB recovery partition with standard OS X installations, that contains a recovery boot image. In addition to supporting features like FileVault disk encryption, this partition contains all the tools necessary to reinstall or recover OS X, in addition to features like Safari access for looking up help, if needed. To load local recovery, follow these steps:

  1. Reboot your Mac
  2. Hold the Command-R keys down when you hear the boot chimes

When Recovery loads, you will see a tools window with options to reinstall OS X, recover from backup, Disk Utility, and Safari. In addition, tools for firmware passwords and account password resets are available in the Utilities menu.

Internet Recovery

Starting in 2010, Apple introduced its Internet Recovery service, which allows a system to download the contents of the Recovery HD partition from Apple’s servers, instead of having to load the recovery tools locally. This option allows a system to run these tools in the event its hard drive has been completely wiped or otherwise does not have recovery tools on it.

To load Internet Recovery, you need to be connected to a non-enterprise WPA/WPA2-secured Wi-Fi network, and then follow the steps above for Local Recovery but instead hold Option-Command-R when starting up. When you do this, you will see a spinning globe appear as the system downloads the recovery tools from Apple.

Note that Internet Recovery is only supported on the systems in the following list, and later:

  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Early 2011)
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch, Early 2011)
  • MacBook Pro (17-inch, Early 2011)
  • iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011)
  • iMac (27-inch, Mid 2011)
  • MacBook (13-inch, Mid 2010)
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2010)
  • Mac mini (Mid 2010)
  • MacBook Pro (15-inch and 17-inch, Mid 2010)
  • iMac (21.5-inch and 27-inch, Mid 2010)
  • MacBook Air (11-inch and 13-inch, Late 2010)

4 thoughts on “How to access Recovery Mode in OS X

  1. Pingback: From the forums: Create a boot disk from the OS X installer | MacIssues

  2. Brian Caldwell

    For those that are uncertain or just plain don’t know if they have a recovery partition or not, here’s a way to find out:

    1) Using Terminal, type: df /
    This will list the mounted filesystems and the amount used of each. What is of interest is the line that has just “/” in the right column labeled “Mounted on”. For that line, the left column labeled “Filesystem” will show which device the root folder is on. It will show something like /dev/disk0s2. Disk drives are labeled as disks (the /disk0) and slices, or partitions, (the s2 suffix). So, /dev/disk0s2 means disk 0 slice 2.

    2) Using Terminal again, type: sudo gpt -r show -l /dev/disk0 (or whatever disk number you found above; the slice number is ignored)
    The option after the word show in the command is hyphen lower-case L. This will list the contents of the partition table. In the column labeled “contents”, you should see one or more entries that begin with “GPT part”. One of them should have the name of your computers’ primary disk drive, e.g. Mac HD. If there is another entry that has “Recovery HD” in it’s name, then you have a recovery partition.


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