Four methods for accessing recovery mode in OS X

HardDriveIconXAccessing Recovery Mode in OS X may be necessary for restoring from a backup, and reinstalling OS X, among other low-level administrative tasks. In most cases, your Mac will have a local recovery partition based on the current OS X installation, that you can access; however, there may be instances where this will not work. For those who need to access Recovery Mode for a particular Mac, here are all of the way to go about doing this.

Standard On-Disk Recovery

This first approach is the most common way, and assumes you have a basic OS X installation on a local hard drive (internal, or external USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt):

  1. Restart your Mac.
  2. Hold Command-R when you hear the boot chimes.
  3. Release the keys when you see Apple symbol and progress bar.

Internet Recovery

If you cannot access local recovery for any reason, then Internet Recovery is another option, but does require you have an active internet connection (with a faster connection being preferred, as your Mac will need to download a few hundred megabytes of recovery disk image information):

  1. Restart your Mac.
  2. Hold Option-Command-R when you hear the boot chimes.
  3. Release the keys when you see the globe symbol and progress bar.

Time Machine Recovery

If you have a local Time Machine backup (ie, a USB, Thunderbolt, or FireWire hard drive you attach to your computer for backups), then you can use the recovery mode image that is created on this disk. This is particularly useful if your boot drive is damaged, and you do not have a useful internet connection:

  1. Restart your Mac.
  2. Hold Option when you hear the boot chimes.
  3. At the boot menu, attach your Time Machine drive.
  4. Choose your Time Machine drive when it appears.
  5. Optionally provide your Time Machine drive password, if the drive is encrypted.
  6. Choose the Recovery drive to boot from.

Note that you can do a similar routine with the backup drives created and maintained by system cloning tools, but you have to first be sure these tools create and update recovery partition information on the backup drive (sometimes an optional setting for cloning programs).

Dedicated Recovery Drive

Apple supports creating a bootable recovery drive from the OS X installer. With prior versions of OS X you needed to use Disk Utility or Apple’s dedicated recovery utility for doing this; however, with more recent versions of OS X, including Yosemite and El Capitan, you can use the Terminal to create an external installation drive that can be used as a recovery disk. With this disk created, you can boot to it as you would any secondary boot drive:

  1. Restart your Mac.
  2. Hold Option when you hear the boot chimes.
  3. Attach your drive to your Mac.
  4. Select it when it appears at the boot manager screen.

6 thoughts on “Four methods for accessing recovery mode in OS X

  1. Paul Majewski

    DiskMaker X 5 will also create a bootable recovery disk. I have mine on a 8 gB Sandisk thumb drive.

  2. MaX

    Why use a third-party application to create a bootable recovery disk? Why not just use the Apple Mac OS X installer to create it? Is there any advantage of any method? Bootable disk size?

  3. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    The easiest way to make a bootable installer drive is with the free utility DiskMaker X, You do need a copy of the OS X installer, of course, as you do with the Terminal procedure.

    However, I also recommend DiskWarrior 5, which comes with a little app called DiskWarrior Recovery Maker. Besides the usual suite of utilities you get with Recovery HD and the OS X installer, it adds DiskWarrior to the list, which makes your recovery drive considerably more powerful. This is most likely to appeal to people who are already fans of DiskWarrior. If you have an earlier version of DiskWarrior you can get version 5, with it’s own bootable thumb drive, for the price of the upgrade. The thumb drive can boot older versions of OS X back to X 10.5.8, including on PPC Macs. The drive you create with the app will boot with any Mac compatible with the version of OS X you use to create the drive.

    In regard to system cloning tools, Carbon Copy Cloner is particularly good at creating a Recovery HD partition when you clone an OS X drive.

    By the way, I was unaware that Time Machine included a Recovery HD image. Thanks Topher, for the tip. You never know when that information will come in handy.

  4. darrenoia

    Any tips for people running “roll your own” Fusion Drives? I knew when I created it that I wouldn’t have a recovery partition. But I didn’t know that I’d be unable to even enter internet recovery mode. Even waiting until right after the startup chime with Command-R does nothing for me.

    1. darrenoia

      Should have read your other linked article on Recovery Mode before posting — my 2009 iMac isn’t eligible to use it.

      This site is the greatest at providing info you just can’t find anywhere else. Thanks!

Comments are closed.