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[Tutorial]How to Install Older Versions of macOS/OS X

Updated on Wednesday, May 11, 2022

iBoysoft author Amanda Wong

Written by

Amanda Wong
Professional tech editor

Approved by

Jessica Shee

Three Ways to Download And Install Older Versions of macOS/OS X

Summary: This post walks you through three ways to install an older version of macOS/OS X on your MacBook Air/Pro/iMac, including Time Machine, Recovery mode, and a bootable installer.

install older version of Mac os

It is recommended to keep your Mac updated to the latest version of macOS to maintain the security, stability, and compatibility, improve the performance of your Mac and experience the newly added features. 

However, the latest macOS Monterey or the currently installed one may fail to satisfy you, such as the Mac runs slowly after update, it is not compatible with the software you prefer to use, etc. Thus, you want to install an older version of macOS on your Mac. Then, this post is right for you. Stay tuned to know more.

Table of Contents:

What version of macOS can my Mac run

In the first place, you need to check whether the earlier version of macOS you want to install supports running on your Mac. The earliest version of macOS your Mac can run is the one that came with the Mac. 

If you bought a Mac shipped with macOS Catalina, you can not reinstall macOS Mojave on it. As for Apple Silicon Mac with macOS Big Sur installed when leaving the factory, only macOS Big Sur and later versions are compatible due to the transition from Intel x86 architecture to ARM architecture.

But not all the macOS versions newer than the one that came with your Mac can be installed. Apple drops support for older Macs when releasing new macOS. For a MacBook Air before 2012, the macOS Mojave, an older version of macOS compared with Monterey, can not run on it.

Therefore, it's necessary to check the compatibility between your Mac model and the macOS you are going to install. You can identify your Mac model from the Apple menu > About This Mac > Overview, it shows the Mac model info such as MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2020), then visit the following links to check compatibility:

Back up Mac and erase Mac before downgrading macOS

If you start to directly install macOS after downloading the installer, it won't succeed. Because you can not install an earlier version on the top of the current one. You need to completely erase your Mac startup disk before installing an earlier version of macOS or OS X with Time Machine or the Recovery mode.

Bear in mind that formatting Macintosh hard drive will erase all your contents on the Mac. Thus, you'd better back up your Mac before wiping the drive. You can choose to backup Mac with Time machine, upload important files to cloud storage, or transfer them to external storage. In this way, you can get your files back after reinstalling macOS.

erase Macintosh HD

Install older macOS With a Time Machine backup

If you have backed up your Mac with Time Machine before you update to the current macOS, you can restore Mac to the previous macOS with the Time Machine backup. Here's how:

  1. Connect your Time Machine backup drive to your Mac.
  2. Boot your Mac into Recovery mode.
  3. Choose Restore from Time Machine in macOS Utilities and click Continue.
  4. Choose your Time Machine backup drive, then click Continue.
  5. Select the backup before updating macOS by date, then click Continue.
  6. Select the Mac internal hard drive to receive the backup content and click Restore.
  7. Restart your Mac.

restore with Time Machine backup

Revert Mac to original macOS in Recovery mode

If there is no Time Machine backup, you can still revert an Intel Mac to an older macOS or OS X in the recovery mode. This method applies to reverting an Intel Mac to the macOS version that came with the Mac. 

Instead of booting Mac into the standard recovery mode with Command + R keys, you need to press and hold Shift + Option + Command + R until the spinning wheel appears on the screen. It will boot your Mac into Internet Recovery mode. Then select Reinstall macOS and follow the onscreen guide to install the original macOS.

Mac internet recovery mode

Restore MacBook to older OS via a bootable installer

Perhaps, both the macOS that came with your Mac and the one you have backed up with Time Machine before updating are not the versions of macOS you want to install on your Mac. Then, you can restore MacBook to an older OS via a bootable installer. Any compatible macOS is supported with this method.

It needs a clean external drive with enough storage for the macOS installer, and should be formatted as APFS for macOS 10.13 and later, or Mac OS Extended for macOS 10.12 and earlier. Then you need to download and install the old macOS onto the drive.

Step 1. get older versions of macOS

When you update your Mac to the latest macOS, you can easily download the installer in the Apple menu > System Preferences > Software Update or in the Mac App Store. But if you search for macOS Big Sur, macOS Catalina, or other earlier versions of macOS in the App Store, it doesn't display in the results, because Apple doesn't index the Mac App Store entries.

Actually, you can download the installers of macOS Big Sur, macOS Catalina, macOS Mojave, and macOS High Sierra from the App Store with the links below. Click the link and choose Open App Store.app, then click on the Get button to download. 

In addition, you can get older installers of macOS Sierra, OS X EI Capitan, and OS X Yosemite from Apple.com. Safari downloads the installer as a disk image named InstallOS.dmg or InstallMacOSX.dmg. 

 Note: Note: After downloading the macOS installer on your Mac, it will open automatically, you should quit the process and not install macOS now. 

Step 2. Install downloaded macOS onto the drive

  1. Connect the bootable installer to your Mac.
  2. Boot Mac into Recovery mode and open Terminal.
  3. Type or paste the command of the target macOS in Terminal, and replace MyVolume with the name of your volume.

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Big\ Sur.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Catalina.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Mojave.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ High\ Sierra.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app

Then, follow the steps below:

  1. Press Return to enter the command.
  2. Type your administrator password if asked and press Return again. 
  3. Type Y to confirm that you want to erase the volume, then press Return. 
  4. Click OK when an alert appears to allow Terminal to access the volume.
  5. Wait for the copy completes, quit Terminal, and eject the volume.

install downloaded macos onto the drive

Step 3. Install old macOS on your Mac with the bootable installer

On Apple Silicon Mac:

  1. Press and hold the power button to turn on the Mac and release the key when you see the startup options.
  2. Select the bootable installer newly created, then click Continue.
  3. When the macOS installer opens, follow the onscreen instructions.

On Intel-based Mac:

  1. Turn on the Mac and immediately hold the Option key.
  2. Release the Option key until your bootable volume appears.
  3. Select the bootable installer newly created. Then click the up arrow or press Return.
  4. Select Install macOS (or Install OS X) from the Utilities window, click Continue and follow the onscreen instructions.

install macOS via bootable installer

The bottom line

After reading this post, you know how to install older versions of macOS or OS X on your Mac. There are three methods to revert your Mac to a previous OS. Depending on your case, you can choose to install the macOS before updating with Time Machine, the macOS that came with your Mac in Recovery mode, or any other compatible macOS via a bootable installer.