What is macOS recovery & How to use it? (2022 Guide)

By Connie | Posted to Home > Mac Data Recovery Tips, updated on December 13th, 2021

Summary: This tutorial introduces what Mac Recovery Mode is and how to start your Intel-based and M1 Mac in macOS recovery to fix the problems existing on your Mac.

How to boot Mac to macOS Recovery Mode

Mac Recovery Mode, powered by macOS Base System, is a very useful tool to help you work better with your Mac machine. You can use it to reinstall Mac OS, perform disk checking and repair with Disk Utility, factory reset your Mac, restore your Mac with Time Machine backup or so.

Especially when your MacBook won't turn on normally or crashes frequently, macOS Recovery gives you a chance to do some fixes rather than directly taking your computer to service.

This post will tell you how to boot your Mac into Recovery mode and how to use it.

What you'll learn from this post:

What is Mac Recovery Mode?

macOS Recovery is a special mode that starts your Mac from a built-in Recovery HD partition with a built-in program called Recovery Assistant. In other words, it is a recovery system that can load up without starting up Mac operating system to help you fix or deal with system-related issues on your Mac.

With it, you can perform basic troubleshooting and recovery activities such as disk verification, OS reinstallation, and startup security modification.

How to start your Mac in macOS Recovery?

The steps to enter into macOS Recovery are different depending on the Mac models. Firstly, you need to know if you are using an Intel-based or Apple M1 Mac.

Usually, to check the processor of your Mac model, you can click the Apple menu > About This Mac > Overview. Or, go to support.apple.com to have a check.

Follow the steps below to start your Intel-based Mac in Recovery mode:

  • Completely shut down your Mac and then press the power button or Touch ID button to power on your Mac.
  • Hold down the Command + R keys together as soon as Mac starts or you hear the startup chime.
  • Mac recovery mode keys
  • Keep holding down the keys for a few seconds until you see an Apple logo and release the keys to start you Mac in Recovery partition.
  • You successfully boot into macOS Recovery until you see the utilities window with a few recovery and troubleshooting features.

How to start an Apple M1 Mac in macOS Recovery?

M1-powered Macs ask for a different set of operations. This process also works for MacBook Pro 2021 with an M1 Pro or M1 Max chip.

Before you take actions, you'd better keep your Mac connecting to the Internet well. Why? The Internet Recovery Mode has been integrated with the regular macOS Recovery Mode on Apple M1 Macs. If your M1 Mac fails to start in Recovery mode, it will automatically enter into Internet macOS Recovery.

  • Completely shut down your M1 Mac.
  • Press and hold the Touch ID button for a few seconds until you see "Loading startup options".
  • Click Options next to the Mac's Macintosh HD disk and then click Continue.
  • Start M1 Mac in Mac Recovery
  • Enter your admin name and password if asked and you will arrive at the macOS Utilities screen.

After you have entered your MacBook in macOS Recovery or M1 Mac Internet Recovery Mode, you can finished a lot of tasks with utilities provided.

Other key combinations for macOS Recovery

Apart from using the Command-R shortcut keys during startup to boot your Intel-based Mac into recovery OS, you can use other key combinations for macOS Recovery.

Pressing down which key combinations during Mac startup depends on what you'll do in macOS Recovery. For example, whether you want to reinstall the latest or older version of macOS.

Command + R

This key combination allows your Mac to start from the built-in macOS Recovery. And if you prepare to reinstall macOS in Recovery mode, it offers the version of macOS that your Mac are using.

Option/Alt + Command + R

Using Option/Alt + Command + R keys during startup will boot your Mac in Internet Recovery Mode. But the precaution is that your Mac is connected to the internet well. And if you want to reinstall macOS, it will supply the latest version of macOS that is compatible with your Mac.

Start Mac in Internet Recovery

Shift + Option/Alt + Command + R

If you hold down these shortcut keys during startup with a good internet connection, your Mac will enter Internet Recovery mode. And the macOS version that you'll reinstall came with or closest to your Mac.

What you can do in macOS Recovery?

When you are in Mac Recovery and Internet Recovery, the normal desktop and often-used apps are not available. You are limited to a few tasks and options through the macOS Utilities, called Mac OS X Utilities on some older Mac OS versions, and tools in the top menu bar.

Depending on which Mac model you use, the utilities on your Mac may vary. Read below to see what functions you can perform in macOS Recovery and Internet Recovery.

Reinstall macOS from Internet Recovery

Restore From Time Machine Backup

If you have set up Time Machine to back up files and the system with an external hard drive before, you'll be able to restore Mac from Time Machine backup. The APFS snapshots of local Macintosh HD before macOS update could also be available for system restoration through this feature.

Reinstall macOS (or Reinstall OS X)

This function will allow you to download a fresh copy of Mac's operating system and reinstall macOS or reinstall macOS Big Sur on M1 Mac. The thumbnail shows which operating system will be installed on your Mac.

Disk Utility

Disk Utility in macOS Recovery is a tool to verify, repair and erase connected disks including Mac's internal SSD. You can use the Erase feature in Disk Utility menu to format Mac startup disk. Also, you can run Disk Utility First Aid to repair disk.

Interface of Disk Utility

Get Help Online/Safari

It allows you to visit Apple support pages or other web pages for information, but bookmarks, browser plug-ins and extensions are not available.

Except for macOS Utilities, several other recovery tools are accessible from the menu at the top of the page.

Terminal

You can choose Utilites > Terminal to open it and run commands to change settings or ask Mac to finish some certain task. For example, you can run command to disable SIP.

Open Terminal in Recovery mode

Startup Security Utility

You can click Utilities > Startup Security Utility to set up the security protocols for your Mac. That is the utility you will rely on if you need to set a firmware password on Mac, allow Mac to boot from external USB installer, or enable system extensions on M1 Mac.

Network Utility

It provides information and troubleshooting tools to help you with your network, including check network connection and test DNS server.

Share Disk

This is the Apple Silicon Mac version of Target disk Mode. You can access it from Utilities > Share Disk on M1 Mac to share your disk with another Mac for file transferring.

Startup Disk

You can choose startup disk for the Mac from Apple icon > Startup disk. On Intel Macs, Target Disk Mode is available from there as well.

How to exit macOS Recovery?

Qiutting Mac Recovery Mode is easy - you just restart the Mac from the Apple icon and select "Restart" in the menu. The same goes for exiting macOS Internet Recovery.

If you have made any changes, repairs, reinstallation or erasures in Recovery, they will take effect during the rebooting. If you just boot your Mac in Recovery and nothing is performed, your Mac will stay unchanged and reboot to the normal login screen or desktop.

What to do if macOS Recovery Mode is not working?

If you can't start your Mac in Recovery system, it means that the Command R not working or won't response correctly from your press. Or, your recovery partition might be corrupted. As a result, your Mac failed to boot from the recovery partition.

To solve the Mac Recovery Mode not working issue, connect your Intel Mac to the Internet and try to use the Command + Option + R key combination to start it to Internet Recovery.

For an Apple M1 Mac, it can auto-boot into Internet Recovery when macOS Recovery not working. If it still fails, you can start the MacBook into Fallback Recovery OS, the second copy of macOS Recovery.

FAQ about macOS Recovery

1. Does macOS Recovery delete everything?

No, starting your Mac in Recovery Mode won't delete anything. Recovery Mode is just a special boot mode on your Mac and it won't erase your data.

2. When should I use Recovery mode on Mac?

When you Mac has problems in startup, such as Mac won't turn on or is stuck on the startup process, macOS Recovery mode is the best tool to help you do some checks and fixes. In addition, if your Mac crashes freqently, you need to fatory reset your Mac for selling, or you want to restore Mac to the previous state with Time Machine backup, you need to boot your Mac in Recovery mode.

3. What is Recovery on Mac?

macOS Recovery is the built-in recovery system on your Mac. After your Mac boots from the recovery partition, you can use the limited functions to troubleshoot problems especially related to booting.

4. How long does it take to boot into Mac Recovery Mode?

It varies from Mac to Mac. It usually takes a couple of munites before you see the macOS Utilities window. On newer M1 Macs, booting to Recovery Mode is much faster. If you try to start in Internet Recovery, the time to enter into recovery mode depends on your network speed.

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