How to start up your Mac in Recovery Mode

By , Feb 24, 2016

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Our prior tutorials educated you on the ways to start up your Mac from a bootable media, pick a startup disk at boot time or after the fact, mount another Mac’s startup drive on your desktop in Target Disk Mode and boot your computer in Safe Mode or Verbose Mode.

OS X’s startup modes can be quite helpful for, among other things, troubleshooting complex issues that might require more than fixing disk permissions.

On the downside, the aforesaid startup modes aren’t very helpful if the startup disk has become corrupted or damaged.

Thankfully, OS X’s Recovery Mode provides the tools you need to solve these problems and is your last chance to repair the startup disk, reinstall OS X or restore from a backup after a fatal failure that prevents your Mac from starting up properly.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to enter Recovery Mode at boot time and use the built-in recovery tools to bring your Mac in perfect working condition.

What is Recovery Mode

Recovery Mode is a special mode that loads OS X’s built-in recovery tools from a special disk partition that holds a recovery image along with a copy of the OS X installer.

If your Mac cannot be recovered in any other way, use Recovery Mode to diagnose disk problems, get help online or install the version of OS X that previously ran on this Mac.

Use Recovery Mode to:

Tip: If the recovery partition itself is damaged and you cannot use Recovery Mode, enter Internet Recovery Mode by pressing Command (⌘) – Option (⌥) – R at boot time.

How to enter Recovery Mode

1) In the Apple menu choose Restart, or power on your Mac.

2) As your Mac restarts, hold down the Command (⌘) – R combination immediately upon hearing the startup chime. Hold the keys until the Apple logo appears.

OS X Recovery Mode keystroke image 001

Tip: If you own a Mac notebook, press the keys on its built-in keyboard as the keystroke might not register on external keyboards.

After a few minutes, the OS X Utilities window will appear.

Recovery Mode OS X Utilities window Mac screenshot 001

If you see a login window or your own desktop, you didn’t press the keyboard combination early enough and have booted in regular OS X mode. Restart your Mac and try again.

Standard Recovery vs. Internet Recovery

Internet Recovery basically starts up your Mac directly from Apple’s servers and performs a quick test of its memory and hard drive to check for hardware issues. If the boot sector is missing on the startup volume, or the recovery partition itself has become damaged or corrupted, your Mac will automatically enter Internet Recovery Mode.

To enter Internet Recovery manually, restart or power on your Mac and hold down the Command (⌘) – Option (⌥) – R after hearing the startup chime. Release the keys after the animated globe appears on the screen.

“Starting Internet Recovery,” reads a message. ”This may take a while.”

OS X Internet Recovery Mode Mac screenshot 001

You will be asked to connect to a wireless network unless your Mac is already connect to the Internet via Ethernet. Internet Recovery requires a network connection because it needs to go online and download a recovery system image from Apple’s servers.

OS X Internet Recovery Mode Mac screenshot 003

After the recovery image has been successfully downloaded, Internet Recovery will start up your Mac from it and present you with the same options as standard Recovery Mode, with one crucial difference: choosing to reinstall OS X in Internet Recovery Mode will download a version of OS X from Apple’s server that was factory-preloaded on your computer at the time of purchase, not the latest version you updated to through the Mac App Store.

Reinstalling OS X in standard Recovery Mode, on the other hand, will install a version of OS X that was last installed on this Mac. Standard Recovery Mode gets the OS X Installer image file from a local recovery partition on your Mac.

RELATED: Things to know about OS X Internet Recovery Mode

Other options in Internet Recovery are the same as in standard Recovery Mode: you can use Disk Utility to fix errors on any connected drive, get help online in Safari and restore your Mac from a Time Machine backup.

Internet Recovery is supported on newer Macs with OS X Lion or later.

Related tutorials

Check out these resources that cover a myriad of ways you can start up your Mac:

For even more how-tos, browse our complete archive of Mac tutorials.

Need help? Ask iDB!

Not sure how to do certain things on your Apple device? Let us know at and our future tutorials might cover your specific problem and provide a solution.

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  • Nolan I.

    You forgot an important one: Terminal.

    Very, very useful for system recovery. For example if your hard drive won’t boot up into OS X, you can copy files to an external one using the Terminal. You can also open applications via the Terminal, and even other OS X installers (such as downgrading to Yosemite or Mavericks from El Capitan) without having to make a flash drive/CD to boot them up with.

  • MakeDonaldDrumpfAgain

    Does this process wipe out files, or just reinstall the OS?

  • BlakeShelton