In addition to the startup volume which holds a bootable copy of the operating system along with your applications and data, your Mac’s disk contains a hidden recovery partition that you can boot from in order to reinstall macOS, perform a quick check of connected disks and more.
But what if the recovery partition gets damaged, for instance? Enter Internet Recovery Mode, an Internet-based version of Recovery Mode found on newer Macs, which loads recovery tools from Apple’s servers.
With Internet Recovery Mode, you can reinstall macOS and troubleshoot issues in the unfortunate scenario of your Mac’s startup disk having become corrupted or completely unreadable. In this tutorial, you’ll learn everything there is about Internet Recovery Mode and how to use it to your advantage if your disk encounters an issue or the startup drive has been replaced or erased.
The difference between standard Recovery and Internet Recovery
Your Mac’s recovery partition contains an up-to-date copy of the macOS installer so booting in Recovery Mode lets you reinstall the most recent version of macOS.
However, Internet Recovery Mode allows you to reinstall the macOS version that was factory-preloaded on your Mac at the time of purchase. You should use Internet Recovery if your Mac’s internal disk is damaged or you’ve replaced it with a faster, more capacious model and you’ve forgotten to create a bootable version of El Capitan on USB media.
To sum up, in Recovery Mode you can install or reinstall the most recent version of macOS that was previously present on this computer. Internet Recovery, on the other hand, will download the version of macOS that originally came with your computer, which in most cases won’t be the most up-to-date macOS version available. In addition, Internet Recovery will automatically run a quick test of the Mac’s memory and disks to check for hardware issues.
Things you can do in Internet Recovery Mode
Like standard Recovery Mode, Internet Recovery Mode lets you:
- Scan, verify and repair connected drives with Disk Utility
- Erase, install or reinstall OS X that was factory-preloaded
- Restore your Mac from a Time Machine backup
- Check your Internet connection or get help online using Safari
If both your Mac’s startup volume and its recovery partition have become corrupted or physically damaged, the computer will automatically enter Internet Recovery Mode.
How to enter Internet Recovery Mode
To enter this mode at any time, do the following:
1) In the Apple menu, choose Restart or power on your Mac.
2) As the computer restarts, hold down the Command – Option – R combination immediately upon hearing the startup chime.
Hold the keys until the animated globe appears on the screen. “Starting Internet Recovery,” the message reads. ”This may take a while.”
Tip: If you own a Mac notebook, make sure you’re using the built-in keyboard to enter Internet Recovery Mode as the keystroke may not register on external keyboards.
3) In the next step, a Wi-Fi menu appears. Internet Recovery needs an Internet connection to load the recovery tools from Apple’s servers. Click the menu to display the available Wi-Fi networks, and then select one to connect to.
Tip: If you’re using an Ethernet connection, you don’t have to connect to a Wi-Fi network during Internet Recovery.
4) If this isn’t an open Wi-Fi network, you’ll have to type in your password. Press Enter on the keyboard or click the checkmark symbol to continue.
5) After your Mac has connected to the Wi-Fi network, it’ll download a recovery system image from Apple’s servers and start from it, giving you access to the recovery tools.
Depending on your Internet connection, this may take anywhere from a couple of minutes to up to an hour, or longer. Connect your Mac to the power adapter so that it doesn’t run out of juice whilst it’s loading Internet Recovery from Apple’s servers.
6) If all goes well, you’ll see the macOS Utilities window.
Choose the option you want to use in this window or via the Utilities menu.
The recovery tools let you:
- Reinstall the version of macOS that originally came with your Mac
- Restore the computer from a Time Machine backup
- Check the connected disks for errors with Disk Utility
- Search for help online using Safari
Internet Recovery Mode requirements
“Some Macs that came with OS X Snow Leopard can use Internet Recovery after installing OS X Lion or later and a firmware update,” notes Apple.
If your Mac is one of the models listed below, or older, you may upgrade it to use macOS Internet Recovery by downloading and installing an updated EFI Firmware ROM:
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 15-inch, 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)
Newer machines running at least OS X Lion support Internet Recovery out of the box.
Requirements for installing macOS in Recovery Mode
After entering Internet Recovery Mode and choosing to install or reinstall macOS, your Mac will need to download the installer for the version of macOS that came preloaded on your Mac when you took it out of the box.
If OS X Recovery is used for reinstallation, your Mac must use DHCP on a Wi-Fi or Ethernet network and WPA/WPA2 as a security method on Wi-Fi.
You cannot reinstall macOS over a Wi-Fi or Ethernet network that uses the following authentication protocols:
- Certificate-based authentication / 802.1x
- Proxies (where specific proxy servers must be configured in network preferences)
- Captive Wi-Fi networks (where you click an “Agree” button to access the Internet)
- PPPoE (where there is no router handling the PPPoE connection)
The network requirements listed above also apply to the version of Safari that comes with macOS’ Internet Recovery and standard Recovery Mode.
If your Internet connection has requirements that are unsupported by macOS Recovery, change the settings to a supported configuration for the duration of the macOS installation.
If the recovery partition on your Mac has been damaged and you cannot enter standard Recovery Mode and Internet Recovery is unavailable, you can still start the computer from an external drive with a bootable version of OS X.
We highly recommend creating a bootable copy of the macOS installer on a USB thumb drive. You can use it to install macOS on multiple Macs without needing to re-download the installer on each machine.
Just plug a USB flash drive containing an macOS installer into your Mac. Then restart the computer, and hold down the Option key after hearing the startup chime.
This will bring up the Startup Manager, so you can start up your Mac from any connected drive or external storage device that has a bootable copy of macOS on it.
Finally, some drive partition configurations can result in macOS’ installer reporting that it cannot create a recovery partition for Recovery Mode. If you see this message, quit the installer and install macOS on an external drive connected to your Mac.
This will put a recovery partition on the external disk. You can continue installing macOS on the startup drive after creating a recovery system on an external drive.
You cannot use macOS’ FileVault disk encryption unless the recovery partition is present on the startup drive. Also, using RAID partitions or non-standard Boot Camp partitions on the startup drive might prevent macOS from installing a local recovery partition.
Check out these resources that cover a myriad of ways you can start up your Mac:
- How to restore Mac from Time Machine Backup in Recovery Mode
- Learn how to browse the web with Safari in Recovery Mode
- How to erase, install or reinstall OS X in Recovery Mode
- Using Recovery Mode to repair Mac disk errors
- Learn how to start up your Mac in Recovery Mode, Safe Mode, Verbose Mode, or Target Disk Mode
For even more how-tos, browse our complete archive of Mac tutorials.
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