19 useful Mac startup keyboard shortcuts you should know

For those of you who have wondered about the many ways you can start up your Mac, here’s a list of the Mac startup keyboard shortcuts you can invoke to access handy macOS features, which are only available at boot time.

Most of the time, your Mac just works—until it refuses to start up properly due to an unforeseen system error, a misbehaving app, a broken system component, and whatnot. Beyond system errors, different people have different needs when it comes to starting up their computers.

For example, you could be a pro user who dual boots between macOS and Windows on a daily basis. Others might be wondering about booting a Mac from a disk other than their designated startup disk. Or perhaps you’re looking to isolate the cause of a software issue in the macOS Safe Mode or boot straight into Recovery OS as the last option?

Mac Keyboard

Mac startup key combinations

To boot your Intel-based Mac into any of the macOS built-in startup modes, you must press and hold one or more keys detailed below after turning on the computer. Press the keys immediately after hearing the startup sound unless otherwise specified.

  • Manually restart: Power
  • Boot from CD/DVD: C
  • Startup Manager: Option
  • Single-User Mode: Command — S
  • Target Disk Mode: T
  • Verbose ModeCommand — V
  • Safe Mode: Shift
  • macOS Built-in Recovery Mode: Command — R
  • Internet Recovery Mode: Command — Option — R or Command — Option — Shift — R
  • Apple Hardware Test: D
  • Apple Hardware Test over the Internet: Option — D
  • Boot from NetBoot server: N
  • Boot from NetBoot server using the default image: Option — N
  • Eject removable media: Media Eject (⏏), F12, mouse button or trackpad button
  • macOS Startup Volume: X will start up your Mac from a macOS startup volume when it’d otherwise boot from a non-macOS volume, like a Windows partition. Important: If the key combinations mentioned in this post don’t work, make sure to start up your Mac from a macOS volume.
  • Prevent Login Items from opening: To override your current settings and prevent Login Items and Finder windows from your last session from opening when you log in, hold down the Shift key after clicking the Log In button in the macOS login window until the desktop appears.
  • Prevent automatic login: If you enabled the option to automatically log a specific macOS account every time your Mac starts up, you can override this setting by holding the left Shift key after the macOS boot progress indicator appears.
  • Reset PRAM/NVRAMCommand — Option — P — R, then release the keys after you hear the startup sound for a second time
  • Reset SMC: Shut down your Mac, and then press and hold the left-side Shift — Control — Option keys along with the Power button, all at the same time, until the computer turns on. Now release the keys and then turn your Mac back on using the power button.

Other keyboard shortcuts are available after your Mac has started up.

Our ongoing tutorial series has covered many Mac startup modes thus far. To learn more about many of them, simply tap or click their linked names on the bulleted list above.

Startup key combos not registering?

On certain Mac notebook models, startup key combos may fail to register in certain situations. For instance, if you own an early-2015 twelve-inch MacBook model and have Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard connected to it, these key combinations won’t work on your wireless keyboard.

The solution couldn’t be simpler: use the MacBook’s built-in keyboard to get to Startup Manager, Recovery Mode, Single User Mode, Safe Mode, and other features that are available at boot time.

Another option: hook up any standard USB keyboard to your Mac via a USB-C adapter.

In other words, if Mac isn’t recognizing the Bluetooth keyboard, make sure it’s connected. In case the problem continues, use a wired keyboard, or on MacBook, use the built-in keyboard.

If these keys aren’t working, maybe you’re pressing them one at a time. Don’t do that and press and hold all the required keys together.

In case the keys don’t register on startup, this may be because you’re pressing it too early, even before Mac has recognized the keyboard. To avoid this, briefly wait for one or two seconds to press the keys after pressing the power button.

The startup chime as a troubleshooting feature

You shouldn’t turn the volume all the way down before restarting your Mac.

Hearing startup tones other than the familiar startup chord is the first step in determining what might be causing hiccups that your computer is experiencing.

Related: The different Mac startup tones and the problems they indicate

Other Mac startup keyboard shortcuts?

Are there any Mac startup keyboard shortcuts you think we missed? If so, add your key combo in the comments below.

If you have a Mac with Apple silicon (M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max, or its future versions), all you need to do is power on your Mac and keep pressing and holding the power button until you see the Options screen. From here, you can use Recovery Mode, start up in safe mode, or start up from another disk. If you’re wondering how to do the other things mentioned above, the answer is you don’t need to. For example, you do not have to reset NVRAM or SMC on Apple silicon Macs.

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