How To Use Mac Recovery Mode

Apple is known for making top of the line products that run correctly and efficiently for a prolonged period of time. However, sometimes there are boot-up or bug problems with the MacOS system and action must be taken to ensure your laptop runs smoothly. To that end, Apple introduced macOS Recovery, or Mac Recovery Mode, a process to fix your Mac from the inside before more drastic action is taken.

This mode is also useful if you want to sell your Mac to a third party, find a bug which makes you want to revert back to an older version of macOS, or you’ve just bought a Mac secondhand and want to run the process to clean up the newly bought laptop. Mac Recovery Mode works by utilizing a backup drive Apple installs onto all laptops upon first use. This drive is well-partitioned and virtually unnoticeable in day to day use but can be accessed when a malfunction occurs in the main drive.

Starting Mac Recovery Mode

Starting up Mac Recovery Mode is done by restarting your Mac in a specific way. The technique may take a few tries, so don’t be frustrated if you’re having trouble entering Mac recovery mode.

To enter Mac Recovery Mode, you’ll want a wired keyboard; wireless keyboards can work but they’re not as reliable and can miss cues that a wired keyboard will pick up on. The built-in keyboards on a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air will also work.

To enter Mac recovery mode, you’ll need to restart your Mac. As it reboots, hold down Command-R. Release command-R as soon as you see the Apple logo appear. Again, this process sounds simple but it may take a few tries to work – don’t be discouraged after the first attempt.

If you’re still unable to enter recovery mode after a few tries, try shutting down the Mac instead of restarting it. Hold the power button and hold Command-R once the Mac begins to shut down.

If the Mac is frozen or you can’t restart for another reason, press and hold the power button until the laptop turns off. This method is a last resort and should only be attempted when the laptop refuses to restart or shut down in the conventional way.

Turn the laptop back on and press Command-R. Remember to release the keys when you see the apple logo. An icon of a folder with a question mark in it means you should be quicker to hold Command-R and slower to release the keys. If the process is successful, you’ll be asked for a password. This is the password to the laptop itself, not your Apple ID.


If the process is successful, your Mac will now start from the Recovery drive. You’ll see a single panel rather than your wallpaper of Desktop. This panel is macOS Utilities and stores the three most common methods for working in Mac Recovery Mode, plus a help guide. The three most common methods:

  • Restore from Time Machine Backup
  • Reinstall macOS
  • Disk Utility

The first option you’ll want to use is Disk Utility. This feature simply analyzes your drive for any problems and fixes those problems internally. Disk Utility usually can’t repair the disk it’s booted from, but that’s the beauty of using Mac Recovery Mode – it won’t boot from the disk it usually boots from. Once the program has been given time to work, restart your Mac and check for the problem.

If everything seems okay, you’re good to start working again. If the problem hasn’t been solved, you can either wipe your Mac’s main drive clean or reinstall macOS from scratch. Holding Option-Command-R as soon as you restart your laptop will automatically upgrade to the latest version of macOS that it can support. Holding Shift-Option-Command-R will install the version of macOS that came with your Mac.

If Apple has prevented that particular version from being installed, your Mac will install the next closest version, instead of the latest version. This solution is helpful if you think the problem lies in the latest update and you want to revert back to an update you believe will work.


These three options are usually enough to get your Mac and up and running again, but if the problem still hasn’t been solved, there are a few more options you can try. These are found on the top menu, under Utilities:

  • Startup Security Utility
  • Network Utility
  • Terminal

Terminal allows you to run scripts examining your hard drive and Network Utility reports on your internet and other network connection. In the past, Terminal was the most popular method for solving start-up problems but has since been overtaken by Startup Security Utility.

Experienced Mac users typically prefer to boot their Macs from an external drive. However, in recent years, Apple has started implementing T2 security processors in an increasing number of Macs. These processors inhibit Macs from booting from an external drive; in other words, you must manually tell the Mac to boot externally, a process which can be done from Startup Security Utility.

Using An External Recovery Mode

There are instances where Mac Recovery Mode will not be enough to save your laptop. For example, if the drive is physically damaged or your recovery drive has somehow been corrupted, Mac Recovery Mode will not be able to boot.

However, there is a solution – use Recovery mode from Apple’s servers instead of your own. This sometimes happens automatically. You’ll know your computer is trying to reach Apple’s servers if, instead of the Apple logo, you see a spinning globe.

To manually achieve this outcome, restart your Mac. Instead of holding Command-R this time, hold either Option-Command-R or Shift-Option-Command-R. The process is slow, but you should see a progress bar below the globe to let you know it’s working. If the process cannot be completed, an exclamation mark will appear over the globe.

At this point, your only option is to wait and try again later to ensure it’s not an internet issue. However, if you try again and are still unable to get your Mac to function properly, it’s time to throw in the towel. You’ll have to boot your Mac from an external drive or take it to an Apple Store to have it checked out.

Macs usually run well, but if you experience a problem booting up your Mac or suspect your laptop may have a bug, Mac Recovery Mode is a quick, relatively simple, and consistently useful method to solve the problem without resorting immediately to costly repairs.