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How to reinstall macOS if Recovery does not work

The macOS operating system is quite reliable, which is why Mac users often forget that sometimes problems can arise. The appearance of a serious problem may cause you to reinstall the macOS operating system.

There is a simple way to do it using the Mac recovery partition or through Mac Internet Recovery. You can access the recovery mode through the keyboard combination Command + R. But, what do you do if this does not work?

Next, we will discuss the best solutions to these problems. If what you want is to know how to make a clean macOS installation, see all the details in this article in which we talk about each of the versions of the operating system.

What is Mac Recovery?

The vast majority of people do not think of their disks or SSD in terms of partitions. They simply see the whole album as a unique thing. A hard drive is usually a single volume, but then it is divided into multiple areas, known as partitions or volumes.

Although you may be accustomed to seeing a single volume where you have your desktop, folders and applications, there are really four different partitions and one of them is used for extreme cases in which you need to completely reinstall the macOS operating system.

Even if you completely erase your Mac and start over from scratch, the recovery partition will remain there so that it is possible to reinstall macOS, restore from the Time Machine backup, and repair or erase your hard drive.


Without a doubt, you may have a problem if you need to reinstall the operating system from scratch and you are missing the recovery partition for some reason, or you cannot access it. Fortunately, there are alternatives to this situation.

In versions prior to the arrival of Mac OS X Lion in 2011, there was no recovery partition. Instead, you needed to have a physical hard drive with the software and an optical drive to insert and read.

In the current era, it is rare to find a Mac with optical drive, much less find someone who has the original disks that in their day come with the computer. So, let's see what alternatives we have to this situation.

R command does not work

There are some reasons why Command + R may not work and your Mac will not start in recovery mode:

  • If your Mac is something old and runs on an earlier version of macOS, running Mac OS X Snow Leopard or earlier, you won't have a recovery partition. Then, the only way to reinstall the operating system is to use the disks included with the Mac. We will see later.
  • If your Mac is running a version of macOS before Sierra (which was launched in 2016), then you won't have all the recovery options available.
  • The keyboard may be defective or your Mac may not connect to it via Bluetooth, in which case, try using other wiring.
  • It is possible that something has damaged your recovery partition or deleted it by replacing your hard drive or installing Windows through Boot Camp.

The first thing you should try is to restart your Mac and press Command + R again while booting. There are other alternative ways you can try and here we explain:

It is possible to use the Internet recovery mode, an option that we will analyze in more detail below. This method downloads a version of macOS from the Internet, which could be a solution if you cannot access the recovery partition of your Mac.

  • Press Option / Alt + Command + R when you start to enter Internet Recovery Mode.

Once you enter this mode, you can access an Apple server to download the macOS version. This will be the last macOS compatible with your Mac. Note: If you are not running Sierra 10.12.4 or later, the version that comes standard with your Mac will be installed.

If you don't want to install the latest version of macOS, you can try the following:

  • Shift + Option / Alt + Command R (if you are running Sierra 10.12.4 or later) install the MacOS version that comes with your Mac, or the closest available.

If your Mac has a T2 chip, there may be a simple reason why Command + R does not work. In this case, try:

  • Option / Alt + Command + R to install the latest version of macOS on your Mac if it has a T2 chip.

Mac recovery mode does not work

It may happen that your Mac's storage hard drive cannot be repaired and the recovery mode is inaccessible. This entails additional steps, since you will have to replace the disk with a new one.

If you have accessed the Internet recovery mode, it may become a very slow process, depending on the speed of your connection. In these cases, we recommend connecting the Mac through an Ethernet cable, whenever possible.

What should you do if the recovery mode does not work?

It is always possible to restore a Mac without a recovery partition, but it can be complicated (especially on older Macs). Here are the alternatives:

  • Use Internet Recovery to reinstall macOS on Mac with a recovery partition. Check this section to know how to do it.
  • Create a boot drive to install a copy of macOS.
  • Use your Time Machine backup as a boot drive.
  • It's also possible that you can create a recovery partition.

We see all these options below, but first, a quick explanation of what a recovery partition is.

How to check if your recovery partition works fine

First of all, you should check that your Mac definitely does not have a recovery partition that works. You may have been using the wrong key combination or your keyboard may not work, for example.

We explain how to start the Recovery Unit:

  1. Turn off your Mac using Apple Menu> Turn off.
  2. Hold down the Command and R keys and press the Power button.
  3. Keep pressing the Command and R keys until the Apple logo appears on the screen. Release the keys and wait for the Mac to complete the startup.
  4. You should see a screen that says MacOS Utilities (or if your Mac is earlier, OS X Utilities). This is the recovery partition. If you have this, stop worrying.

However, if your Mac boots up in normal view mode, or if a completely blank screen appears, then you don't have a recovery partition.


If your Mac boots into macOS, then you can at least check the Terminal mode to see if you have a recovery partition; We show you how to do it:

  1. Open terminal
  2. Access the diskutil list.

You should see a list of all volumes and partitions on your computer. The first drive (/ dev / disk0) must have a partition (usually appears as 3 with Apple Boot Recovery HD after it). Try using the Command + R process again.

You can also see these tips to see if it makes your recovery partition appear miraculously.

  • Reset your PRAM. Turn off your Mac and press and hold the Command-Option-PR key during boot. Wait for the sound to play.
  • Check your keyboard (especially if it is a Bluetooth keyboard). Try using a wired keyboard as much as possible.

If your recovery partition is missing or does not work, and you have tried everything, it is time to consider reinstalling macOS. You can use Time Machine to restore all your files, folders and applications once you have reinstalled macOS.

How to use Internet Recovery to reinstall macOS

This is what you should do if you do not have a recovery partition from your Mac and you need to reinstall macOS (in fact, even if you do not need to reinstall macOS, you should probably do so for security).

The first approach is to use a function called Internet Recovery. Newer Macs can boot directly from an Internet connection, even without an available recovery partition. We explain how to use MacOS Internet Recovery:

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Hold down the Command-Option / Alt-R key and press the Power button. (On some Mac keyboards, the Option key will be called Alt).
  3. Press and hold these keys until a rotating globe appears and the message "Starting Internet recovery. This may take a while."
  4. The message will be replaced with a progress bar. Wait for it to complete.
  5. Then, the MacOS Utilities screen appears.
  6. Click Reinstall macOS and follow the installation process.

You may have problems with Internet recovery, since it only works with networks that use WEP and WPA security. This is the majority of domestic Wi-Fi networks, but if you are on a proxy or PPPoE network, then you will have problems.


In these cases, it is generally better to find another network instead of creating a USB Recovery Stick (our next step). If you have Internet Recovery, use it to reinstall macOS if possible.

How to create a macOS boot disk on a pendrive

If you cannot access Internet Recovery, then you have the option of creating a boot installer from a flash drive (of at least 12 GB capacity). This will completely erase your USB flash drive or flash drive.

The easiest way to create a USB flash boot disk is to use Terminal:

Open your applications folder and see if you have the installation files for the macOS or Mac OS X version you need. In the case of Sierra or High Sierra, something like this, for example.


When you have the installer for the macOS version you need, follow these steps:

  1. Connect your unit flash USB to Mac.
  2. Open Disk Utility.
  3. Select the volume (External) in the sidebar. The volume is the top, not the partition (which is below).
  4. Click on Delete.
  5. Make sure it says "No title" in the Name field. Do not change this. Click on Delete.
  6. Open terminal
  7. Cut and paste the correct createinstallmedia text into the Terminal (the code will depend on the macOS version, so we suggest you get it from this link provided by Apple itself for macOS versions.
  8. Then you must enter your administrator password. And then, enter "y" and press Enter. Erase your flash drive and turn it into a boot disk.

Install macOS from a boot disk

After you have created the boot disk, follow these steps for recovery:

  1. Connect the boot drive to the compatible Mac.
  2. Use the Boot Disk or Boot Manager preferences to select that volume as the boot disk, and then boot from that disk. The Mac boot from macOS Recovery.
  3. If prompted, select the language you want to use.
  4. The boot disk does not download macOS over the Internet, but it needs the connection to obtain specific information about your Mac model, such as updates to firmware. Use the wifi menu of the mens bar.
  5. Select Install macOS (or Install OS X) in the Utilities window, and then click Continue and follow the on-screen instructions.

How to reinstall macOS X on an old Mac without recovery mode

If your Mac is running Snow Leopard or an earlier version of macOS, your Mac disk will not have a recovery partition. Therefore, you will need to reinstall your operating system from scratch. What can you do

If you have the original discs that are shipped with your Mac, you should be able to use them.

If it turns out that for some reason you don't have those discs, your best option is to request a copy. You can still buy a copy of Snow Leopard in the Apple Store, although what you would receive from Apple is a download code instead of physical disks.

Once you have the Snow Leopard discs, you can insert them into your Mac's optical drive – assuming you have one – and install the operating system. If what you receive is the download code, you will have to proceed as we have commented throughout the article.

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