Recovery Mode: A Better Way to Repair Your Mac

Posted on by Larry

As I was explaining to Gayle how to fix some glitches with her computer, I realized I haven’t written about this technique. Time to correct that.

With the release of macOS Mojave (or maybe a bit earlier) Apple added a better way to fix software weirdness with your computer. It’s called Recovery Mode.

When things start to go wrong with your software, here are the first things you should do to get things working right:

1. Save your work, if possible, quit, then restart the misbehaving application.

NOTE: If you can’t quit the app, press and hold Option + Cmd + ESC. In the dialog that appears, select the app you can’t quit and choose Force Quit.

2. If that doesn’t fix the problem, restart your computer.

3. If that doesn’t fix the problem, some applications allow trashing their preference files. While this varies by application, here are two apps where this can help:

4. If that doesn’t fix the problem, boot into Recovery Mode

Recovery mode is a special version of the Mac operating system that, when you boot into it, allows you to: repair your boot disk, replace the operating system, and other emergency maintenance.

The problem is that it is hidden by default and, with the release of M1 Macs, Apple changed how we access it.


To access Recovery Mode on an Intel Mac:

BIG NOTE: Cmd + R requires using a wired, not wireless, keyboard.


To access Recovery Mode on an Apple silicon Mac:


Once you are in Recovery Mode, both Intel and Apple Macs have several on-screen options:

Several additional options are hidden in the Utilities menu at the top, depending upon your computer and the version of macOS you are running:

For both computer systems, Disk Utility is the option I use the most.


(This screen shot is from macOS Monterey running on an M1 MacBook Pro.)

(This is from macOS Big Sur.)

Once you start Disk Utility, go up to the Utilities menu and choose “Show all disks.” This displays a hidden container that holds the Macintosh HD.

Next, select EACH LEVEL of the volumes listed on the left and run First Aid on each one:

NOTE: Apple changed the way the operating system is stored when it moved to APFS. The Macintosh HD partition is read only, to prevent damaging the parts of the OS that don’t change. The bottom partition is where all your data is stored. (There may be others storage drives on your computer, but these are the only two we are concerned about here.)

Things should now be working better.

My recommendation is to run Disk Utility whenever you have problems, or every moth or so as preventative maintenance. Running Disk Utility won’t hurt your data.


Something I didn’t know until I was researching this tutorial: Apple created a “Fallback Recovery OS,” for those very unlikely situations where the Recovery disk is corrupt.

To access this, double-press and hold the power button to boot into the fallback.
I’m pleased to report that I’ve never needed the fallback. (Knock on wood.)

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9 Responses to Recovery Mode: A Better Way to Repair Your Mac

  1. Al Davis says:

    Thanks Larry.
    Since installing Catalina, I have had lots of permissions issues sharing files with two other computers in our small office environment. We are connected via ethernet or Wi-Fi Things like changing “read only” to “read/write”: getting default warnings telling me “the operation cannot be completed because I don’t have permission” – even though I am the administrator. This local networking stuff used to be as easy as sliced bread.

    If you are aware of these issues, a complementary tutorial would be awesome.

    As always – many thanks!

    • Larry Jordan says:


      I’m not aware of these issues. I use a Synology server with Catalina and have had no problems.

      Hmm… a call to Apple Support sounds like a good idea.


      • Al Davis says:

        Thanks Larry – I did call Apple. 1st layer – clueless. Will go for Sr. support level.
        I did google the problem, and found a lot of chatter…and advice that involved “terminal”; a place I try to keep away from 😉

        • Larry says:


          Tier 1 is designed for iPhone and new user questions. you need to ask to be referred to Tier 2 or a senior support person.

          And, I agree, Terminal is not for the faint of heart.


  2. Constance says:

    As you suggested, I’ve bookmarked this article.
    Thank you Larry. Stay cool,

  3. Gayle says:

    Well, I’m glad I asked and thank you for writing this, Larry! I did a search and found this article because I actually needed a little more guidance because when I restart as you instructed holding down the Cmd + R keys, I don’t get a “What do you want to do?” menu. I mean, nothing happens. It just boots up as it normally does. What am I doing wrong? Thanks, Larry!

    • Larry says:


      Hmmm… This feature showed up fairly recently. If you are running a version of the macOS before, I think, Mojave, the Cmd-R shortcut won’t work. In which case you need to boot up in Safe Mode. (Press and hold Shift while restarting your computer, then run Disk Utility from the Utilities menu.)

      If you are running a recent version of the macOS, you may need to contact Apple Support to get this working.

      Oh! As a note, be sure to press and hold Cmd-R before you select Restart and keep holding it until the thermometer moves about 1/3 of the way across.


      • Ron says:

        I’ve always used third-party keyboards. Holding down keys while you start up seldom works with these keyboards. I save the cheesy Apple keyboard for just this purpose.

        • Larry says:


          Good to know. I haven’t had problems with the 3rd-party keyboards I’ve used with my Mac, but having an extra wired keyboard lying around is never a bad idea.


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