How to reinstall macOS without losing data

Reinstalling your operating system can be a useful fix for a slew of problems you might run into on your computer, even on the best Macs. However, people often hesitate to reinstall macOS due to fears of data loss and the hassle of starting from scratch. Luckily, it is possible to reinstall your current macOS version with a built-in tool without losing any data. It only takes a few steps to initiate, and doing so can fix issues on your Mac, from small bugs to system-wide slowdowns. If this sounds like what you need to revive your Mac, follow the steps below.

What is macOS Recovery, and how does it work?

macOS Recovery is a software tool built into macOS that is designed to help users fix issues with their systems, among other things. It’s great during times when your Mac won’t boot up normally because macOS Recovery is stored separately from your regular macOS volume on a hidden disk volume called the macOS Base System. All you really need to know about this is that since these are stored separately from your main OS, macOS Recovery can work even when your OS is broken.

There are a few different tools available in macOS Recovery, including a Time Machine restore tool and the Disk Utility app. However, what we’re interested in is the operating system reinstallation tool, which lets you install your version of macOS and apply any available updates — all without losing data. As such, this tool can be critical in solving problems you might run into at the OS level without data loss.

While this method does offer a way to reinstall macOS without data loss, it’s not a perfect solution. Anytime a system update or upgrade is applied, there is the possibility of data loss. If you can create a backup before reinstalling macOS, we strongly recommend doing so. However, in cases where the macOS operating system will not boot up at all, it may not be possible.

How to launch macOS Recovery

The following steps will explain how to use macOS Recovery to reinstall macOS without losing data. The steps for accessing macOS Recovery vary based on whether you’re using a Mac with an Intel or Apple Silicon chip. To check, find the Apple menu in your Mac’s menu bar and select the About tab. This will show the quick specifications of your Mac, including your Mac’s processor. You will either see an Apple or Intel chip listed here. Be sure to follow the steps that pertain to your system below.

In order to reinstall macOS, you will need a network connection. If you plan to use Wi-Fi, you must manually connect to your preferred network. Since macOS Recovery is separate from your regular macOS volume, your known networks will not be saved here.

How to launch macOS Recovery on Intel Macs

  1. Open the Apple menu and click Restart.
    The restart button in the Apple menu.

  2. Immediately press the Command + R keys on your Mac’s keyboard.
  3. Your Mac will restart to the macOS Recovery environment.
    An admin profile in macOS Recovery.

How to launch macOS Recovery on Macs with Apple Silicon

  1. Open the Apple menu and click Shut Down.
    The shut down button in the Apple menu.

  2. Press and hold the power button until you see the Loading startup options prompt.
  3. Click the Options button to launch macOS Recovery.
    The boot options button in the startup menu.

How to reinstall macOS in the macOS Recovery environment

After you’ve found macOS Recovery, it’s time to reinstall your macOS version.

  1. Select the Reinstall button for your version of macOS and click Continue.
    The reinstall macOS option in macOS recovery.

  2. Follow the on-screen prompts to complete the download and installation.
    The macOS Sonoma install page in macOS recovery.

    If you are asked to select a disk volume, choose your current macOS volume. In most cases, this will be the only volume available for selection.

  3. Your computer will start up normally when the installation is complete.

When should you reinstall macOS?

macOS Recovery should be used as a last-ditch effort after typical troubleshooting methods have been exhausted. Before taking this step, it’s recommended that you reach out to Apple Support and see if they can help solve your problem. However, for a fairly quick and effective fix, reinstalling macOS is a great way to overcome issues on your Mac without losing any data.