How to Create a Bootable USB Drive for macOS Featured Image

How to Create a Bootable USB Drive for macOS

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Last updated: October 16, 2023

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Creating a bootable macOS USB drive is essential to perform a clean installation of the operating system, upgrade to a newer macOS version, or recover the system in case of a critical failure.

While the process may seem daunting at first, it is relatively straightforward, and with the right tools and guidance, anyone can create a bootable USB drive for macOS. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the steps for creating a bootable macOS USB drive and make the process as hassle-free as possible.

Before We Begin

Before creating a bootable USB drive, it’s a good idea to optimize your Mac, and MacKeeper can help you with that. It can do everything, from running a virus scan to clearing cache files, to optimize your system and fix various problems. You may not even need to boot your Mac afterward. So, download and install MacKeeper today.

Why Do You Need a Bootable macOS USB Drive?

You may need to create a bootable USB drive for macOS for several reasons. Some of these reasons are as follows:

  1. 💻 Installation or reinstallation: A bootable USB drive is essential to install macOS on a new computer or clean install or reinstall macOS on an existing computer. It allows you to start the installation without downloading the macOS installer.
  2. 🛠️ Troubleshooting and recovery: A bootable USB drive lets you boot into a macOS environment outside your installed OS, providing access to various utilities. You can use it to repair disk errors, recover lost data, restore backups, or reinstall macOS.
  3. ⚙️ System maintenance and updates: With a bootable USB drive, you can perform system maintenance tasks, such as disk partitioning, formatting, or cloning. It lets you access Disk Utility or third-party disk management software to manage your drives without booting into your primary OS.
  4. 🚀 Accessibility and convenience: A bootable USB drive allows you to carry your macOS system. You can use it on any compatible Mac computer by plugging in the USB drive and booting from it.

Overall, creating a bootable macOS USB drive provides flexibility, convenience, and peace of mind, enabling you to perform various tasks related to installation, troubleshooting, recovery, maintenance, and updates for your macOS system.

What You Need to Create a Bootable macOS USB Drive

Creating a bootable macOS USB drive is a handy technique for various tasks. But before you can do that, you need a few essential elements.

Below, I’ve shared everything you need to create a bootable USB drive for macOS to have a portable and versatile tool at your disposal.

1. A USB Drive

connecting usb to a laptop

You’ll need a USB drive with at least 16 GB of storage space. In fact, the more, the better. This is particularly important considering the installer for macOS Ventura was around 12 GB, and so was macOS Monterey’s, while the installer for Big Sur was approximately 13 GB.

Each macOS version takes a different amount of space, so you must check how much space your desired macOS takes on your Mac before starting the process.

I suggest using a Flash memory stick with at least 16 GB instead of a standard hard drive, as it offers faster performance. If you have a newer Mac, choosing a USB 3 or USB Type C drive is preferable. In some cases, using an adapter may be necessary.

However, if you own an M1 Mac, using a Thunderbolt drive might be more suitable due to reported issues with USB drives on M1 Macs.

Any data on the USB drive will be erased during the process. So, if you have data on the drive you plan to use for creating the bootable installer, back it up, transfer it to another drive, or get a new one.

2. macOS Installer

macos ventura downloader

You must download a macOS installer from the Mac App Store or Apple’s website. While the App Store is the safest place to download an installer, you may not get older macOS versions there.

The installer should also be compatible with the macOS version you want to install on your Mac. You should consult my macOS compatibility checker and check the macOS version system requirements before downloading it.

How to Get macOS Installers

If you want to download and install older macOS versions, here are direct download links to some of the recent versions:

  1. Download macOS 13: Ventura (June 6, 2022)
macos ventura downloader
  1. Download macOS 12: Monterey (June 7, 2021)
macos monterey downloader
  1. Download macOS 11: Big Sur (November 12, 2020)
macos big sur downloader
  1. Download macOS 10.15: Catalina (October 7, 2019)
macos catalina downloader
  1. Download macOS 10.14: Mojave (September 24, 2018)
macos mojave downloader
  1. Download macOS 10.13: High Sierra (September 25, 2017)
macos high sierra downloader
  1. Download macOS 10.12: Sierra (September 20, 2016)
  2. Download OS X 10.11: El Capitan (September 30, 2015)
  3. Download OS X 10.10: Yosemite (October 16, 2014)

You must explore alternative and unofficial sources if you’re looking for a macOS version predating these recent releases. One option is searching for individuals selling outdated installation discs on online marketplaces or torrent sites.

However, you must exercise caution and ensure the legitimacy and reliability of these sources before making any purchases.

3. A Mac Computer

apple macbook pro 13 in m1 2020

You will require a Mac computer to create a bootable USB drive for macOS. This computer will be the platform to download the macOS installer and perform the necessary steps to create the bootable USB drive.

You must ensure your Mac is running a compatible version of macOS that supports the creation of bootable USB drives.

4. Administrator Access

Having administrator access on the Mac computer is essential for creating a bootable USB drive. Administrator privileges allow you to make system-level changes, install software, and modify the settings required to execute the process.

Without administrator access, you may encounter limitations and restrictions that prevent you from successfully creating the bootable USB drive.

5. A Reliable Internet Connection

click the wi fi icon in the menu bar

A stable and reliable internet connection is necessary for downloading the macOS installer. The macOS installer can be obtained from the Mac App Store or Apple’s official website. Depending on the size of the installer, the download process may take some time.

It is crucial to have a consistent internet connection throughout the download to ensure the installer is acquired without any interruptions or corruption.

How to Create a Bootable USB Drive for macOS

A bootable USB drive for macOS is not required for updating or reinstalling macOS. However, it can make installing macOS on multiple computers easier without downloading the installer repeatedly. It can also benefit you if you have trouble installing a compatible macOS version through the Finder or macOS Recovery.

Creating a bootable macOS installation has become significantly easier since the introduction of OS X Mavericks in 2013. Starting from that version and continuing with all subsequent versions of macOS, Apple introduced the Terminal command createinstallmedia which allows you to create a bootable macOS installer.

In this section, I’ll guide you to use this command effectively and create a bootable USB drive.

1. Format the USB Drive Using Disk Utility

Formatting the USB drive using Disk Utility is essential to create a bootable USB drive for macOS. You can ensure compatibility and optimal performance when installing or reinstalling macOS by formatting the drive correctly.

Disk Utility, a built-in utility in macOS, offers a user-friendly interface for managing and formatting drives. Below are the steps to format the USB drive using Disk Utility, preparing it to be transformed into a bootable macOS installer.

This method will erase everything on your USB drive. So, if you want to save the data on your drive, create a backup before moving on with the steps below.

  1. Connect the USB drive to your Mac.
connect a usb to your macbook
  1. Open the Disk Utility app from the Finder > Applications > Utilities folder.
launch disk utility from utilities
  1. Select the USB drive from the list of drives on the left-hand side.
  2. Click the Erase button in the top toolbar.
choose your external drive from the sidebar and click erase
  1. Choose a name for your USB drive. It will be Untitled by default, but you can give it any name you want.

Please remember in the createinstallmedia command later, you must substitute the term MyVolume with the name you assign to your drive in this step.

  1. Choose the format as Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
type in a name for your drive and select the format
  1. Choose the scheme as GUID Partition Map.
  2. Click the Erase button to format the USB drive.
type your drives name choose its format and scheme and click erase
  1. Wait for Disk Utility to create the partition and set up the drive. It can take a few minutes.
  2. Next, click Done.

2. Create a Bootable USB Drive for macOS Using Terminal

The Terminal is a built-in command-line tool on macOS that can perform various tasks, including creating a bootable USB drive. Now that you have formatted your USB drive, you can use a Terminal command to create a bootable USB drive for macOS.

The method described here to create a bootable USB drive for macOS using the createinstallmedia command doesn’t function on OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard or earlier versions. You must have at least OS X 10.7 Lion or a recent macOS version.

Here are the steps to create a bootable USB drive for macOS using Terminal:

  1. Insert the USB drive into your Mac and make sure it is formatted correctly.
  2. Open Terminal by typing Terminal in the Spotlight search.
type terminal in spotlight search
  1. Type the following command in Terminal and press Enter to view your Mac’s list of disks and volumes:
diskutil list
  1. Next, type the following command for macOS Ventura and press Enter:
sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Ventura.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Here, Install\ macOS\ Ventura.app is the name of the installer app you downloaded from the App Store, and MyVolume is the name of the USB drive. If you downloaded a different macOS version, replace Ventura with the appropriate name.

Here are the createinstallmedia commands for different macOS versions:

Sonoma

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Sonoma.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Ventura

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Ventura.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Monterey

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Monterey.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Big Sur

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Big\ Sur.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Catalina

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Catalina.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Mojave

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Mojave.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

High Sierra

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ High\ Sierra.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume

Sierra

sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Sierra.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume --applicationpath /Applications/Install/ macOS/ Sierra.app

El Capitan

sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app

Yosemite

sudo /Applications/Install OS X Yosemite.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/MyVolume --applicationpath /Applications/Install OS X Yosemite.app
  1. After typing the correct command for your desired macOS version, type in your admin password when prompted and press Enter.
  2. Terminal may also ask for permission to access the removable USB drive. Click OK.
  3. You’ll get a warning that Terminal is about to erase the drive. Type Y and press Enter.
  4. Wait for the process to complete. It may take a while, so be patient.
  5. Once the process is complete, the USB drive will be renamed Install macOS Ventura (or the version you chose) and will be ready to use as a bootable installer.

3. Boot macOS From the USB Drive

You can easily install or upgrade macOS on your Mac after creating a bootable USB drive. Follow the steps below to boot your Mac from the USB drive:

  1. Connect your bootable macOS USB drive to your Mac using a USB port.
connect a usb drive to your macbook
  1. Click the Apple menu and choose Restart or hold down the Power button to restart your Mac.
click the apple icon and select restart
  1. Click Restart on the prompt to confirm your action.
click restart to confirm your decision
  1. Press and hold down the Option ⌥ key immediately after restarting your Mac. Keep holding it down until you see the Startup Manager screen.
  1. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to select the bootable macOS USB drive as your startup disk. This will boot your Mac into Recovery Mode.
  2. Next, click Install macOS [version] and tap the Continue button.
click install macos 13 beta and press continue
  1. The macOS version on the bootable drive will start installing on your Mac.
  2. After the process completes, your Mac will restart with a clean installed macOS version.

Final Words

Creating a bootable macOS USB drive can be a lifesaver when troubleshooting or installing macOS on your Mac. Now that you know how to create a bootable USB drive for macOS, here are some more tips to fix similar issues:

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can I create a bootable macOS USB drive on a Windows computer? 

    You cannot create a bootable macOS USB drive on a Windows computer. It is because the process involves accessing the macOS operating system, which can only be done on a Mac computer.

  2. Can I use a bootable macOS USB drive to install or upgrade macOS on multiple Macs? 

    Yes, you can use a bootable macOS USB drive to install or upgrade macOS on multiple Macs. However, you must ensure each Mac meets the minimum system requirements for the version of macOS you are installing.

  3. What if I already have a bootable macOS USB drive but need to update it to the latest version?

    You can update your existing bootable macOS USB drive to the latest version by using the Terminal app to create a new bootable drive with the updated macOS version.

  4. What should I do if my Mac doesn’t recognize the bootable macOS USB drive? 

    If your Mac doesn’t recognize the bootable macOS USB drive, ensure the USB drive is properly formatted and created using the correct steps. You may also need to check your Mac’s startup settings to ensure it is set to boot from an external drive.

  5. Can I still create a bootable macOS USB drive if I don’t have access to another Mac? 

    If you can’t access another Mac, you can still create a bootable macOS USB drive using a virtual machine on your Windows or Linux computer. However, this process can be more complicated and require additional software and technical knowledge.

Hashir Ibrahim

Author

I'm Hashir, a tech journalist with a decade of experience. My work has been featured in some of the top tech publications like MakeUseOf and MakeTechEasier. I have a bachelor's degree in IT, a master's in cybersecurity, and extensive knowledge of Apple hardware, specifically MacBooks. As the senior writer at MacBook Journal, I write in depth guides that help you solve any issues you have with your mac and unbiased reviews that help you make the right buying decisions.

Ojash

Reviewer

Hi there! I'm Ojash, a tech journalist with over a decade of experience in the industry. I've had the privilege of contributing to some of the world's largest tech publications, making my mark as a respected Mac expert. My passion lies in exploring, using, and writing about MacBooks, and I enjoy sharing my expertise to help others make informed decisions and get the most out of their MacBook experience. Join me as we delve into the fascinating world of MacBooks together!

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