How to Downgrade macOS to a Previous Version

Photo of a Mac perched on a desk next to a plant

While the latest version of macOS is one of the year’s most anticipated events, a small number of users face issues with their installations. Besides the usual bugs with fresh software releases, you may also run into problems like unresponsive systems. Fortunately, it’s possible to downgrade your system to an earlier version of macOS, such as the OS version that was shipped with your device. These steps will help you downgrade from an later version of macOS, such as Big Sur, to an earlier macOS version.

Back Up Your Mac

The first step before any software upgrade/downgrade is to back up your Mac. This is especially important in this case, since you’ll be formatting your hard drive and wiping all the data.

To back up your files, you can go down the traditional route and copy them to an external disk drive. Alternatively, you can use either Time Machine or a free backup app. Do not that if you use Time Machine to create a backup and recover from that same backup later, you’ll also inadvertently recover the original macOS you used to create the backup.

Macos Startup Modes Cover

How to Downgrade macOS Using Time Machine

If you already have a Time Machine backup from an earlier macOS version that you’ll be downgrading to, it’ll come in handy, since restoring your Mac from a Time Machine backup is much simpler than formatting your hard drive and reinstalling macOS.

Remember that even though you’ll be restoring your Mac from a Time Machine backup, your startup disk will be completely wiped. Hence, any work you’ve done or music or photos you’ve downloaded after you made the initial backup will be deleted, so make sure you back up everything you want to keep.

The below instructions show how to use Time Machine to recover an earlier version of macOS.

1. Connect the Time Machine disk to your Mac.

2. Restart your Mac. Hold down Command + R until the Apple logo appears.

3. Once the Recovery Mode loads, choose “Restore from Time Machine Backup” and click Continue.

4. When you see “Restore from Time Machine Backup,” click Continue again.

Downgrade Macos Restore Fromtime Machine

5. Select the disc holding your Time Machine backup.

6. The next screen shows all your backups over time. Pick the last one you made prior to updating to the newer version of the Mac operating system. (You can see which version of macOS the backup was made in.)

Once you’ve completed the steps above, your Mac should be ready to go with a downgraded version of macOS.

How to Downgrade macOS without Time Machine

If you don’t have a Time Machine backup, you’ll have to downgrade macOS the old-fashioned way: by resetting your hard drive. This method will wipe the data from your hard drive, so make sure you’ve backed up all your data somewhere safe.

1. Download the installer for the macOS version you want to install. We’ve covered the download links and methods here.

2. Once downloaded, don’t click on Install! You’ll need to create a bootable installer for macOS first, which can be done on any external disk (such as a USB thumb stick.)

3. Once done, restart your Mac. When it’s booting, hold down Command + R to activate Recovery mode.

4. In Recovery mode, select “Reinstall macOS” from Utilities. Follow the on-screen instructions to reinstall macOS from your bootable installer. (You’ll require an Internet connection for the downgrade, since macOS needs to connect to the Internet for installation.)

5. Once done, you should have a working copy of an older version of macOS. You can now restore all your data and continue working as you normally would.

If you’re reverting from recent version of macOS, like Catalina or Mojave to macOS High Sierra or earlier, you may face an issue while downgrading, as Apple changed the file system from HFS+ to AFPS in macOS High Sierra.

If the above is true for you, you’ll need to wipe your hard drive by changing its file format before downgrading macOS. To do this:

1. After Step 3, open the Disk Utility app.

2. Go to the toolbar at the top of your computer and click on “View,” then select “Display All Drives” from the drop-down list of options.

Screenshot showing where to choose "Show All Devices" in Disk Utility

3. Choose your drive. If you have the ability to erase it, the “Erase” option will be clickable.

Screenshot showing the option to erase in Disk Utility

4. Click on Erase. When the next window appears, change your drive’s format to “MacOS Extended (Journaled).”

Downgrade Macos Format Disk

5. Change the name of your drive to something else.

6. Quit Disk Utility, reinstall macOS, and select the new drive name as your installation drive.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does Recovery Mode on Mac delete everything?

No. The point of Recovery Mode is to help you revert to a previous version of your computer or repair an issue you’re dealing with. Recovery Mode itself won’t delete everything unless you want this to happen.

2. Does downgrading macOS delete everything?

Yes, downgrading macOS will delete everything on your computer. This is why it’s important to follow the advice we mentioned earlier in this article and back everything up before downgrading.

3. Is it bad to downgrade a current version of macOS?

Downgrading the latest version of macOS might not cause any noticeable issues straightaway. But over time, you might find that your computer begins to perform worse. Apple releases software updates to address numerous critical areas, such as tackling security risks and patching bugs, and these aren’t necessarily things you want to avoid.

4. Does downgrading macOS make my computer faster?

Not necessarily, no. While freeing up space on your hard drive might improve performance, your software probably wasn’t causing these issues. You may want to look into simpler ways to improve your Mac’s performance, such as deleting files and apps you don’t need.

Final Thoughts

Upgrading macOS software is essential for ensuring that your computer stays secure, while it can also give you access to plenty of cool new features. But sometimes it’ll have teething problems and become a source of frustration. If you want to downgrade macOS on your computer, these tips will help you achieve this – even though the process isn’t easy. To further customize your macOS experience, read on to learn how to create desktop shortcuts and create custom keyboard shortcuts.

Danny Maiorca
Danny Maiorca

Danny has been a professional writer for over five years. Now based in Copenhagen, Denmark, he plied his trade working for various companies in the UK — where he was born — before taking the leap into freelancing. He specializes in iOS and Mac.

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