3 Ways to Downgrade to an Older Version of macOS
It’s always tempting to install the latest version of macOS, full of new features and updates. Even so, you might find that your system isn’t working right once you’ve gone through the upgrade process.
Fortunately, if you need to, you can drop back to the previous macOS version you were running. However, the downgrading process isn’t as easy as it used to be. We’ll walk you through how to downgrade macOS Monterey or earlier to an older version of macOS.
Why You Might Want to Downgrade macOS
Apple tries to make macOS upgrades as backward-compatible as possible, but there are still edge cases. Certain types of hardware and software might not function correctly after upgrading.
This is especially true when it comes to audio, video, and graphics-related hardware and software. For that reason, many vendors of this type of software will recommend that you never upgrade your operating system in the middle of a project. Still, you may realize you need to return to a previously completed project that won’t work on the latest version of macOS.
Before You Downgrade, Back Up Your Data!
No matter which of the below methods you use to downgrade your macOS version, you’ll erase everything on your hard drive. To ensure you don’t end up losing any valuable data during the process, your best bet is to back up your Mac’s entire hard drive.
You can back up with the built-in Time Machine service, although you must be careful if you use this option. One of the ways you can downgrade is by restoring an old Time Machine backup (if you have one available). If you do this and then want to restore a recent backup, be sure to only restore your personal data, so you don’t undo the downgrade.
If you want to be safe, or you’re just not a fan of Time Machine, fear not. We’ve covered different Mac backup solutions that are solid options too.
After backing up, here are the different methods you can use to downgrade your Mac.
1. Downgrade Using macOS Recovery: Intel Macs Only
Downgrading is fairly easy if your Mac originally came with an older version of macOS installed. That’s because you can use the built-in macOS Recovery tool to downgrade. Just ensure you have internet access during the process, as the software will download a previous version of macOS.
This method only works on Intel-based Macs and can’t be used on Apple silicon Macs like the M2 MacBook Air. You’ll need to use the Time Machine or bootable disk method for those Macs.
The process is similar to reinstalling macOS but will instead download the version of macOS that your computer originally shipped with. If your computer is quite old, this will instead download the oldest version that’s still available.
Make sure you’ve fully backed up your Mac first because the following procedure will erase your startup disk:
- Shut down your Mac.
- Power on your computer and immediately hold Shift + Option + Cmd + R. You’ll notice startup takes longer than normal as macOS Recovery loads.
- Once the macOS Utilities screen loads, choose Reinstall macOS (or Reinstall OS X) and click Continue.
- Follow the prompts and choose your startup disk. Now click on Install.
- Walk through the onscreen instructions to complete the rest of the installation process.
- Once the installation is complete, restore your files from the backup you created.
2. Downgrade Using a Time Machine Backup
Using a Time Machine backup is another simple way to install an older version of macOS. This, of course, assumes that you created the backup on an older version of macOS.
To downgrade using a prior Time Machine backup, follow these simple instructions:
- Plug your Time Machine disk into your Mac and power it down or restart it.
- Boot your Mac into Recovery mode. Hold Cmd + R to enter macOS Recovery on an Intel Mac. On Apple silicon Macs (M1 and M2 models), keep holding the Power button on startup until you see the Loading Startup Options message. On the next screen, select Options to launch Recovery mode.
- When the macOS Utilities screen appears, select Restore From Time Machine Backup and click Continue.
- On the next screen, click Continue again.
- Select your Restore Source. In this case, that’s the backup drive you plugged in earlier.
- On the following screen, select the backup you want to restore from. You’ll be able to see which version of macOS was used to create that backup.
- Follow the prompts to complete the reinstallation, then restore your files from the backup you created.
3. Downgrade Using an Older macOS Installer
Before the release of macOS Mojave, it was possible to download older versions of macOS directly through the App Store. This is no longer possible with the updated Mac App Store; however, you can still download older macOS versions through Apple’s Support website. The installer will download through the Software Update section of the System Preferences and should be available in your Applications folder after.
Once you have the specific macOS installer downloaded on your Mac, you can use it to create a bootable disk, from which you can reinstall an older version of macOS. This is helpful for users trying to downgrade from macOS Monterey to macOS Big Sur or older on Apple silicon Macs (M1 and M2 models), as the default Recovery mode only installs the latest version of macOS.
Moving forward, it’s worth remembering that older macOS versions are now harder to download. The next time you upgrade, you might want to make a backup of the previous version’s installer, just in case.
For this process, you’ll need a 16GB or larger USB flash drive or external hard drive.
Step 1. Prepare the External Drive
Before you can create the installer, you need to format the drive. If your drive is already formatted, you can skip this section. But remember that your drive needs to be formatted to a compatible file system such as HFS+ or APFS. Here’s what you need to do:
- Plug in your external drive.
- Launch the Disk Utility app. You can find this with Spotlight (Cmd + Space) or by going to the Applications folder in Finder, then opening the Utilities menu and double-clicking on the app.
- Under External in the list on the left, select your disk and then click the Erase button at the top of the window.
- Under Format, choose either the HFS+ or APFS file system. The best Mac file system to choose depends on what you plan to use it for. If you’re unsure, go with APFS.
- Click Erase, then Done, once the process completes.
Creating the Installer
You’ll need to follow these steps on the machine that has the installer for the older macOS version.
Plug in your formatted external hard drive and launch the Terminal app. You’ll need to enter a command, which will differ based on the macOS version you’re using. If you are going to create a bootable drive for macOS Monterey, use the command below as it is. Otherwise, replace “Monterey” with the macOS version name (for example, Big Sur):
sudo /Applications/Install macOS Monterey.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/Untitled
This will create an installer (named Untitled), which you can use as a bootable disk to install macOS.
Step 2. Use the Installer
Finally, here’s how to install an older version of macOS using the installer you just created:
- Shut down the Mac you want to downgrade and plug in the newly created external drive.
- Boot the Mac into Recovery Mode. For Intel Macs, you can do this by holding Cmd + R on startup. On Apple silicon Macs (M1 and M2 models), keep holding the Power button on startup till you see the message Loading Startup Options. On the next screen, select Options to launch Recovery mode.
- When the macOS Utilities screen appears, select Disk Utility
- Select your Startup Disk and click Erase. Choose either the HFS+ or APFS file system for the format.
- Restart the Mac again, but this time holding down Option (Intel Macs) or keeping the Power button pressed (Apple silicon Macs). The Startup Manager will appear. You should see your USB as a bootable disk. Use the arrow keys to select it and press Return on your keyboard.
- Once the installer loads, select Install macOS.
- Once the installation is complete, you can restore your files from the backup you created.
You Might Not Need to Downgrade macOS at All
If you’re thinking about downgrading your macOS version because your computer is getting slow, you might want to rethink that decision. While this may solve your speed problem, you could go through all that trouble only to find that your Mac still feels slow. So, try to clean your hard drive instead and reduce your startup applications to get better performance out of your Mac first.
Downgrading your Mac should always be considered a last resort when all the other standard troubleshooting measures fail. Of course, you can also use this procedure to roll back from a beta version of macOS.