Mac Gems: Recovery Partition Creator adds OS X Recovery to any drive

os x recovery 580

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At a Glance
  • Christopher Silvertooth Recovery Partition Creator 3.8

One of the best features introduced in Lion (OS X 10.7), and available on every version of OS X since, is OS X Recovery. The OS X installer creates an invisible, bootable, 650MB partition—a portion of a drive that the operating system treats as a separate volume—on your startup drive called Recovery HD that includes a few essential utilities for fixing problems, restoring files, browsing the Web, and even reinstalling OS X.

The Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks installers should automatically create the invisible Recovery HD partition the first time you install one of these operating systems. However, that doesn’t always happen. You can find out if your Mac has the Recovery HD partition—and, thus, OS X Recovery capabilities—by launching the Terminal app (in /Applications/Utilities), and then typing diskutil list and pressing Return. Locate your Mac’s startup drive in the resulting list of volumes; if you have a Recovery HD partition, it will show up as “Recovery HD” (preceded by “Apple_Boot”) just below the name of the startup drive. If you don’t see a Recovery HD partition on your Mac’s startup drive, you can’t use OS X Recovery.

terminal output no recoveryhd
The results of this diskutil list command show a drive with a Recovery HD partition (top) and a drive without (bottom).

(Another situation where you may need to add a Recovery HD partition is when you have an external drive you use for clone backups and you want to enable FileVault on it—a drive must have a Recovery HD partition to use FileVault.)

If you don’t have a Recovery HD partition, Apple’s official procedure for adding one is to back up your drive, erase it to make sure it’s properly formatted, reinstall OS X—which should create the hidden partition—and then restore your data.

But an easier approach is to use the free Recovery Partition Creator (more info here). This app can create the partition and even install the necessary OS X Recovery software on it. You just need to have a copy of your OS X installer—Mavericks, Mountain Lion, or Lion—on a connected drive.

Warning: Recovery Partition Creator alters your drive’s partition map, which isn’t a trivial action. Before using the utility, you must back up your drive (and test your backup). I didn’t experience any data issues when testing Recovery Partition Creator, but whenever you use a utility that works with your drive at such a low level, you want to be safe.

recovery partition creator initial dialog
Yet another reminder to back up your drive before proceeding.

Launch Recovery Partition Creator, read the disclaimer (which also reminds you to back up your drive—you did, right?), and click OK. You’ll then see a dialog box indicating the version of OS X installed on your Mac. Assuming it’s some version of 10.7, 10.8, or 10.9, you’ll see the message “continuing”; click OK. Next you’ll be prompted to choose the connected volume on which you want to create the recovery partition—presumably, this would be your startup drive, but you can also use Recovery Partition Creator to create the partition on a different drive. Choose the drive and click OK.

Recovery Partition Creator will next check your drive for errors. You can skip this step, but I recommend letting it continue—you don’t want a utility mucking with your drive’s partition map if the drive or its directory is having problems.

You’ll then be asked to locate your OS X installer. Because Recovery Partition Creator will use the chosen installer to populate the new partition with the necessary OS X Recovery software, you’ll want to choose the installer for the version of OS X you’re running on your Mac. In other words, if your Mac is running Mavericks, you want to choose the Mavericks installer. Oddly, even though you’ve just chosen the installer, you’re asked to choose the OS version you’re going to install on the recovery partition. Click the correct version (10.7 or 10.8 is one choice, 10.9 is the other), and Recovery Partition Creator will begin repartitioning the drive and installing the necessary software.

The description here makes Recovery Partition Creator seem more complicated than it actually is. In practice, the steps are quick and mostly straightforward. However, the utility is an AppleScript-based app, which means you don’t get much feedback about what’s happening. Eventually—after a minute or so, or a few minutes, depending on the speed of your drive(s)—you’ll see an alert that the procedure was successful. (If you switched to another app to work while Recovery Partition Creator was doing its thing, this alert may be hidden behind other windows.) You can then quit the utility.

If you want to verify that Recovery Partition Creator did what it promised, you can open Terminal and repeat the diskutil list command. The drive in question should now show a Recovery HD partition.

I’ve tested Recovery Partition Creator on a number of drives—for example, my iMac, which somehow never got one despite many OS X installations, and a couple backup drives for which I wanted to enable FileVault—and it’s worked well. It’s a handy tool to have around.

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At a Glance
  • To use OS X's handy OS X Recovery feature, or to enable FileVault on an external drive, you need a special recovery partition on your drive. This utility can add it if the OS X installer didn't.

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