macOS Monterey arrived on Macs in October 2021, some people have installed Monterey and love it, others have installed the updated only to regret it later. Perhaps you discovered that an app you rely on no longer works or is buggy, maybe you just hate one of the new features, or perhaps there is a problem with Monterey – or a subsequent update to Monterey – that makes you wish you hadn’t installed it.
Luckily it is possible to downgrade, but unfortunately, Apple doesn’t make it as easy as it could.
This article will help you downgrade from any version of the Mac operating system to an older version – so if you are looking to downgrade from Monterey, Big Sur, Catalina, Mojave, High Sierra, Sierra, El Capitan or even one of the Big Cat versions of Mac OS X, then read on!
Alternatively, you could protect yourself from being lumbered with an operating system that doesn’t run the way you want it to (or doesn’t run the apps you need) by
installing it on a separate volume (also known as dual booting) or
running it on a separate drive, so, maybe after reverting back to an older macOS, you might like to try that instead.
Why downgrade macOS Monterey
Monterey is a great update to the Mac operating system with some useful features and some iOS inspired changes (read:
macOS Monterey vs Big Sur). However when Monterey launched in October 2021 not all the promised new features were available – and even now in February 2022 we are still waiting for one of the headline new features:
Universal Control. That’s assuming your Mac can even take advantage of all the new features in Monterey. If you have an Intel Mac it is likely that you will be missing out on some of Monterey’s best features. Read:
Some Monterey features don’t work on Intel Macs.
The lack of headline features might not be the only annoyance if you have installed macOS Monterey. Another problem (which is shared with Big Sur, Catalina, Mojave, and High Sierra), is that each time Apple updates the operating system with new features some users encounter problems and vulnerabilities with the new software. Since Apple introduced Monterey there have been a number of
problems with Monterey. For example, the macOS 12.2 update, which itself bought a number of bug fixes, has left some users experiencing fast battery drain that seems to be related to a Bluetooth error. More here:
What’s in macOS Monterey 12.2: New features, bug fixes and a bug.
There may be other reasons why you need to revert to an older version of the Mac operating system. Perhaps you upgraded to a newer version of macOS only to discover that an app you rely on doesn’t work. Perhaps you have discovered that the version of Photoshop you own no longer works, for example. There were a lot of
apps that didn’t work in Catalina for example. These days the issue with apps not working tends to relate to whether you are running an M1 or Intel Mac, but software issues are a common issue. See:
Which apps are compatible with M1 Macs?
Or maybe you need to run an older version of the macOS on a Mac you are using to test apps as part of your job. In which case you may be looking to run multiple operating systems on the same machine. We have this more detailed article that looks at various
ways to install old versions of macOS here.
Unfortunately downgrading to an older version of macOS (or Mac OS X as it was previously known) isn’t as simple as finding the older version of the Mac operating system and reinstalling it. Once your Mac is running a newer version it won’t allow you to downgrade it that way. But it is still possible to downgrade your Mac.
We’ll run through the steps to downgrade your Mac in this article. If you are wanting to downgrade from a beta version of macOS we have a separate article dealing with
downgrading from a beta version of macOS here.
How to downgrade from Monterey to Big Sur
Chances are you arrived on this article because you have updated to Monterey and regret it. Luckily right now it is still relatively easy to downgrade back to Big Sur.
There are a few methods you can use to downgrade from Monterey to Big Sur, click the link to go to that section of this guide:
We’ll look at the various options and how you can downgrade from Monterey below.
Note that if you are on an M1 Mac you won’t be able to revert to a version of macOS before Big Sur.
How to downgrade from Big Sur to Catalina
If you have arrived on this article because you have updated to Big Sur and regret it. Click on the links to jump to these methods to downgrade from Big Sur to Catalina:
We’ll look at the various options and how you can downgrade from Big Sur below.
How to downgrade from Catalina to Mojave
Maybe it’s Catalina you want to downgrade. The options are similar to those above so the following steps should also enable you to restore Mojave – or even High Sierra or earlier on your Mac if you want to. Read on to find out what to do.
Backup your Mac first!
Before you start the process of downgrading your Mac, you should back up your Mac. The reason for making a back up is that during the downgrade process you will completely wipe your hard drive – so if there is anything you don’t want to lose make sure you have a copy of it.
However, you shouldn’t use Apple’s Time Machine to make this particular backup, because if you recover from a Time Machine backup made in macOS Monterey you will recover Monterey too (and likewise for whatever macOS you are running). Instead back up any recent changes and documents using another back up tool. We have a few suggestions here:
Best backup software for Macs.
Hopefully you have an older
Time Machine back up from before you upgraded as this will make the downgrade process a lot easier. Ideally you will have had your backup drive plugged in making regular backups of your Mac, or at least you will have made a backup prior to upgrading to Big Sur (which is something we always advise when updating an OS). With your pre Monterey Time Machine backup in hand you can recover your machine from before the update and then copy back any files you created after you installed Monterey.
It’s possible that you could get by without any backup at all if all your files are stored in iCloud, but Time Machine backs up your settings too, which can be comforting to recover, and we have been caught out in the past when we assumed everything we needed was in the cloud, only to later discover that one app we relied on didn’t have its data backed up.
How to downgrade macOS using Time Machine
The simplest way to reverse an OS update is to restore from an earlier Time Machine backup – one you made before upgrading to Monterey (or Big Sur, or Catalina if you want to go back further). If you prefer to use an alternative to Time Machine, such as
Carbon Copy Cloner (which has a free 30-day trial or costs £30.90/$39.99), you should still be able to revert to the older version of the OS using our guide. You might also like to check out our recommendations for the
best backup software for Mac.
It needs to be a complete backup of your system from before the upgrade. That backup can be on a directly connected external disk, hooked up by USB or Thunderbolt. Or it can be on a Time Machine compatible network drive. Read this advice about making a back up of your Mac:
How to back up a Mac.
Before we begin, it’s important to note that when you restore from a backup, you’ll wipe everything on your startup disk. That means any work you’ve done since you upgraded to Monterey (or whichever version of macOS you are running) will be lost. That might include songs you’d imported, or photos you’d added.
So… back it up to a spare external drive or at the very least make a copy of any files you’ve created or modified since you upgraded. If you’ve got photos in the Photos app and you don’t use iCloud Photo Library, manually export them to an external disk so you can re-import them later.
If you use iCloud heavily you may find that everything you have added since updating is available via iCloud but check!
Here’s how to recover the earlier version of the macOS using Time Machine:
- Plug your Time Machine disk into your Mac.
- Restart your Mac.
- If you have an Intel Mac hold down Command + R until the Apple logo appears. If you have an M1 Mac you need to press and hold the on button until the Options menu comes up.
- When the options appear on screen, choose ‘Restore From Time Machine Backup’ and click Continue.
- The next screen will show the words Restore from Time Machine, click Continue again.
- Next, select your Restore Source – this should be your backup drive.
- 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 back up was made in).
As we said above, if you are on an M1 Mac you won’t be able to revert to a version of macOS before Big Sur.
Now that you have restored the older version of macOS you can recover the files you created since from your separate backup.
But what if you don’t have a Time Machine back up?
How to reinstall an older macOS via Internet Recovery
Depending on the age of your Mac, and whether it is an Intel model there might be an option to recover the original version of macOS it shipped with via Internet Recovery.
Unfortunately this won’t work on M1 Macs as they don’t have Internet Recovery. It also won’t work if your Mac predated Catalina.
Follow these steps to reinstall the version of macOS your Mac came with:
- Turn off your Mac.
- Restart it while holding down Shift + Option/Alt + Command + R to enter Internet Recovery Mode.
- Choose the Reinstall macOS option.
- Click Install.
This will allow you to install the original operating system that your Mac shipped with.
Note that this method will erase your Mac, so do make sure you have a back up of important files.
How to reinstall Big Sur or older with a bootable installer
If you don’t have a backup or the Internet Recovery method doesn’t work all is not lost. You can install Big Sur, Catalina or an older version of macOS on your Mac, but you will need to wipe it first, which could mean you will lose your data if you don’t back it up. Remember backing it up with Time Machine won’t be useful here as you would recover Monterey along with your data.
Step 1: Get the installer
The first stage of this method is to get the installer for the version of macOS you require. In this case Big Sur, but the same would be true of Catalina or any other version (with the prerequisite that your Mac needs to be able to run it). We have links to various versions of macOS below. If you require another version of macOS see this article:
How to download old versions of macOS.
Currently you can grab the Big Sur installer from the Mac App Store, here’s how:
- Click on
this link which will open the Mac App Store on the Big Sur page.
- Click Get.
- The Software Update window up from System Preferences will open showing the latest version of Big Sur. Confirm that you want to download the software, you’ll also see a warning that you are downloading an older version of the OS, ignore it. (Similar to the message below). Wait while the macOS downloads – it may take a while.
- Once it’s downloaded DO NOT click on Open – you don’t want to install it yet.
If you are looking for an older version of macOS the process is the same. For example, you can grab macOS Catalina from
this link to the Mac App Store and the Mojave installer can be obtained from the Mac App Store via
this link which will open the Mac App Store on the Mojave page.
Step 2: Create a bootable installer
You won’t just be able to install Big Sur over Monterey, or for that matter Catalina over Big Sur, but there is a way to get the older version of macOS on your Mac: now you have the installation files you can make a bootable installer.
To make a bootable installer from which you can reinstall the older macOS you will need a memory stick with at least 15GB space. You’ll need to reformat that drive and prepare it in Disk Utility and then use Terminal to input the createinstallmedia command for the version of macOS you are installing.
In the case of Big Sur this is:
sudo /Applications/Install macOS Big Sur.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/MyVolume
We recommend that you follow the steps outlined in this article:
How to create a bootable installer of macOS to create your bootable installer.
Step 3: Use the bootable installer to downgrade your Mac
Now you have your bootable installer you should be able to install the older version of macOS from it.
- Connect the bootable installer to your Mac.
- Open System Preferences and click Startup Disk.
- Choose the external drive with your installer as the startup disk and click Restart.
- Your Mac will shutdown and restart in Recovery mode.
- You will need to connect to Wi-Fi because your Mac will need to connect to the internet during this process. Access Wi-Fi settings from the Wi-Fi menu.
- Select Reinstall macOS from Utilities.
- Click Continue.
If you are using a Mac with a T2 Chip then you need to ensure that you enable booting from external media or this will not work! To do this you need to access Recovery Mode and then choose Startup Security Utility from the menu. Here you will see a number of options including those for Secure Boot and those for Allowed Boot Media. It is in this second section that you will find Allow booting from external or removable media. You will need this selected to boot from a bootable drive.
What if the old macOS won’t install?
If the above doesn’t work you may need to completely wipe your Mac before reinstalling macOS from the bootable drive.
Step 1: Wipe your Mac
If the above doesn’t work you may need to erase your Mac. We explain in detail how to erase a Mac in this article:
How to erase a MacBook or Mac: restore to factory settings and we advise that you follow that tutorial.
The method by which you wipe your Mac will depend on which Mac you own. If you have an M1 Mac or an Intel Mac with a T2 chip (many from 2018 onward do) the process in macOS Monterey is incredibly easy. You simply open System Preferences and then click on the new Erase All Content And Settings option in the System Preferences menu.
If your Mac is older, or you aren’t running Monterey, you will need to erase your Mac following these steps, which are also detailed in the tutorial about
wiping a MacBook or Mac. We recommend that you follow that tutorial as there are a lot of steps you should take to ensure that you don’t create more problems for yourself.
- Enter Recovery mode (by starting up your Mac while pressing and holding Command + R on an Intel Mac or pressing and holding the on switch on an M1 Mac).
- Once in Recovery you can enter Disk Utility.
- In Disk Utility select your hard drive. Make sure you have Delete Volume Group selected so you delete both the Macintosh HD and Macintosh HD Data.
- Click on Erase. You will need to choose APFS or HFS+ – recent macOS versions use APFS, if you are going back to HFS+ then we recommend you read the
notes about APFS and HFS+ below because that is more tricky.
Step 2: Use the bootable installer to downgrade your Mac
Now you have deleted your Mac you can reinstall macOS from your bootable installer.
- Restart your Mac holding the Option key if you have an Intel Mac, or pressing and holding the Power button on an M1 Mac.
- When the Startup Manager appears choose the USB stick and click Enter.
- The installer will start to load. Once it has loaded choose Install macOS.
- Wait while macOS installs on your Mac.
Now your Mac should install the older version of the operating system.
How to downgrade from APFS to HFS+
It may be a little more complicated if you are reverting from Big Sur, Catalina, Mojave or High Sierra to a version of the macOS that predates them because Apple switched to a new file system (at least on SSD-equipped Macs) in High Sierra. Fusion Drives and Hard Drives got a similar file system change in macOS Mojave.
However, it is possible to switch back. When Apple stopped trying to make APFS work on Fusion Drives back when it was beta testing High Sierra (an early version of the beta did support it on Fusion Drives), the company issued the following instructions to downgrade from the APFS version to a HFS+ version.
It is possible that you may have to follow these instructions in downgrading if you have installed Mojave on a Fusion drive or hard drive and want to revert to High Sierra or earlier. Similarly, if you installed High Sierra on a Mac with an SSD and wanted to revert to Sierra.
- Create a bootable installer as above.
- Press Option/Alt as you start up your Mac.
- Choose the bootable installer as your startup disk.
- Select Disk Utility.
- Choose Show All Devices.
- Choose your drive and click on Erase.
- Change the format to MacOS Extended (Journaled).
- Change the name of your drive to something else.
- Quit Disk Utility.
- Choose Reinstall macOS and select the new drive name as your target.
- Once in Setup Assistant choose to migrate your data from your Time Machine back up (Time Machine isn’t using APFS, yet, so this should work, for now).
How to avoid problems when you downgrade macOS
Reversing an upgrade carries with it a number of wrinkles and pitfalls.
Most of these are due to changes in file formats and settings between versions of the OS. So, for example, if you create a document or work on a file in a new version, whether it’s a beta or full release, of macOS and then try and open it in an older version, it may not work.
To mitigate this, it’s wise to export any documents you’ve created or worked on in the newer OS in a standard file format. So, for example, if you use Scrivener or Ulysses, export documents as RTF files. That way, if the native files don’t survive the reverse upgrade, you’ll be able to re-import the RTF files.
Take screenshots of preferences and settings
Whenever you perform a clean install of macOS, which is what you’re doing here, it’s a good idea to take screenshots of any custom settings you’ve created in apps or in System Preferences. That makes it easier to re-create them later.
You should also make a note of user account and password details for anything you’ve set up while running the new version of the OS. If you don’t use iCloud or Chrome to synchronise bookmarks, it’s a good idea to export those and make a copy.
And unless you’re using the migrate data option outlined above, you’ll also need installers and licence codes for apps you use. If those are downloads from the Mac App Store, you can just re-download them from the Purchased section in the App Store. If not, make sure you can download them from the vendor’s website. If you don’t use a password manager to store licence codes, make sure you’ve got a copy of them before you start.
If you use Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive or any other form of cloud storage, make sure your data is in sync before you start the process of reversing an upgrade. It’s easy to forget that the files that live in your Dropbox folder, or example, are local files and that while synchronisation is frequent, the loss of an internet connection will prevent it and you could have files in your local folder that haven’t yet been copied to the cloud.
Clicking on the cloud service’s logo in your menu bar should tell you whether synchronisation completed successfully and files are up to date.
If you use Gmail, iCloud mail or any other IMAP server for your email, make sure it’s up to date and any drafts you’ve composed recently have been synchronised. If you use a POP3 account you’ll have to manually back up the mail database and restore it after you reverse the upgrade. Or, if you only have a few messages you need to keep, forward them to a Gmail account – you could set one up especially for that purpose.