How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac | Troubleshoot your Mac in 7 Different Ways

If you’re struggling to get into your Mac and you’re not sure how to do it, this article is for you. 

In this article, MacSecurity will teach you how to access the boot menu on a Mac in 7 different ways so you can troubleshoot, repair or reinstall macOS.

Let’s get into it step by step so you don’t miss out on anything and so you can get your Macbook up and running once again.

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What are the different boot options available on a Mac?

Unlike Windows OS where you get a single boot menu regardless of the method you follow, macOS does not. Instead you get a bunch of boot options and commands that will help diagnose and rectify any issue with macOS. 

Using any one of these options/commands will help you easily pinpoint different startup problems and rectify them. I’ll cover what each option does and how they are beneficial to your bootup diagnosis.

They are:

  • macOS Recovery
  • Mac Startup Manager
  • Reset NVRAM
  • macOS Safe Mode
  • Apple Diagnostics
  • Single-User Mode
  • Target Disk Mode

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

macOS Recovery

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

You can boot macOS recovery mode by following the steps mentioned below:

  • Press and hold Command + R simultaneously as you switch on the Mac
How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac
  • This will launch the built-in Mac recovery tools as well as the Disk utility tool
    • If you wish to install the latest macOS version – Command + R
    • If you wish to reinstall the current macOS version – Shift + Option + Command + R

What does the macOS Recovery tool do: It’s used to install or reinstall the Mac operating system.

Mac Startup Manager

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

If you wish to boot from a different volume or drive on your Mac then you will have to launch the Startup Manager.

  • Press and hold the Options key (Alt) on your keyboard while booting your Mac
  • You will be presented with a list of boot options, choose the most appropriate one from the list.
  • Hit on Return (Enter)
  • You can also access the startup manager if you have your Time Machine drive backup connected to your Mac.

What does the macOS Startup Manager do: The startup manager lets you choose which bootable drive you want to start from if you have more than one on your Mac. 


How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

Resetting the NVRAM helps rectify any common issues Mac users face regularly. Here’s how you can do this.

  • Shut down your Mac and while powering it on press and hold the Command + Option + P + R keys simultaneously.
  • Wait for roughly 20 seconds for the startup sound.
  • Release the keys on the second chime if you’re using an older version of macOS
    • If you’re using the Mac with a T2 Security chip then release the keys when the Apple logo appears on the screen for the second time.
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What does resetting the NVRAM do: You can reset the NVRAM if you’re dealing with sound and volume issues, display issues, or incorrect location/time zones.

macOS Safe Mode

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

Booting your Mac in safe mode will help you rectify any software issues that you’re facing. You can follow these steps to launch safe mode on a Mac.

  • Power up your Mac or restart the device and simultaneously press the Shift key on your keyboard.
  • Once you see the login window, release the Shift key.
  • You will have to log in twice 
How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac
  • Now you will be able to see “Safe Boot” in the upper right corner of the login window.

What does the macOS Safe Mode do: Safe mode acts as a diagnostics tool that you can use to find out which software is causing the startup issue. While using Safe Mode, macOS will not load any third-party fonts or system extensions. Safe mode also deletes the system cache and you can run a checkup of the startup disk.

Apple Diagnostics

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

If your Mac is suffering from hardware issues and not software issues then you can run a diagnostics check on your Mac and then find out what piece of hardware is causing the issue.

  • Disconnect any peripheral devices connected to your Mac.
  • Shut down the Mac.
  • Start up your Mac while pressing and holding the D key on the keyboard. 
  • Release the key once you get to the Choose a Language screen.
  • Apple Diagnostics will now check your Mac for problems.
  • When the scan has been completed, you will be provided with the results of the scan and also be presented with a couple of solutions for what to do next.

What does Apple Diagnostics do: Apple Diagnostics helps determine what hardware component is causing the startup problem. It could be due to an issue with the hard drive, RAM, graphics card, or even the power supply.

Single-User Mode

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

Ideal for experienced macOS users, the Single-user mode lets you diagnose and troubleshoot your Mac by using the command line interface.

  • Either Start or Restart your Mac
  • As your Mac boots, press Command + S on your keyboard.
  • The screen will turn black and the text will be white. This will be the command line page.
  • Proceed to troubleshoot your Mac by using UNIX commands in the Single-user mode.
  • Enter the following command and hit on Return
    • Sbin /fsck -fy
  • If there are no issues you will receive a notification stating “The Volume (Volume name) appears to be OK
  • If there was an issue with the Mac, you will receive this notification – “*****File System was Modified*****
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What does Single-user Mode do: Single-user mode is basically a command prompt for Mac that lets you enter UNIX commands to troubleshoot startup processes on your Mac.

Target Disk Mode

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac

The Target disk mode is ideal if you want your Mac to appear on another Mac as an external volume or drive. To do this, you will require one of the following cables:

To run your Mac in target disk mode, follow these steps:

  • If your Mac is Turned Off – Press and hold the T button on your keyboard while booting your Mac. This will launch target disk mode and you will be able to view the Thunderbolt, FireWire, and USB-C options available on the screen. Choose the option depending on what cable you have.
  • If your Mac is Turned On – Go to System Preferences > Startup Disk and then select the boot disk. Click on Target Disk Mode and then restart the Mac by clicking on Restart.

What does Target Disk Mode do: Target Disk Mode lets you connect two Macs together and you can use one Mac as the primary boot drive for your second Mac.

How to Create a macOS Rescue File

If your Mac does not boot up then you can use a backup file or a rescue file.

This will allow you to reinstall macOS, check the startup disk for flaws, and even restore any Time Machine backup.


  • USB drive with a minimum of 14 GB storage space
  • Any early version of macOS such as Catalina or Big Sur
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Procedure (to be completed on a working Mac):

  • Start by formatting the pen drive to Mac OS Extended (Journaled)
  • Download the macOS of your choice and install it
  • Now proceed to create a bootable drive by accessing the command terminal and entering this command
    • sudo/Applications/Install\macOS\Big\—volume /Volumes/MyVolume

      *Replace MyVolume with your Drive Name*
How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac
  • Press on Return.
  • Enter the Root password and not the User password.
  • Now type “y” and then press Return
  • The boot volume will now be created and you will be able to see the following message: “Install media now available at: XYZ volume
  • Close the command terminal and eject the flash drive.
  • Plug the flash drive into your non-working Mac and press the power button
  • Simultaneously press and hold the Option key until you see different volumes displayed on the screen.
  • Select the XYZ volume to run the macOS installer on the non-working Mac.

Once this is done you will receive two options: install a new version of macOS or restore macOS from an earlier backup file by using Time Machine.

How to Access the Boot Menu on a Mac – Takeaway

All computers including Macs run into problems sooner or later.

However, by using either the right set of commands you will be able to get the Mac to boot up successfully or troubleshoot any issue that you’re facing.

Check out some more of our quick fixes and guides today!

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