How to Boot Mac in Safe Mode and Why Your MacBook Needs It

safe mode on mac

Let’s be honest: Mac is as reliable as an atomic clock. Just like atomic clocks are used to standardize international time, Apple computers create a standard of computing excellence acknowledged by other players on the market. However, sometimes, even the best of the best can have a bad day. If you’ve noticed frequent hangs or recurring crashes and wonder how to troubleshoot the issues, your computer might be experiencing one of those bad days. The key to solving the problem is Safe Mode, which is sometimes referred to as Safe Boot. Basically, the mode is OS X without any frills.

When you are asking “How do I boot up my Mac into Safe Mode?”, you are looking for a way to minimize the number of preferences and system extensions on the computer. Safe Mode is an effective method to solve performance issues on MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, and even Mac mini. It works for Yosemite, El Capitan, Mavericks, Sierra, and High Sierra alike. You can initiate Safe Boot for your Mac with command prompt. The same can also be done from a keyboard.

The article has been written to help fellow Apple aficionados to troubleshoot issues they are having with their Macs. It explains in detail what is Safe Mode, how it works, and when to initiate it.

What is Safe Mode

Before addressing the question of how to use safe mode on Mac, it is necessary to discuss what is safe mode and what does it do. For starters, let’s eliminate the confusion surrounding the use of two terms – Safe Mode and Safe Boot. The first term refers to a diagnostic startup mode in macOS; the second one signifies the process of forcing an Apple computer into the mode. Mac users often use the two terms interchangeably, while meaning the same mode. So, basically, it’s just a matter of semantics. As for Safe Mode itself, it is a booting mode that allows a Mac to perform with the small number of kernel extensions and preferences as a way of isolating and troubleshooting performance issues.

Why would you need to start your Mac in Safe Mode and what to do when it’s on? When you turn on the mode it will perform a directory check, remove all font caches and the dynamic loader cache, as well as, disable all login items. The latter is especially important because startup items running on a computer can substantially slow it down. The purpose of Safe Mode is to make your Mac work while consuming the minimum of system resources. Can you do basic tasks in Safe Mode? Yes, absolutely. However, some features won’t be available. Here’s what won’t work in Safe Mode:

  • DVD Player;
  • iMovie;
  • Audio ports;
  • Internal and external modems;
  • AirPort cards;
  • Quartz Extreme;
  • Network file sharing.
start safe mode

Use Safe Mode to troubleshoot performance issues and test your computer. If an issue you’ve been having doesn’t present itself in Safe Mode, it’s a sure sign that there are some problematic kernel extensions. It might also be the case that the issue occurs due to third-party apps or services.

How to Start Mac in Safe Mode

If you ask yourself “Why does this app keep starting randomly on my Mac and what do I do about it?”, you might benefit from Safe Mode. By booting your computer in this mode, you can delete the rogue app that is causing problems. You can also remove login items or repair disk permissions in the mode. If you have encountered some problems during OS X update, use the mode to reinstall the OS while leaving your personal data untouched. Here’s how to initiate Safe Mode on MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and iMac that are running under Yosemite, Mountain Lion, El Capitan, Sierra, or High Sierra:

  • Turn off your Apple computer;
  • Push and hold the Shift key;
  • Start the computer up;
  • Once the login window appears on the screen, release the Shift key.

That’s it. Now your computer is in Safe Mode.

How to Open Mac in Safe Mode from the Terminal

You can also run your Mac in Safe Mode by using the command line. This method is fairly advanced; therefore, you might be wondering “When do I have to use it?” The command line approach is only needed if a keyboard of your computer is not functioning, which makes it impossible to use the Shift key. To enter Safe Mode, enter the following command on your iMac:

sudo nvram boot-args=”-x”

Note that the command must be entered verbatim. When you are done troubleshooting the computer, use this command to disable Safe Mode:

sudo nvram boot-args=””

How to Restart Mac in Safe Mode

If you ask “How do I reboot my computer in Safe Mode?”, here’s what you can do. Try entering the command line from the previous subsection of the article in the Terminal app. You can also use the shift key during startup on your MacBook Air, MacBook Pro or iMac. There are no other ways to restart Mac in Safe Mode.

What to Do If Mac Won't Boot in Safe Mode

When something is not working on your MacBook Pro or iMac, it is essential to be able to boot it into Safe Mode. However, sometimes an Apple computer can’t enter the mode, thereby making the troubleshooting of the problem impossible. The fix lies in security settings of Mac OS X. To start Safe Mode, you should disable FileVault disk encryption. It can be done in the Security system preferences.

safe mode problems

How to Get Mac Out of Safe Mode

After you’ve isolated performance issues on MacBook Pro and no longer need Safe Mode, you can simply turn off the machine. “Do I need to use the Terminal to disable the mode?”, you ask. If you’ve used the Terminal command to boot the Mac into Safe Mode, then the answer is “Yes.” Just enter this command to exit the mode:

sudo nvram boot-args=””

If, on the other hand, you’ve used the Shift key, you can simply reset the Mac, and it will get out of the mode. When you are not sure whether your computer is in Safe Mode, go to System Information and open the Software section. Check the status of the machine under the Boot Mode.