How to Downgrade from OS X El Capitan & Revert to Prior Mac OS X Version

Oct 9, 2015 - 41 Comments

How to Downgrade OS X El Capitan

Most Mac users are happy with OS X El Capitan, but for some situations, the new version of OS X 10.11 is unusable for one reason or another. Perhaps it’s running worse than before, slow, or unstable, or maybe some important piece of software is not compatible with El Capitan, like some versions of Office. Whatever the reason, a solution for these situations can be to downgrade from OS X El Capitan and revert back to the prior version of OS X that was running on that Mac.


You can use this approach to downgrade to OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite, Mountain Lion, or Lion, directly from OS X El Capitan, assuming you have a backup from one of those versions. This relies on having a recent Time Machine backup made of OS X prior to the Mac updating to OS X El Capitan. Without a Time Machine backup to revert to, this particular approach won’t work.

Before getting started: You should finish a new backup before starting this process. You should also manually copy any new files or important data or documents that have been created from the date of the last backup from the prior OS X version and now, since you will lose those files in this downgrading process. Essentially what you are doing with this method is restoring from a prior Time Machine backup of a prior OS X install.

How to Downgrade OS X El Capitan Back to OS X Mavericks, Yosemite, or Mountain Lion with Time Machine

  1. Connect the Time Machine drive to the Mac that contains the backup of a prior OS X installation
  2. Reboot the Mac and after you hear the start chime start holding down Command+R to boot into Recovery Mode (you can also hold down the Option key and boot from a El Capitan installer drive)
  3. When you see the “OS X Utilities” menu on screen, choose “Restore from Time Machine backup”
  4. Select the Time Machine drive from the “Select Backup Source” screen
  5. At the “Select a Backup” screen, choose the backup you wish to restore to, focus on the ‘Backup Date & Time” and “OS X Version” listings to make sure you are selecting the proper backup, keeping in mind the following:
    • “10.10.5” or any “10.10.x” would be Yosemite
    • “10.9.5” or “10.9.x” would be Mavericks
    • “10.8.x” would be Mountain Lion
  6. When you have selected the backup you wish to revert to, click on “Continue”
  7. Now choose the destination drive to recover to, usually this is “Macintosh HD”, then click on the “Restore” button and let this complete – this will downgrade from OS X El Capitan to whatever version of OS X and the associated backup you chose

Once you’ve started the restore and downgrade process, you should be ready to wait for several hours, depending on the size of the backup being restored, the speed of the disk, and the speed of the Mac. Downgrading can take quite a while, so be sure the Mac is plugged in to a power source and don’t interfere with the process.

After the downgrade from OS X El Capitan is complete, the Mac will restart and boot back to where it was before at the date you selected, including whatever the OS X version was at that time. So if you were running OS X Mavericks prior to installing OS X El Capitan, and you chose that date and OS, the Mac would reboot to OS X Mavericks. The same applies to revert to OS X Yosemite, Lion, or OS X Mountain Lion from OS X El Capitan.

Once the downgrade and reversion to a prior release has complete, you can manually copy over any of the changed or new files that you made earlier, otherwise just be on your way. If you plan on avoiding OS X El Capitan, you may wish to hide the update from the App Store.

Another option is to perform a fresh install of the version of Mac OS you wish to run on the Mac. This will erase everything, however, and you’d be on your own to manually backup and restore your files. If that’s the way you want to go, you can clean install OS X Mavericks, Yosemite, or, if you are troubleshooting and that is the primary reason for wanting to start over, perhaps consider staying with OS X 10.11 but performing a clean install of OS X El Capitan.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

41 Comments

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  1. This sounds nice, but what if someone didn’t backup their entire hard drive via Time Machine? What if they only backed up their home folder?

    • Paul says:

      They’d need to clean install with something like an OS X Mavericks boot disk, then manually copy over their backed up files. Not too difficult, but much more hands-on.

      • My point was that OS X Daily needs to mention this in their instructions. I know a lot of people who don’t backup their whole hard drive/SSD.

        • DCJ001 says:

          Yes, there are a lot of people who are not very smart.

        • Toby says:

          I have to agree with DCJ. In 2015, not having a full backup is almost beyond silly and beyond help. Another good option to TM backups is a full clone backup, as they are even easier to “fully revert” to a previous operating system.

          • JOKR says:

            Then why isn’t Time Machine on by default?

          • Selfie Master says:

            Time Machine requires an external hard drive to work, so unless there is another drive present to back up to, Time Machine would not be able to turn on by default.

  2. Dave says:

    I had a problem upgrading… the 95% complete, the kernel panic, followed by a reboot, This was an endless cycle. So I had a backup on a Drobo, and restored the machine. However, I have experienced a couple of problems. Two programs lost their licenses. I re-entered them – so no big deal. The big problem I’m having is Spotlight no longer indexes the drive. Search on Mail is kaput.

    I tried to trigger re-indexing by going to System Preferences | Spotlight, and putting my MacHD drive on the do not do Privacy setting. Then I exited SP. Started SP again, then removed the MacHD from the Privacy List, and closed SP. This should have trigger re-indexing, but I didn’t see any evidence of that.

    Other than that, I’m back to normal. This is the first time – ever – that a OS X upgrade has caused me problems. If you look at the El Capitan forum, you will see dozens of people with this problem or something really similar. It’s been over a week and Apple has not acknowledged the problem or provided a fix for people. The effect of the install is a kernel panic. So what is a non-technical user expected to do.

    El Capitan is a giant virus as far as I’m concerned. I will not attempt to upgrade to this on the other 5 machines in my household.

    • SHUNDA says:

      I wish I never attempted to do it. I am totally PISSED!

    • Mestengo says:

      I suspect El Cap is an attempt to force hardware upgrade sales.
      My “old” 2012 MacBook Pro i5 does not work well under El Cap’s “Robust” )Apple support’s word, not mine) abilities

  3. Gary Joyce says:

    I run Office 2011 for Macs … when I downloaded El Cap, Outlook kept locking up … got a download from MS yesterday (10-8-15) … v 14.5.6, and it seems to have cured the problem … Xcel and Word worked with El Cap as near as I could see … so every thing is good … think I’m having a problem with Adobe Premiere Elements, but there are plenty of work-arounds for that … the problem only pops up when you go to share … so far … initially the entire system was a lot faster … now it has its moments when it isn’t, but overall, El Cap is cool …

    • Russ says:

      Gary,

      Thanks for your post. Since my Outlook remotely connects to another server I have had major problems for over a week as every time I opened Outlook it crashed after 3 seconds. Microsoft late last week said they will fix some day. Today i was going to remove El Captain which would have been a major time problem and i am not that computer savy. I read your comments and went to Microsoft looking for the version you mentioned. Low and behold it fixed everything. Thanks for leaving the post.

  4. Helen says:

    I upgraded to El Capitan. Strange things are happening with email. Email sent from a person using my correct email keeps going to the old mac (10.5.8) that is using comcast.net as the ISP and the spelling for my email keeps replacing the len with lyn. I have no idea why this is happening.

    Very poor beta testing. Whatever happened to parallel testing?

  5. Tom says:

    My El Capitan download took about 16 hours (Windstream DSL), installed in about 30 minutes. Working good…

    • Brooke says:

      You are lucky … I’m 72, not a tech, and (as others) am not very diligent about backing up .. ok, totally dumb. Installed El Capitan … it won’t recognize the Magic Mouse (I have been running it because this 2009 Mac-Pro touchpad caused problems more often than I could stand), and now I find that my 5000 pics in iPhoto can’t be accessed by El Capitan because it doesn’t support the app … and Apple doesn’t offer an American version upgrade of iPhoto!! For those who are happy with El Capitan, I am very glad for you. For those who are thoroughly pissed … you don’t even want to see how “blue” my walls are right now!!!

      • Bilbo Baggins says:

        Photos app has replaced iPhoto, your photos are available in the Photos.app application of OS X El Capitan.

        Unfortunately many people are learning a harsh lesson from Apple which is that don’t update your software because you lose more than you gain. That is not how it should be, but that is what Apple is offering many people.

  6. Lemon Baily says:

    Apple is now the new Microsoft. Nothing works properly in any OS on any devices. With all the beta’s and even the public beta testing program bugs are everywhere in OSX 10.11 and IOS 9.

    10.11 has maid the mail app useless, countless finder bugs and the new System Integrity Protection keeps legit apps from being able to load. Yosemite was no prize either but I’m forced to downgrade to get back necessary apps. Nice work Mr Cook. You have a knack for fixing what’s not broken and locking down along with dumbing the OS so that users spend more time trying to get things to work than they do using the device. How after 40 years can there be no legitimate alternative to OSX and Windows ?

    • TimmyCook says:

      Lemon,

      You need to get a Fisher Price My First Computer. That should suffice for you and it “just works.”

      • Death Car says:

        Mac got popular because they were the Fisher Price of computers. Look where microsoft is now – the same place Mac is heading. You like overcomplicated stuff that doesn’t work that well because it makes you feel smart? THAT stikes me as incredibly stupid. Mac should hire you. You could help them sink their ship.

        • Troll Buster says:

          I love trolls.
          Anyone who uses Macs or iPhones knows that the company is not called Mac, but Apple. Even most trolls know it too.
          Yosemite broke my 2009 iMac, but I’m loving El Capitan on my 2013 MacBook Air.
          Yes, Apple have made some odd choices when rewriting some of their software, but I still prefer their products to the alternatives. And, yes, I have tried them and even supported them as an IT professional.

  7. Landis Neal says:

    I downloaded El Capitan to my Mac computer, and ever since I’ve been unable to delete email. What can I do to fix this?

  8. Rachel says:

    How does the Apple program “Aperture” work with new operating system?????
    I am currently running Yosemite 10.10 .5….a mid 2011 27″ iMac.

    I’ve even had issues with the IOS 9.0.2 updates on my iphone and iPad Air

    • Pete says:

      You probably know this by now, but Aperture works just fine. I will keep using it until it won’t work.

    • Don says:

      For anyone else wondering about Aperture; I will die using Aperture because for me, it is “that good”. I upgraded my Mavericks OS mid 2010 MBP to Yosemite. I had to install an Aperture update before it would work. The update installed quickly & worked perfectly. I then upgraded to El Capitan. I didn’t need another update & Aperture started quickly & had all my photos. My Aperture library contains +10,000 photos so I was extremely worried but everything worked out better than I hoped. [It doesn’t hurt to backup your Aperture Library file just in case.]

  9. Richard says:

    Hi guys, same for me . After download and 2/3 of tbe installation a kernel panic message and boot in a cycle. I am dowgrading it back to Yosemite and pray to god tbe TM backup will work. 6 hours still to go (from 29hours) so almost done. Any idea what is causing tbe error and what to do to fix it?

  10. Richard says:

    I have a picture of the panic message if someone would like to see it to help

  11. sibs says:

    EC has far too many problems currently to use for anything other than casual use. I’m glad I installed to a hard drive on a dedicated sacrificial machine. I’ve cobbled together a somewhat workable system; however, that meant downgrading to PS CS6 and MS Office 2011. There are still problems with this buggy release IMHO. Hopefully, the point release will arrive and clean this mess up. On a more positive note, the SF system font is far superior to Apple’s idiotic decision to use Helvetica Neue in Yosemite.

  12. Haley says:

    So this new update is not working with my adobe software and I want to revert back to what I had before but I’m wondering if it will delete my expensive software if I never used time machine before. I have everything backed up on external hard drives though. Although reinstalling adobe is not gonna work cause I don’t have the CDs or Serial number as they’re in storage somewhere.

    Thanks.

    • Haley says:

      Never mind I figured out how to update my adobe stuff. I didn’t even know I could update them. I guess now would be a good time to backup/Time Machine my Mac

  13. Rob says:

    Can I downgrade to the original OS that I got with my MacBook? It was so nice when it worked :-/

  14. KenW says:

    Sorry guys, but these instructions are definitely NOT “how to downgrade”. You clearly explain how to “restore from previous backup”. Those are two TOTALLY different things.

    If you don’t have a Time Machine backup, you’re hosed. Only option is to manually copy all of your data files off to an external drive, wipe the computer drive, restore the OS from your original disk. Then reinstall all of your programs and copy your data back.

  15. Lou says:

    I just upgraded to El-Crappo. LOL I have a digital audio interface connected via USB to my Mac and now that I have upgraded I cannot get the sound to come out of my premium stereo speakers. It is connected but of course the digital audio device doesn’t even have support of drivers past Yosemite.

  16. Sergio says:

    I have an iMac 27″ late 2015 with OS X El Capitan pre-instelled. I can downgrade to OS X Mavericks??

  17. NOREENB says:

    Just installed El Capitan on a test computer in our 8 office computer network. Immediately, the computer became unable to connect to our network, and could not Share Screen with my Admin computer, even though I could see it on the network, and had allowed sharing.

    As of right now I am restoring to the Mavericks-based backup. Wondering if El Capitan needs the network server to be on El Capitan in order to work with it. At this point, it sounds like too big a risk to change the server over and risk the whole system being rendered unusable. I am going to need more information before I risk shutting us down. At the moment, we are too busy for experimenting with the network.

  18. Mestengo says:

    I need advice on what version of OS is best for my laptop. I made the mistake of upgrading from 10.7 to El Cap 10.11.4 and my productivity has reduced 30% from what it was while using Lion. Ironic, I felt compelled to update because of all of the warnings I received that my Lion version of Safari was no longer going to be supported. Care to guess which El Cap program is causing the majority of my headaches? SAFARI!

    My MacBook Pro model:
    Mid 2012 13″
    2.5 GHz i5
    Memory 4 GB 1600 MHz DDR3
    Graphics Intel HD 4000 1536 MB
    2 External Monitors
    Apple Cinema Display 20″
    Samsung 27″ S27D590 connected through a j5Create USB 3.0 to HMDI adapter

    Recommendations?

  19. Andy says:

    Apple will want you to upgrade your hardware hence why they decide not to support stuff very quickly. Looking at some of these posts it just goes to show that people who know nothing whatsoever about IT or computers choose Apple products and because Apple tries to make the OSX operating system fool proof, it’s dumbed down too much and hence people run into problems. Also why should anyone in their right mind need to back-up their FULL hard drive you should only need to update your data, but then again OSX isn’t great at been able to easily split out your data from the OS and your operating system just becomes cluttered with crap and slows down every upgrade of OSX leaves residues of old files and file systems, to me you should always when upgrading do a clean install and if your data is separated it should be a no brainer

  20. Jason says:

    If I buy an iMac and it has El Capitan on it. Can I roll it back to Mavericks? I have been told that I would need to buy a developer account..

  21. Ruth says:

    Our computer guy upgraded me to El Cap. Now, 6 years of pictures are gone. He said everything would be backed up… I guess he forgot the pictures. I am heart sick.

  22. Marlene says:

    I upgraded to el capitan and now I cannot copy my fav DVDs to my mac. I have never used time machine because I did not think that I had anything worthwhile if I lost it – however, I now realise that I dont want to lose certain important e-mails and all my photos. Also I prefer i-photo to photos on el cap.
    Is it possible to downgrade without a back up and without losing my mail and photos.

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