How to Create a Bootable USB Installer for macOS or OS X El Capitan

Make a bootable USB installer for El Capitan

What to Know

  • Connect the USB drive to the Mac. Launch Terminal. Copy and paste the command given below into Terminal.
  • Enter the Mac password when prompted to do so and press Enter.
  • Wait while Terminal erases and copies the files to the USB drive. When the process is compete, quit Terminal.

This article explains how to make a bootable USB installer for OS X El Capitan (10.11) using Terminal on the Mac.

Download the El Capitan Installer

Download the El Capitan installer from the Apple website. Once the download is complete, the installer will start automatically. When it does, quit the installer. You need a copy of the El Capitan installer to make a bootble USB.

The El Capitan installer is downloaded to the /Applications folder, with the file name Install OS X El Capitan. If you have already installed El Capitan and want to now create a bootable installer, re-download the installer from Apple.

Like previous versions of OS X, the El Capitan (10.11) installation file automatically begins the installation process when it is downloaded and deletes itself when the installation is complete.

Use Terminal to Create the El Capitan Bootable USB Installer

Follow these steps to create a bootable USB installer of El Capitan in Terminal.

  1. Connect the USB flash drive to your Mac.

  2. Give the flash drive an appropriate name. You can do this by double-clicking the device’s name on the desktop and then typing a new name. We suggest calling the drive elcapitaninstaller, but you can use any name you'd like, provided there are no spaces or special characters. If you do select a different name, modify the Terminal command below with the flash drive name you selected.

  3. Launch Terminal, located in /Applications/Utilities/.

    Terminal launch
  4. In the Terminal window, enter the following command:

    sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/elcapitaninstaller --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ Capitan.app --nointeraction

    The command is a single line of text, though your web browser may display it as several lines. If you used the drive name suggested above, you can copy and paste the complete line of text.

    Press command+C on your keyboard to copy the command from this page, then paste it into Terminal by pressing command+V.

    Terminal command to create bootable usb flash drive of OS X El Capitan
    Coyote Moon, Inc.
  5. Input your Apple computer password in the password prompt. Press return or enter on your keyboard.

    This command completely erases the USB flash drive.

  6. The Terminal will execute the createinstallmedia command and display the status of the procedure. Erasing and copying the files from the OS X El Capitan installer can take some time, depending on how fast the USB flash drive is.

  7. Once Terminal completes the command, it displays the line Done, and then shows the Terminal prompt waiting for a new command. You can now quit Terminal.

The bootable El Capitan installer has been created. You can use this bootable installer to perform any of the supported installation types, including an upgrade install or a clean install. You can also use it as a bootable troubleshooting tool that includes an assortment of apps, including Disk Utility and Terminal. 

El Capitan is no longer available in the App store for download, but you can find a free download link on the Apple website.

Why Make a Bootable USB Installer

A bootable installer for OS X El Capitan is a good idea even if your plan is to perform an upgrade install. Having your own copy of El Capitan on a separate device ensures that you'll always be able to install or reinstall it. It also helps in performing basic troubleshooting tasks, even if you have no connection to the internet or access to the Mac App Store.

What You Need

  • A Mac that meets the OS X El Capitan minimum requirements.
  • A 16 GB or larger USB flash drive.
  • The El Capitan installer file downloaded from Apple, but prevented from completing the installation.

Creating the bootable OS X El Capitan installer will erase the USB flash drive you're using. Before you proceed, make sure you have a backup of the flash drive's contents or that you don’t care that the data will be erased.

There is another way to create the bootable installer. It involves Disk Utility, Finder, hidden files, and a great deal of time and effort. If you prefer to use this method, follow our guide: How to Make a Bootable Flash Installer of OS X or macOS. The older OS used in that guide still works for El Capitan.

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