Create Your Own Mac Recovery HD on Any Drive

The Mac Recovery HD can be created on any drive you like

Ever since OS X Lion, the installation of the Mac operating system has included the creation of a Recovery HD volume, which is hidden away on Mac's startup drive. In an emergency, you can boot to the Recovery HD and use Disk Utility to correct hard drive issues, go online, and browse for information about the problems you're having, or reinstall the Mac operating system.

You can discover more about how to use the Recovery HD volume in our guide to using the Recovery HD volume to reinstall or troubleshoot macOS.

Create Your Own Mac Recovery HD on Any Drive

Apple also created a utility called OS X Recovery Disk Assistant that can create a copy of the Recovery HD on any bootable external drive you have connected to your Mac. This is good news for the many Mac users who would like to have the Recovery HD volume on a drive other than the startup volume. However, the utility can only create the Recovery HD volume on an external drive. This leaves out all of the Mac Pro, iMac, and even Mac mini users who may have multiple internal hard drives.

With the help of a few hidden macOS features, you can create a Recovery HD volume anywhere you want to, including on an internal drive.

Two Methods for Creating the Recovery HD

Due to some changes in features available in the various versions of macOS, there are two different methods to use to create the Recovery HD volume, depending on the version of the Mac OS you're using:

What You Need

To create a copy of the Recovery HD volume, you must first have a working Recovery HD volume on your Mac's startup drive, because you use the original Recovery HD as the source for creating a clone of the volume.

If you don't have the Recovery HD volume on your startup drive, then you won't be able to use these instructions. Instead, you can create a bootable copy of the macOS installer, which includes all the same recovery utilities as the Recovery HD volume. You can find instructions for creating a bootable Installer on a USB flash drive here:

With that out of the way, it's time to turn our attention to what we need to create a clone of the Recovery HD volume.

How to Create a Recovery HD Volume With OS X Lion Through OS X Yosemite

The Recovery HD volume is hidden; it won't show up on the desktop or in Disk Utility or other cloning applications. To clone the Recovery HD, we must first make it visible, so that our cloning application can work with the volume.

With OS X Lion through OS X Yosemite, we can use a hidden feature of Disk Utility — a Debug menu that you can use to reveal hidden partitions. So the first step in the cloning process is to turn on the Debug menu. You can find instructions here:

You'll only find the Disk Utility Debug menu available in OS X Lion through OS X Yosemite. If you're using a later version of macOS, jump ahead to the next section. Otherwise, make the Debug menu visible.

Prepare the Destination Volume

You can create the Recovery HD clone on any volume listed in Disk Utility, but the cloning process erases any data on the destination volume. For this reason, it's a good idea to resize and add a partition dedicated to the new Recovery HD volume you are about to create. The Recovery HD partition can be small; 650 MB is the minimum size, but Disk Utility probably won't be able to create a partition that small, so use the smallest size it can create.

After you have the destination drive partitioned, we can proceed.

  1. Launch Disk Utility, located in Applications > Utilities.

  2. From the Debug menu, select Show Every Partition to display the Recovery HD volume in the Device list in Disk Utility.

    The hidden debug menu in Disk Utility
  3. In Disk Utility, select the original Recovery HD volume and then select the Restore tab.

  4. Drag the Recovery HD volume to the Source field.

  5. Drag the volume you want to use for the new Recovery HD to the Destination field. Double-check to be sure that you're copying the correct volume to the destination because any volume you drag there is completely erased by the cloning process.

  6. When you're sure that everything is correct, select Restore.

  7. Disk Utility asks if you want to erase the destination drive. Select Erase.

  8. Supply an administrator account password. Enter the requested information, then select OK.

The cloning process begins. Disk Utility provides a status bar to keep you up to date on the process. Once Disk Utility completes the cloning process, you're ready to use the new Recovery HD, but with any luck, you'll never need to use it.

Unmount the Recovery HD Volume

Creating he new Recovery HD volume this way doesn't set the visibility flag to hidden. As a result, the Recovery HD volume appears on your desktop. You can use Disk Utility to unmount the Recovery HD volume if you prefer. Select the new Recovery HD volume from the Device list in Disk Utility, then select the Unmount button at the top of the Disk Utility window.

If you have multiple Recovery HD volumes attached to your Mac, you can select the one to use in an emergency by starting your Mac with the Option key held down. This forces your Mac to display all available bootable drives. You can then pick the one you want to use for emergencies.

Create a Recovery HD Volume on OS X El Capitan and Later

Creating a Recovery HD volume on an internal drive in macOS El Capitan and Sierra and later is more cumbersome because, with the advent of El Capitan, Apple removed the hidden Disk Utility Debug menu.

Since Disk Utility can no longer access the hidden Recovery HD partition, you have to use Terminal and the command line version of Disk Utility, diskutil.

Use Terminal to Create a Disk Image of the Hidden Recovery HD Volume

The first step is to create a disk image of the hidden Recovery HD. The disk image does two things: It creates a copy of the hidden Recovery HD volume, and it makes it visible and accessible on Mac's desktop.

  1. Launch Terminal, located in Applications > Utilities.

  2. You need to find the disk identifier for the hidden Recovery HD partition. Enter the following at the Terminal prompt:

    $ diskutil list

  3. Press Enter or Return on the keyboard.

  4. Terminal displays a list of all partitions your Mac is able to access, including those that are hidden. Look for the entry with the Type of Apple_Boot and the Name of Recovery. The line with the Recovery item has a field labeled Identifier. Here you'll find the actual name used by the system to access the partition. It likely reads something like disk1s3.

    Terminal displaying results of diskutil list command

    The identifier for your Recovery partition may be different, but it will include the word "disk," a number, the letter "s," and another number. Once you know the identifier for the Recovery HD, you can proceed to make the visible disk image.

  5. In Terminal, enter the following command, substituting the disk identifier number you identified for the text "DiskIdentifier."

    sudo hdiutil create ~/Desktop/Recovery\ HD.dmg –srcdevice /dev/DiskIdentifier

    An actual example of the command is:

    sudo hdiutil create ~/Desktop/Recovery\ HD.dmg -srcdevice /dev/disk1s3

  6. If you're using macOS High Sierra or later, there is a bug in hduitil command in Terminal that is not recognizing the backslash (\) for escaping the space character. This can result in the error message: "Only one image can be created at a time." Instead, use single quotes to escape the entire Recovery HD.dmg name as shown here:

    sudo hdiutil create ~/Desktop/'Recovery HD.dmg' -srcdevice /dev/DiskIdentifier

  7. Press Enter or Return.

  8. Terminal asks for your administrator password. Enter your password and click Enter or Return.

When the Terminal prompt returns, the Recovery HD disk image is on your Mac's desktop

Use Disk Utility to Create the Recovery HD Partition

The next step in macOS El Capitan and later versions is to partition the drive that you want to have the Recovery HD volume created on.

The Recovery HD partition you create needs to be only slightly bigger than the Recovery HD partition, which is usually somewhere between 650 MB to 1.5 GB. However, because the size may change with each new version of the operating system, make the partition size larger than 1.5 GB.

Clone the Recovery HD Disk Image to the Partition

To clone the Recovery HD disk image to the partition you just created, use the Restore command in Disk Utility.

  1. Launch Disk Utility if it isn't already open.

  2. In the Disk Utility window, select the partition you just created. It should be listed in the sidebar.

  3. Select Restore in the toolbar or from the Edit menu.

  4. Select Image from the drop-down sheet.

  5. Go to the Recovery HD.dmg image file you created earlier. It should be in your Desktop folder.

  6. Select the Recovery HD.dmg file, then select Open.

  7. In Disk Utility on the drop-down sheet, select Restore.

  8. Disk Utility creates the clone. When the process is complete, select Done.

You now have a Recovery HD volume on the selected drive.

One Last Thing — Hiding the Recovery HD Volume

If you remember back to when you started this process, you used Terminal's "diskutil" to find the Recovery HD volume. It had a type of Apple_Boot. The Recovery HD volume you just created isn't currently set to be an Apple_Boot type. So, the last task is to set the Type. This also causes the Recovery HD volume to become hidden.

You need to discover the disk identifier for the Recovery HD volume you just created. Because this volume is currently mounted on your Mac, you can use Disk Utility to find the identifier.

  1. Launch Disk Utility, if it isn't already open.

  2. From the sidebar, select the Recovery HD volume you just created. It should be the only one in the sidebar, since only visible devices show up there, and the original Recovery HD volume is still hidden.

  3. In the table in the right pane is an entry labeled Device. Make a note of the identifier name. It is in a format similar to disk1s3.

  4. With the Recovery HD volume still selected, select Unmount button in the Disk Utility toolbar.

  5. Launch Terminal.

  6. At the Terminal prompt enter the following command:

    sudo asr adjust --target /dev/disk1s3 -settype Apple_Boot

  7. Change the disk identifier to match the one for your Recovery HD volume.

  8. Press Enter or Return.

  9. Provide your administrator password.

  10. Press Enter or Return.

That's it. You've created a clone of the Recovery HD volume on the drive of your choice.

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