Enable Developer Mode on Your Chromebook

Man with glasses working on a Chrtomebook

Caiaimage / Agnieszka Olek / Getty Images

Chromebooks fill a very specific niche since they're so specialized and limited. They're great for surfing the web, basic tasks like word processing, and the simple interface is perfect for anyone who doesn't know a lot about computers. Since Google controls exactly what you can install on a Chromebook, they're also very secure.

All that ease of use and security does come with a cost; if you need to do anything more complicated than writing an essay or send an email, you'll probably need to enable developer mode.

What Is Developer Mode on Chromebooks?

Developer mode is similar to jailbreaking an iPhone or rooting an Android phone. All of these devices are normally locked down pretty tight, meaning you can only install approved apps, and you have limited to no ability to make changes to the system.

When you enable developer mode, you gain a much higher degree of control over your device. However, your Chromebook will also be inherently less secure, since you lose all the security features that ChromeOS is known for.

How to Enable Developer Mode on Your Chromebook

Enabling developer mode on a Chromebook is easy; you don't need to download anything or enter any complicated commands. The entire process only requires you to press some specific keys when turning the Chromebook on, then press another key combination during the boot process.

These key combinations are not listed onscreen, so you'll need to follow the directions below to successfully enable developer mode.

Enabling developer mode also power-washes your Chromebook, which means your login information and any locally-stored data is removed. You'll be unable to restore this data, so back up anything you don't want to lose.

Hotkeys to enable developer mode on a Chromebook

Here's how to enable developer mode on a Chromebook:

  1. If the Chromebook is on, turn it off.
  2. Press and hold esc+refresh, then press the power button.
    1. The refresh key has an icon that looks like a circular arrow pointing in a clockwise direction. It's usually the F3 key.
  3. Wait for the screen that says "Chrome OS is missing or damaged. Please insert USB stick."
  4. Press Ctrl+D.
  5. If prompted, press Enter.
  6. Wait for the device to reboot.
  7. Follow the on-screen prompts to set your Chromebook up.

Your Chrome OS isn't missing or damaged, the screen in Step 3 is the normal screen that you get when turning on developer mode.

These instructions work for most Chromebooks that use a virtualized developer switch. Some Chromebooks have a slightly different process, including early models like the Cr-48 and Samsung Series 5, which have physical developer mode switches. Chromium maintains a list of all Chromebook models, where you can find out if your device has a developer switch.

What Can You Do With a Chromebook in Developer Mode?

Chromebooks are extremely limited by design, but developer mode opens them up. The most important thing that changes when you enable developer mode is you gain access to the developer shell, a powerful tool for advanced users.

Accessing the Linux shell on a Chromebook

The shell allows you to perform tasks like pinging an IP address or website, connecting to a Secure Shell (SSH) server, and running a variety of other Linux commands; this works because ChromeOS is based on Linux.

One of the most useful things developer mode enables you to do is actually install a standard Linux desktop environment; you can retain the snappy ChromeOS interface and switch into a full Linux environment any time you need to do anything more complicated.

For more information about this, check out our full guide to installing Linux on a Chromebook.

Problems With Chromebook Developer Mode

Developer mode has a lot of positive aspects, but there are a few potential hazards to take into consideration before you enable it:

  • Google doesn't support developer mode: When you enable developer mode, you might void your warranty, meaning you could be on your own if you have any problems with your Chromebook in the future.
  • You lose all your data: Enabling developer mode wipes all the data you have stored locally on your Chromebook. If you don't back everything up, it'll be gone forever.
  • It's easy to lose all your data again: When you turn off developer mode, your data gets wiped again. Unfortunately, turning developer mode off is as easy as pressing the space bar while the Chromebook is booting up. That makes it too easy to accidentally wipe the hard drive at any time.
  • It takes longer to boot up: Every time you boot up with developer mode on, you have to look at a warning screen.
  • Your Chromebook will be less secure: Chromebooks have a lot of safety features that are totally disabled when you turn on developer mode.

How to Disable Developer Mode

If you decide developer mode just isn't for you, turning it off is even easier than turning it on. In fact, it's so easy that you're literally one keystroke away from returning your Chromebook to its original state every single time you reboot.

Back up your data before disabling developer mode, as all locally stored data is removed when you turn off developer mode.

Turning developer mode off on a Chromebook

Here's how to turn off developer mode on your Chromebook:

  1. If your Chromebook is on, turn it off.
  2. Turn your Chromebook on.
  3. Wait for the screen that says "OS verification is OFF."
  4. Press the spacebar.
  5. Follow the on-screen prompts to set your Chromebook up again.

If your Chromebook has a physical developer switch, you'll need to switch it off to return to normal. This is the same switch you used to enable developer mode.