How to Enable Chromebook Developer Mode

Access the ChromeOS developer shell

Google strictly limits what you can do with your Chromebook for security and simplicity reasons. If you need to do anything more complicated than writing an essay or browsing the web, you might need to enable developer mode for ChromeOS. This guide shows you how and explains the downsides.

These instructions apply to Chromebooks that use a virtualized developer switch. Some Chromebooks, like the Cr-48 and Samsung Series 5, 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 Is Developer Mode on Chromebooks?

Enabling developer mode is similar to jailbreaking an iPhone or rooting an Android phone. These devices only allow users to install approved apps, and they provide limited ability to make changes to the system. When you enable developer mode, you gain a higher degree of control over your device, but your Chromebook loses all of the security features built into Chrome OS.

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

How to Enable Developer Mode on Your Chromebook

To enable developer mode on a Chromebook:

  1. With the Chromebook turned off, boot into recovery mode by holding Esc + Refresh while also pressing the Power button.

    The Refresh key looks like a circular arrow pointing in a clockwise direction. It's usually the F3 key.

  2. Wait for the screen that says "Chrome OS is missing or damaged. Please insert USB stick" and press Ctrl+D.

    Chrome OS isn't actually missing or damaged. This is the normal screen you get when turning on developer mode.

  3. Press Enter if prompted and wait for the device to reboot. Once it restarts, follow the on-screen prompts to set up your Chromebook.

What Can You Do With a Chromebook in Developer Mode?

The most important thing that changes when you enable developer mode is you gain access to the Chrome OS developer shell, also known as "Crosh." Press Ctrl + Alt + T to open Crosh in the Chrome browser.

The developer shell allows you to perform advanced tasks like pinging an IP address or website, connecting to a Secure Shell (SSH) server, and running a variety of other Linux commands. These tasks are possible because Chrome OS is based on Linux.

One of the most useful things developer mode enables is the ability to install a Linux desktop environment on your Chromebook. You can retain the snappy Chrome OS interface and switch to a full Linux environment whenever you need to do anything more complicated.

You can access the developer shell without enabling developer mode, but developer mode must be turned on to run advanced Linux commands.

Accessing the Linux shell on a Chromebook

Problems With Chromebook Developer Mode

There are a few potential hazards to take into consideration before you enable developer mode:

  • Google doesn't support it: You might void your warranty when you enable developer mode, which means 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 up everything, it's gone forever.
  • It's easy to lose all your data again: When you turn off developer mode, your data gets wiped again. You can disable it by pressing the space bar while the Chromebook is booting up, so it's easy to wipe the hard drive by accident.
  • 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 is less secure: Chromebooks come with a lot of safety features that are totally disabled when you turn on developer mode.

How to Disable Developer Mode

To disable developer mode, turn off your Chromebook and turn it back on, then wait for the screen that says "OS verification is OFF" and press the spacebar. Follow the on-screen prompts to set up your Chromebook again.

All locally stored data is removed, so back up your data before disabling developer mode.

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