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Download and install older versions of OS X on a Mac


Download Mac operating systems

So, you’ve decided to download an older version of Mac OS X. There are many reasons that could point you to this radical decision. To begin with, some of your apps may not be working properly (or simply crash) on newer operating systems. Also, you may have noticed your Mac’s performance went down right after the last update. Finally, if you want to run a parallel copy of Mac OS X on a virtual machine, you too will need a working installation file of an older Mac OS X. Further down we’ll explain where to get one and what problems you may face down the road.

A list of all Mac OS X versions

How to download old Mac OS X versions

We’ll be repeatedly referring to these Apple OS versions below, so it’s good to know the basic macOS timeline.

  1. Cheetah 10.0
  2. Puma 10.1
  3. Jaguar 10.2
  4. Panther 10.3
  5. Tiger 10.4
  6. Leopard 10.5
  7. Snow Leopard 10.6
  8. Lion 10.7
  9. Mountain Lion 10.8
  10. Mavericks 10.9
  11. Yosemite 10.10
  12. El Capitan 10.11
  13. Sierra 10.12
  14. High Sierra 10.13

Where do I get Mac OS X download?

Normally, it is assumed that updating OS is a one-way road. That’s why going back to a past Apple OS version is problematic. The main challenge is to download the OS installation file itself, because your Mac may already be running a newer version. If you succeed in downloading the OS installation, your next step is to create a bootable USB or DVD and then reinstall the OS on your computer.

How to download older Mac OS X versions via the App Store

Mac operating system download


If you once purchased an old version of Mac OS X from the App Store, open it and go to the Purchased tab. There you’ll find all the installers you can download. However, it doesn’t always work that way. The purchased section lists only those operating systems that you had downloaded in the past. But here is the path to check it:

  1. Click the App Store icon.
  2. Click Purchases in the top menu.
  3. Scroll down to find the preferred OS X version.
  4. Click Download.

This method allows you to download Mavericks and Yosemite by logging with your Apple ID — only if you previously downloaded them from the Mac App Store. 


Clean your Mac before the installation

Note, that it is recommended that you install OS on a clean drive. What’s more, you will need enough disk space, for example, in order to create Recovery Partition. The easiest way to clean up a Mac is to run tools provided with CleanMyMac. This app automatically removes system junk, old apps, leftovers, and more useless “garbage” from your drive. You can download it for free.

Download yosemite without app store

Download CleanMyMac for free (for OS 10.4-10.8)
Download CleanMyMac for free (for OS 10.9 - 10.13)


“I can’t download an old version of Mac OS X”

If you have a newer Mac, there is no physical option to install Mac OS versions older than your current Mac model. For instance, if your MacBook was released in 2014, don’t expect it to run any OS released prior that time, because older Apple OS versions simply do not include hardware drivers for your Mac.

Mac os x download

But as it sometimes happens, workarounds are possible. There is still a chance to download the installation file if you have an access to a Mac (or virtual machine) running that operating system. For example, to get an installer for Lion, you may ask a friend who has Lion-operated Mac or, once again, set up a virtual machine running Lion. Then you will need to prepare an external drive to download the installation file using OS X Utilities.

After you’ve completed the download, the installer should launch automatically, but you can click Cancel and copy the file you need. Below is the detailed instruction how to do it.

Download older OS X onto an external drive

The following method allows you to download Mac OS X Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks.

  1. Start your Mac holding down Command + R.
  2. Prepare a clean external drive (at least 10 GB of storage).
  3. Within OS X Utilities, choose Reinstall OS X.
  4. Select external drive as a source.
  5. Enter your Apple ID.

Mac OS download

Now the OS should start downloading automatically onto the external drive. After the download is complete, your Mac will prompt you to do a restart, but at this point you should completely shut it down. Now that the installation file is “captured” onto your external drive, you can reinstall the OS, this time running the file on your Mac.

  1. Boot your Mac from your standard drive.
  2. Connect the external drive.
  3. Go to external drive > OS X Install Data.

Locate InstallESD.dmg disk image file — this is the file you need to reinstall Lion OS X. The same steps are valid for Mountain Lion and Mavericks.


Download Apple OS version with an Apple Developer account

If you are signed with an Apple Developer account, you can get access to products that are no longer listed on the App Store. If you desperately need a lower OS X version build, consider creating a new Developer account among other options. The membership cost is $99/year and provides a bunch of perks unavailable to ordinary users. 

Nevertheless, keep in mind that if you visit developer.apple.com/downloads, you can only find 10.3-10.6 OS X operating systems there. Newer versions are not available because starting Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.7, the App Store has become the only source of updating Apple OS versions.

Purchase an older version of Mac operating system

Apple OS Versions

You can purchase a boxed or email version of past Mac OS X directly from Apple. Both will cost you around $20. For the reason of being rather antiquated, Snow Leopard and earlier Apple versions can only be installed from DVD.

Buy a boxed edition of Snow Leopard 10.6
Get an email copy of Lion 10.7
Get an email copy of Mountain Lion 10.8

The email edition comes with a special download code you can use for the Mac App Store. Note, that to install the Lion or Mountain Lion, your Mac needs to be running Snow Leopard so you can install the newer OS on top of it.

How to get macOS El Capitan download

If you are wondering if you can run El Capitan on an older Mac, rejoice as it’s possible too. But before your Mac can run El Capitan it has to be updated to OS X 10.6.8. So, here are main steps you should take:

1. Install Snow Leopard from install DVD.
2. Update to 10.6.8 using Software Update.
3. Download El Capitan here.


How to downgrade a Mac running later macOS versions

If your Mac runs macOS Sierra 10.12 or macOS High Sierra 10.13, it is possible to revert it to the previous system if you are not satisfied with the experience. You can do it either with Time Machine or by creating a bootable USB or external drive.

Instruction to downgrade macOS Sierra 
Instruction to downgrade macOS High Sierra

Before you do it, the best advice is to back your Mac up so your most important files stay intact. In addition to that, it makes sense to clean up your Mac from old system junk files and application leftovers. The easiest way to do it is to run CleanMyMac 3 on your machine (download it for free here ). 

Visit Apple Store to download older OS X version 

If none of the options to get older OS X worked, pay a visit to nearest local Apple Store. They should have image installations going back to OS Leopard and earlier. You can also ask their assistance to create a bootable USB drive with the installation file. So here you are. We hope this article has helped you to download an old version of Mac OS X. Below are a few more links you may find interesting.

These may also interest you:

5 tips to revive a slow Mac
5 tips to increase the longevity of your Mac
How to properly upgrade OS


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