3 Ways to Recover Data From a Mac That Won’t Boot – MUO – MakeUseOf

Did your Mac stop booting up all of a sudden? Don’t panic, there are several ways you can still recover your data.
When a Mac fails to boot and you haven’t backed up your important data, the situation could be disastrous. Perhaps you have irreplaceable photos, a half-written manuscript, or some other valuable data trapped in your misbehaving Mac.
If your Mac won’t power on at all, retrieving data can be very difficult. However, if your Mac powers on but simply won’t boot to the Desktop, the various methods below can help you recover your critical files.
When a Mac won’t power on at all, the data-recovery methods we’ll get into below won’t work. If you do need to retrieve information from a device with no power, consider removing the internal drive and placing it in an external enclosure. External hard disk enclosures allow you to connect internal drives to another computer, usually through USB or similar connection type.
Removing your Mac’s hard drive requires some tools and technical expertise, so this solution is only suitable for those who know what they’re doing. Alternatively, a good computer repair technician may be able to provide data recovery services, at a price.
However, if your Mac powers on but doesn’t boot up all the way, you should be able to use one of the methods below to recover your data for free, provided you’ve got a spare Mac or external drive to hand.
Using Apple’s Share Disk—or Target Disk Mode for Intel Macs—is the simplest method for recovering data from a device that won’t boot. The feature allows you to connect two Macs with a cable and treat one like an external hard drive that you can access and copy files from.
To use Share Disk, you’ll need two Macs and an appropriate cable. If the Mac that won’t boot is an Apple Silicon device, you’ll need to use Share Disk along with a USB, USB-C, or Thunderbolt cable. And if the Mac is an Intel device, you’ll need to use Target Disk Mode and any of the previously mentioned cables. However, if either device is running macOS Big Sur or later, only a Thunderbolt connection will work with Target Disk Mode.
Here’s how to enable Share Disk on a Mac that won’t boot:
You’ll need to boot the other Mac up as normal and access the shared drive as a network volume from Finder.
Network should appear in your Finder sidebar. Once you locate the other Mac, double-click it, select Connect As, choose Guest when prompted, and click Connect. If all goes well, you should be able to copy any files across from the shared drive.
Here’s how to enable Target Disk Mode on a Mac that won’t boot:
You can access the shared drive on the other Mac from the desktop or Finder sidebar, depending on how you’ve set your Finder preferences. Dragging and dropping or copying and pasting will work to transfer any important items to the working Mac.
If you’re comfortable with Terminal, you can use commands in macOS Recovery mode to copy files across to an external hard drive. All you’ll need is a correctly formatted external disk connected to your Mac.
Here’s how to use Terminal to copy files from a Mac that won’t boot:
Using Terminal isn’t the prettiest way to recovery data, but it certainly is effective once you familiarize yourself with the appropriate commands.
If Terminal is a little daunting and you don’t have access to another Mac, you can install the macOS onto an external hard drive, boot it up, and copy files across. The process can be time consuming, because you’ll need to wait for macOS to download and install, but it is an effective data-recovery option.
Here’s how to install macOS on an external hard drive from macOS Recovery:
Related: How to Make Your Mac Boot From a USB Drive
Once the installation completes, you can complete the setup and copy files from your Mac to your new external OS. If the internal drive doesn’t appear automatically in Finder, you may need to mount and unlock it using Disk Utility.
The best way to avoid data loss from a Mac not booting is to always back up. Several backup methods exist for macOS, so you can choose the flavor that best suits your needs. Options include:
Whatever method you select, you should ensure that backups are consistent, complete, and easy to access when you need them.
A misbehaving Mac that refuses to boot doesn’t automatically result in data loss. With the right method, you can usually recover most information before you reformat or repair your device to get it functioning again.
However, performing regular backups is the best way to avoid ever losing important items. If you don’t currently back up your data, now’s a good time to start.
There are lots of Mac backup options out there, and many of them have features that Apple’s default backup app just can’t compete with.
Matt is an Australian freelance writer with a degree in creative and critical writing. Prior to commencing his studies, he worked in tech support and gained valuable insights into technology and its users. His true passion is telling stories, and he hopes to one day write a novel worthy of publication.
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