Safe Mode is a stripped down version of the Mac operating system that can come in handy if you’re trying to troubleshoot your Mac: maybe it’s running slow, maybe the app is causing problems, you might have problems with app crashes or freezes, or worse, your Mac might not start at all.
In this tutorial, we will explain how to boot into safe mode, why you want to use safe mode, what it does and what it doesn’t, how you know you are in safe mode, and what to do if your Mac automatically boots into safe mode.
Note: The way you enter Safe Mode is different on M1 Macs – the first Macs to use Apple silicon, introduced by Apple in November 2020. It is likely that all future Macs with Apple chipsets will adopt the new method. We explain below how to access Safe Mode on the M1 Mac.
Why you should use Safe Mode
Using Safe Mode can help you fix problems that are preventing your Mac from starting up, or any problems with your startup disk.
There is a mythology in the power user community about booting your Mac into safe mode. Some people recommend this as the first step if your Mac encounters absolutely any problem. This is likely to be effective as the caches are wiped in safe mode and can become corrupted.
Here are some reasons why you should use Safe Mode:
- If your Mac freezes during startup
- If you think the app is causing problems
- If your Mac is running very slowly (booting to safe mode will clear cache and may speed up performance)
Keep in mind that clearing caches using either method can make your Mac slower in the first few reboots after it does – after all, the purpose of the caches is to speed up your Mac.
Some people use Safe Mode to uninstall applications that would otherwise turn out to be “sticky” – that is, you cannot get rid of them in normal mode because they are tied to a system service that won’t shut down. In safe mode, all unnecessary services are not loaded, overcoming this obstacle.
If the issue does not occur after booting into Safe Mode, it may be one of the following:
- You may have incompatible login items.
- If you restart your computer after using Safe Mode and the problem doesn’t recur, the problem was probably related to a cache or directory problem that was fixed after starting Safe Mode.
Don’t try to do the actual work in safe mode. Some apps just won’t run and your entire system will run slowly and unresponsive. However, when it comes to troubleshooting, there is no doubt that Safe Mode has its uses.
How to start your Mac in Safe Mode
Follow these steps to safely boot your Intel-based Mac:
- Start up your Mac
- Press and hold the Shift key
- The Apple logo should appear
- When the login window appears, release the Shift key and log in
- If you have FileVault turned on, you may need to sign in twice,
Follow these steps to safely boot your Mac M1 or later:
- Press and hold the power button until the startup options appear.
- Select your startup disk.
- Press and hold the Shift key and click Continue in Safe Mode.
- Release the Shift key.
What / what safe mode does / does not do
Safe Mode performs certain checks and prevents certain programs from loading or opening automatically when your Mac starts up. When booting into safe mode:
- Only essential kernel extensions (also known as ketxs or hardware and software drivers) are loaded
- Startup applications and login applications / services are not loaded
- Manually installed fonts are not loaded.
In addition, system and font caches are automatically wiped and the boot routine verifies the hard drive and attempts to fix directory problems – a bit like the Windows FDISK command-line application, although what happens is identical to what happens state if you click the Repair Disk button found in macOS Disk Utility.
So what can you do in Safe Mode? Few! In addition to the fixes mentioned above, Safe Mode allows you to test your Mac. If the problem you were having does not occur after booting into Safe Mode, you can safely assume that it is related to a problematic kernel extension (possibly faulty hardware that the kernel extension has access to) or – and more likely – is related to a third-party app or service that’s configured to run on macOS.
How to clear the startup application list
- Open System Preferences and click the Users & Groups icon.
- Select your username on the left.
- Click the Login Items tab.
- Select an item and then click the minus (-) button below to remove it.
However, some apps and services hide in system folders, and trimming them is only available to advanced users. Removing kernel modules is again only for experts, although in modern versions of macOS it is quite difficult for developers and hardware vendors to install third party modules due to the requirement that they be digitally signed, so this is much less likely. any problems.
How do you know you are in Safe Mode
When you’re in Safe Mode, you’ll see the words Safe Mode in the menu at the top-right corner of the screen, at least in the latest versions of macOS.
Other tips will also indicate that you are in Safe Mode. For example, the system may appear sluggish and the animations may appear choppy.
To check if you are in Safe Mode, follow these steps:
- Click the Apple logo in the menu (upper left corner).
- Click About This Mac.
- Click System Report.
- Click on Software and check what boot mode is listed as – it will say Safe if you are in Safe Mode, otherwise it will say Normal.
Other ways to check if you are in Safe Mode:
- The screen may flicker when the login screen appears during startup.
- Depending on the version of the Mac operating system you are using, the screen may appear gray and a progress bar may appear under the Apple logo during startup. In newer versions of macOS, startup will look normal, except for potentially needing to sign in twice.
- Your Mac will be free.
In Safe Mode, you cannot:
- Capture video in some video applications.
- Audio devices may not work.
- Some USB or Thunderbolt devices may not be available.
- Wi-Fi may not be available.
- File sharing will be disabled.
- Some graphics will not appear, for example the dock (shown below) may appear gray instead of transparent.
What to do if your Mac automatically starts up in Safe Mode
If it detects a problem that can be fixed in Safe Mode, your Mac may automatically boot into Safe Mode and try to fix it. Hopefully this fixes the problem, but if it doesn’t, and your Mac continues to restart in Safe Mode, contact Apple Support, an Apple Authorized Service Provider, or visit the Apple Store for help.
Another possibility is that the Shift key is blocked, which puts it into Safe Mode when your Mac starts up.
How to Disable Secure Boot on Mac? How do I get out of Secure Boot on my Mac?
To exit Safe Mode, simply shut down your Mac and restart it (this time without pressing the Shift key).
Safe Mode Shutdown may take a little longer than normal. Be patient and don’t interrupt the process or turn off your Mac using the power button.
Here’s how to turn off your Mac.
Mac safe mode problems, safe mode not working
You may be concerned that it may take longer to start your Mac in Safe Mode. Probably no cause for concern. This will take longer as your Mac will check the directory on your startup disk.
If your Mac restarts or shuts down while using Safe Mode, it may be because your Mac has already fixed the startup disk problem in which case your Mac has automatically restarted.
However, if your Mac repeatedly restarts or shuts down in Safe Mode, Apple advises you to contact Apple Support, consult an Apple Authorized Service Provider, or visit an Apple Store for assistance.
If Safe Mode doesn’t fix the problem, you can try one of these tutorials: How to fix a Mac that won’t turn on or start up and How to fix a Mac or How to fix a frozen Mac.
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