If you want to return to MacOS Mojave, High Sierra, or even older Mac software, we are ready to help you.
MacOS Catalina isn’t quite an upgrade that some Mac owners expect. While offering new features that enhance the overall experience, including the ability to wirelessly expand your display to the nearest iPad, compatibility issues and bugs have many Mac owners with a bitter taste in the mouth.
Apple has improved the situation with a number of patches, but if you prefer to downgrade to macOS Mojave – or earlier – then that is also possible, although it’s not as easy as the update process.
We talk to you through all means to downgrade from macOS Catalina (along with other Mac operating systems) here. If you want to restore your PC, we discuss how to downgrade from Windows 10 separately.
Why did I downgrade MacOS Catalina?
MacOS Catalina is a great update for Mac users that introduces many useful features and customizations inspired by Apple’s iOS platform. But like Mojave, High Sierra and most previous versions of MacOS, the launch was not perfect, with users facing a number of disturbances, problems and vulnerabilities in Catalina.
In addition to security concerns, some Mac users find that updating to macOS Catalina has damaged the applications they use every day – not ideal for graphic designers and advertising materials that rely on third-party software, arguably Apple’s main target audience. That’s because of the lack of support for 32-bit applications on Apple’s latest operating system, and while many applications from people like Adobe and Microsoft now have 64-bit equivalents, many users who understand money refuse to move to a subscription-based model and continue to use the device long soft (but equally good).
You might also find that you can’t run drivers that use kernel extensions because other changes introduced in Catalina, might make your hardware useless.
Even if you find that you are not affected by the lack of 32-bit applications, users claim that running the latest update that focuses on Apple on older (but still supported) software introduces serious performance issues compared to the old version of macOS.
Whatever the reason you want to downgrade, note that this is a little more complicated than the update process – once your Mac runs the latest version of macOS, you won’t be able to install the older version above. That does not mean there is no way, but it becomes more challenging if you don’t have an existing Time Machine backup.
How to downgrade from macOS Catalina
You have two choices when you downgrade from macOS Catalina: either using Time Machine or a bootable installer. Whatever option you choose, you must back up all data / documents stored on your Mac that you want to keep completely erasing your hard drive during the process. You can use online options such as iCloud or Google Drive to back up important documents, or if you have an external hard drive (we list the best external hard drives separately), you can store large amounts of data there.
Although Time Machine is usually a practical option for backing up files and applications on your Mac, unfortunately, you cannot use it for this purpose. As we explained below, Time Machine is backing up not only your documents and data but also the macOS version, so if you restore from a Catalina backup, I will reinstall Catalina.
Using Time Machine
Time Machine is the easiest way to downgrade to the previous version of macOS, offering a quick and easy way to back up documents, data, applications, settings, and even the Mac software itself on any external drive, but there is a chance: you will have to use Time Machine from before you upgrade to Catalina.
If you don’t have an existing Time Machine backup, skip to the next section.
Before we take you through the steps of using Time Machine to downgrade from macOS Catalina, it’s worth pointing out that everything erases everything on your startup disk. Even though all documents and data from your backup are safe, you will lose any data stored on your Mac since upgrading to Catalina. We recommend using one of the cloud-based storage services above or an external hard drive (separate from the Time Machine drive) to back up documents, music, or photos that you have stored on your Mac.
When you are ready, follow these steps to downgrade using Time Machine:
- Connect your Time Machine to the Mac drive.
- Turn on your Mac, and immediately hold Command + R until you see the Apple logo appear on the screen.
- When the Recovery option appears, select ‘Restore from a Time Machine backup’ and click Continue.
- The Restore from Time Machine heading will then appear – click Continue again.
- Select your recovery source. This must be an external hard drive with your Time Machine backup.
- You will then see a list of all Time Machine backups on the drive. Choose the last backup before upgrading to macOS Catalina (or before, if you want to go back to people like Sierra High) – the macOS version must be displayed next to the time and date of each backup.
- Your backup must then be restored, which can take some time depending on the amount of data stored on the external drive and the way it is connected to your Mac.
After it’s finished, your Mac must restart and run an older version of Mac software.
Use a bootable installer
Using Time Machine may be the easiest way to reinstall an older version of macOS, but that is not the only way to do it. You can still install MacOS Mojave – or before – but you all need to completely erase your hard drive in the process, so be sure to back up all important documents and data before starting the process. Remember, you cannot use Time Machine here because this will return the current macOS version that you are running and not the older system that you want.
The first step in using a bootable installer is to get the installer for the macOS version you want. If you want to downgrade to Mojave, the previous version of macOS, this is a simple process, but returning to High Sierra or earlier is more difficult.
In essence, you can only download the Mojave installer via the Mac App Store if you are running Catalina. If you want to go back to an older operating system, you should look for friends who are running an old version of macOS and ask them to download the installer for you. That, or risks downloading it online, but we will worry about downloading the installer from a source that is not in good standing.
It should be pointed out that this will work with MacOS Catalina, Mojave and High Sierra – if you want to go back to Sierra or before, you have to follow a slightly different process due to the different storage systems at the moment. We elaborate on it a little later.
But first, if you want to downgrade from macOS Catalina to Mojave or High Sierra using a bootable drive, follow these steps:
- Download the macOS installer of your choice. If this is Mojave, it can be downloaded via the Mac App Store, but the High Sierra installer will be sourced elsewhere (as described above).
- After downloading, don’t click Open.
- Next, make the installer bootable on the memory stick. Our sister site Macworld UK has a detailed tutorial on how to make a macOS installer drive that can be booted to those who don’t know the process.
- Connect the bootable installer to your Mac.
- Open System Preferences> Startup Disk and select an external drive with your installer as a startup disk.
- Click Restart. Your Mac must then restart in Recovery mode.
- You must be connected to the internet during the installation process, so plug in an Ethernet cable or connect to a local Wi-Fi network through the Wi-Fi icon in the toolbar.
- Select Reinstall macOS and click Continue.
Your Mac must then install an older version of the operating system without further problems. Then it will restart and require you to follow the settings the first time, like when you first bought it.
How to downgrade from APFS to HFS +
The process of downgrading from Catalina, Mojave or High Sierra to an older system like Sierra is a bit more difficult because of the different file formats. Earlier versions of MacOS and Mac OS X all use Apple’s HFS + file format, while newer versions of MacOS use Apple’s APFS file format. APFS can play well with HFS + files, but the same cannot be said for the opposite, so you must fully reform your drive before installing the MacOS or Mac OS X version.
Like when reformatting any disk, you will lose access to all documents and data, but it is more difficult here because it is possible that newer files will work on APFS will not function after you run older Mac software. This can be reduced slightly by saving your documents and data in standard file formats, but this might not be possible depending on the software you are using.
So, if you want to move from an APFS system like Catalina to an HFS + system like Sierra, chances are you will lose access to most of your documents and data, so make sure it’s really worthy of a downgrade.
If you like to start again and make your heart use the older version of MacOS or MacOS X + activated, follow these steps:
- Create a bootable installer with Mac software that you want to install, as described above.
- Turn on your Mac and hold Command + R until the Apple logo appears.
- Select the bootable installer as your startup disk.
- Select Disk Utility and click Continue.
- Click Show All Devices.
- Select the internal Mac drive (not a bootable installer) and click Delete.
- Change the format from APFS + to Mac OS Extended (Journalled) and change the name of your drive if desired. Click Continue to reform the drive.
- Exit Disk Utility.
- Select Reinstall macOS and click Continue.
- Select the newly reformed drive as the target drive and click Continue.
Your Mac then has to install an older version of Mac software, ready for you to use!