How to download an old macOS installer

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That old collection of macOS installer disk images you used to keep is probably now worthless, and Apple makes it harder to find downloadable copies of anything before macOS Monterey. However, there are still good reasons to purchase older operating systems, and here’s how.

Apple really wants you to use macOS Monterey. And if that means you have to buy a new Mac, they will find a way to deal with your heartache. Partly because of this, and partly because of wanting to make it obvious to newcomers what the current version of macOS is, the company has long hidden previous versions.

If you’ve been using your Mac for a long time, you may have learned how useful it is to keep a copy of each macOS as you update. Even when they were all easily obtainable, they were still huge, making it much easier to use a local copy.

From then on, no older macOS that you still have copies of will run. You cannot install macOS from them because the security certificates have expired at that time.

However, any old macOS installers that you can download from Apple will now work. And as the annual release cycle progresses, we are already at the stage where the last four releases are available for download.

Or rather, they are available for download when you know exactly where to look. Apple keeps the latest older installers in the App Store, but hides them.

You never see them listed, and you usually can’t find them with a direct search either. You had to read Apple’s support documentation before you could get a link that would magically open the installer on the App Store.

Now this is true for the last four versions, while you need a separate solution for the previous three.

But first, why do you even bother?

Don’t get an older version of macOS because, say, it’s low on disk space and the smaller footprint of, say, OS X Tiger is attractive.

(Modern Macs won’t run the Tiger installer even if you can find it on Apple’s site. Instead, they report that it came from an unidentified developer. That could also have to do with the October 24 expiration, and if it’s well, it’s hard to see Apple bothered to do anything with an operating system from almost 15 years ago).

Even with less prehistoric versions, don’t do this at all unless necessary.

Not that it’s difficult or in any way risky for your Mac, but it can be useless. If your Mac is physically capable of running macOS Monterey, you are almost certainly better off updating it.

While Apple supports Macs dating back more years than seems feasible, there will still be plenty of machines that will never be able to upgrade to Montery or of course Apple Silicon. And that’s fine because it will probably leave them on whatever they are currently running.

However, it’s easy to end up with older Macs that work perfectly fine, but could use some updating. Not all the way to Monterey or even Big Sur, but maybe High Sierra, maybe El Capitan, possibly Mojave.

The old macOS Big Sur is in the App Store, but you can only find it when you have the direct link

The old macOS Big Sur is in the App Store, but you can only find it when you have the direct link

Every new version of macOS that you can upgrade to, you should. It’s worth it for its features, safety, and reliability.

And the more up-to-date your old Mac can be, the longer you can get useful work out of it.

You just have to find the old macOS installer.

How to get from High Sierra to Big Sur

Use these links to currently get any of the latest four versions of macOS. In each case, the link takes you to a hidden App Store entry for the macOS installer.

And in each case, the App Store will also tell you if it is not possible to install the version you want on the Mac you are using. Apple notes that you can’t install any macOS on a machine if it’s older than the one that came with that Mac.

Therefore, you will need to follow these links on a Mac that accepts the download. These links will take you to a download page.

How to find old macOS installers

Choose from the following options to get the official macOS update and directly from Apple. Clicking will start the download.

In each case, Apple recommends that you first check what is the latest version your Mac can run, and then thoroughly, repeatedly, back up that Mac.

Apple also notes that you cannot install one version of macOS over a later one. You cannot go back. You can, if you really need a hobby, clean up the Mac and start again to install that old macOS, if you want for a software compatibility reason or the like.

Craig Federighi introduces macOS the Captain in 2015

Craig Federighi introduces macOS the Captain in 2015

While it is easy to imagine the need to upgrade an old machine to give it a few more years of life. And additional security on the Internet.


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