How to download an old macOS installer

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That old collection of macOS install disk images you kept is probably worthless now, and Apple is making it harder to find downloadable copies of everything that was before macOS Monterey. Still, there are still good reasons to get old operating systems, and here’s how to do it.

Apple really wants you to use macOS Monterey. And if that means you have to buy a new Mac, they’ll find a way to deal with their angst. Partly for that, and partly to want to make newcomers understand that this is the current version of macOS, the company has long hidden previous versions.

If you’ve been using the Mac for a long time, you may have learned how handy it is to keep a copy of every macOS when upgrading. Even when it was possible to get them all easily, they were still huge, so it was much easier to use a local copy.

From that date, any old macOS that you still have copies of will not work. You cannot install macOS from them because the security certificates they contain expired at the time.

However, any old macOS installer that you can download from Apple will now work. And as the annual release cycle progresses, we’re already at the stage where the latest four versions are available for download.

Or rather, they’re available for download when you know exactly where to look. Apple keeps the most recent old 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 in the App Store.

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

But first, why would you bother

Don’t buy an older version of macOS because, say, you’re running out of disk space and the smaller footprint of, say, OS X Tiger is appealing.

(Modern Macs won’t run Tiger installer even though you can find it on Apple’s site. Instead, they report that it is from an unidentified developer. This could also be due to the October 24 expiration, and if it does, it’s hard to see Apple bothering to do anything about an operating system from nearly 15 years ago.)

Even with less prehistoric versions, don’t do this at all unless you have to.

It’s not that it’s difficult or risky for your Mac, but it can be unnecessary. If your Mac is physically capable of running macOS Monterey, you’re definitely better off updating it.

While Apple has supported Macs for more years than it seems possible, there will still be plenty of machines that can never update to Montery or of course to Apple Silicon. And that’s good because you’re probably going to leave them on whatever they’re currently running.

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

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

Every new version of macOS that you can update, you should. It’s worth it for the features, security, and reliability.

And the more you can update your old Mac, the more useful work you can get from it.

You just need to find the old macOS installer.

How to find High Sierra to Big Sur

Use these links to get one of the latest four versions of macOS currently. In each case, the link will take 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 macOS on a machine if it’s older than the one that came with that Mac.

So you will need to follow these links on a Mac that will accept 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 update for macOS and directly from Apple. Clicking on it will start the download.

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

Apple also notes that you can’t install a version of macOS in addition to a later version. You cannot go back. You can, if you really needed a hobby, erase the Mac and start installing that old macOS again, if you were so inclined for some reason of software compatibility or the like.

Craig Federighi presents macOS El Captain in 2015

Craig Federighi introduced macOS El Captain in 2015

While it’s easy to imagine needing to update an old machine to give it a few more years of life. And, more Internet security.


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