These advanced steps are primarily for system administrators and others who are familiar with the command line. You don't need a bootable installer to upgrade macOS or reinstall macOS, but it can be useful when you want to install on multiple computers without downloading the installer each time.

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Find the appropriate download link in the upgrade instructions for each macOS version:

macOS Catalina, macOS Mojave, ormacOS High Sierra
Installers for each of these macOS versions download directly to your Applications folder as an app named Install macOS Catalina, Install macOS Mojave, or Install macOS High Sierra. If the installer opens after downloading, quit it without continuing installation. Important: To get the correct installer, download from a Mac that is using macOS Sierra 10.12.5 or later, or El Capitan 10.11.6. Enterprise administrators, please download from Apple, not a locally hosted software-update server.

OS X El Capitan
El Capitan downloads as a disk image. On a Mac that is compatible with El Capitan, open the disk image and run the installer within, named InstallMacOSX.pkg. It installs an app named Install OS X El Capitan into your Applications folder. You will create the bootable installer from this app, not from the disk image or .pkg installer.

Use the 'createinstallmedia' command in Terminal

  1. Connect the USB flash drive or other volume that you're using for the bootable installer. Make sure that it has at least 12GB of available storage and is formatted as Mac OS Extended.
  2. Open Terminal, which is in the Utilities folder of your Applications folder.
  3. Type or paste one of the following commands in Terminal. These assume that the installer is still in your Applications folder, and MyVolume is the name of the USB flash drive or other volume you're using. If it has a different name, replace MyVolume in these commands with the name of your volume.
    Catalina:*
    Mojave:*

    High Sierra:*
    El Capitan:
  4. Press Return after typing the command.
  5. When prompted, type your administrator password and press Return again. Terminal doesn't show any characters as you type your password.
  6. When prompted, type Y to confirm that you want to erase the volume, then press Return. Terminal shows the progress as the bootable installer is created.
  7. When Terminal says that it's done, the volume will have the same name as the installer you downloaded, such as Install macOS Catalina. You can now quit Terminal and eject the volume.

* If your Mac is using macOS Sierra or earlier, include the --applicationpath argument, similar to the way this argument is used in the command for El Capitan.

Use the bootable installer

After creating the bootable installer, follow these steps to use it:

  1. Plug the bootable installer into a compatible Mac.
  2. Use Startup Manager or Startup Disk preferences to select the bootable installer as the startup disk, then start up from it. Your Mac will start up to macOS Recovery.
    Learn about selecting a startup disk, including what to do if your Mac doesn't start up from it.
  3. Choose your language, if prompted.
  4. A bootable installer doesn't download macOS from the Internet, but it does require the Internet to get information specific to your Mac model, such as firmware updates. If you need to connect to a Wi-Fi network, use the Wi-Fi menu in the menu bar.
  5. Select Install macOS (or Install OS X) from the Utilities window, then click Continue and follow the onscreen instructions.

Learn more

For more information about the createinstallmedia command and the arguments that you can use with it, make sure that the macOS installer is in your Applications folder, then enter this path in Terminal:

Catalina:

Mojave:

High Sierra:

El Capitan:

Optimized Storage in macOS Sierra and later* can save space by storing your content in iCloud and making it available on demand. When storage space is needed, files, photos, movies, email attachments, and other files that you seldom use are stored in iCloud automatically. Each file stays right where you last saved it, and downloads when you open it. Files that you’ve used recently remain on your Mac, along with optimized versions of your photos.

* If you haven't yet upgraded to macOS Sierra or later, learn about other ways to free up storage space.

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Find out how much storage is available on your Mac

Choose Apple menu  > About This Mac, then click Storage. Each segment of the bar is an estimate of the storage space used by a category of files. Move your pointer over each segment for more detail.

Mac

Click the Manage button to open the Storage Management window, pictured below. This button is available only in macOS Sierra or later.

Manage storage on your Mac

The Storage Management window offers recommendations for optimizing your storage. If some recommendations are already turned on, you will see fewer recommendations.


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Store in iCloud

Click the Store in iCloud button, then choose from these options:

  • Desktop and Documents. Store all files from these two locations in iCloud Drive. When storage space is needed, only the files you recently opened are kept on your Mac, so that you can easily work offline. Files stored only in iCloud show a download icon , which you can double-click to download the original file. Learn more about this feature.
  • Photos. Store all original, full-resolution photos and videos in iCloud Photos. When storage space is needed, only space-saving (optimized) versions of photos are kept on your Mac. To download the original photo or video, just open it.
  • Messages. Store all messages and attachments in iCloud. When storage space is needed, only the messages and attachments you recently opened are kept on your Mac. Learn more about Messages in iCloud.

Storing files in iCloud uses the storage space in your iCloud storage plan. If you reach or exceed your iCloud storage limit, you can either buy more iCloud storage or make more iCloud storage available. iCloud storage starts at 50GB for $0.99 (USD) a month, and you can purchase additional storage directly from your Apple device. Learn more about prices in your region.

Optimize Storage

Click the Optimize button, then choose from these options.

  • Automatically remove watched movies and TV shows. When storage space is needed, movies or TV shows that you purchased from the iTunes Store and already watched are removed from your Mac. Click the download icon next to a movie or TV show to download it again.
  • Download only recent attachments. Mail automatically downloads only the attachments that you recently received. You can manually download any attachments at any time by opening the email or attachment, or saving the attachment to your Mac.
  • Don't automatically download attachments. Mail downloads an attachment only when you open the email or attachment, or save the attachment to your Mac.

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Optimizing storage for movies, TV shows, and email attachments doesn't require iCloud storage space.

Empty Trash Automatically

Empty Trash Automatically permanently deletes files that have been in the Trash for more than 30 days.

Reduce Clutter

Reduce Clutter helps you to identify large files and files you might no longer need. Click the Review Files button, then choose any of the file categories in the sidebar, such as Applications, Documents, Music Creation, or Trash.

You can delete the files in some categories directly from this window. Other categories show the total storage space used by the files in each app. You can then open the app and decide whether to delete files from within it.

Learn how to redownload apps, music, movies, TV shows, and books.

Where to find the settings for each feature

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The button for each recommendation in the Storage Management window affects one or more settings in other apps. You can also control those settings directly within each app.

  • If you're using macOS Catalina, choose Apple menu  > System Preferences, click Apple ID, then select iCloud in the sidebar: Store in iCloud turns on the Optimize Mac Storage setting on the right. Then click Options next to iCloud Drive: Store in iCloud turns on the Desktop & Documents Folders setting. To turn off iCloud Drive entirely, deselect iCloud Drive.
    In macOS Mojave or earlier, choose Apple menu > System Preferences, click iCloud, then click Options next to iCloud Drive. Store in iCloud turns on the Desktop & Documents Folders and Optimize Mac Storage settings.
  • In Photos, choose Photos > Preferences, then click iCloud. Store in iCloud selects iCloud Photos and Optimize Mac Storage.
  • In Messages, choose Messages > Preferences, then click iMessage. Store in iCloud selects Enable Messages in iCloud.

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  • If you're using macOS Catalina, open the Apple TV app, choose TV > Preferences from the menu bar, then click Files. Optimize Storage selects “Automatically delete watched movies and TV shows.”
    In macOS Mojave or earlier, open iTunes, choose iTunes > Preferences from the menu bar, then click Advanced. Optimize Storage selects “Automatically delete watched movies and TV shows.”
  • In Mail, choose Mail > Preferences from the menu bar, then click Accounts. In the Account Information section on the right, Optimize Storage sets the Download Attachments menu to either Recent or None.

Empty Trash Automatically: From the Finder, choose Finder > Preferences, then click Advanced. Empty Trash Automatically selects “Remove items from the Trash after 30 days.”

Other ways that macOS helps automatically save space

With macOS Sierra or later, your Mac automatically takes these additional steps to save storage space:

  • Detects duplicate downloads in Safari, keeping only the most recent version of the download
  • Reminds you to delete used app installers
  • Removes old fonts, languages, and dictionaries that aren't being used
  • Clears caches, logs, and other unnecessary data when storage space is needed

How to free up storage space manually

Even without using the Optimized Storage features of Sierra or later, you can take other steps to make more storage space available:

  • Music, movies, and other media can use a lot of storage space. Learn how to delete music, movies, and TV shows from your device.
  • Delete other files that you no longer need by moving them to the Trash, then emptying the Trash. The Downloads folder is good place to look for files that you might no longer need.
  • Move files to an external storage device.
  • Compress files.
  • Delete unneeded email: In the Mail app, choose Mailbox > Erase Junk Mail. If you no longer need the email in your Trash mailbox, choose Mailbox > Erase Deleted Items.

Learn more

  • The Storage pane of About This Mac is the best way to determine the amount of storage space available on your Mac. Disk Utility and other apps might show storage categories such as Not Mounted, VM, Recovery, Other Volumes, Free, or Purgeable. Don't rely on these categories to understand how to free up storage space or how much storage space is available for your data.
  • When you duplicate a file on an APFS-formatted volume, that file doesn't use additional storage space on the volume. Deleting a duplicate file frees up only the space required by any data you might have added to the duplicate. If you no longer need any copies of the file, you can recover all of the storage space by deleting both the duplicate and the original file.
  • If you're using a pro app and Optimize Mac Storage, learn how to make sure that your projects are always on your Mac and able to access their files.