What do I do in Safe Mode?

Start up an un­ruly Mac and per­form au­to­mated fixes


If your Mac strug­gles to start up on oc­ca­sion, Safe Mode can help fix it. Some­times this is caused by an app that au­to­mat­i­cally launches and crashes the sys­tem. Other pos­si­ble causes in­clude in­suf­fi­cient mem­ory, faulty ex­ten­sions or a cor­rupt doc­u­ment or web page that was open when you last shut down.

Use Safe Mode to free your Mac of what­ever’s hold­ing it back. In this mode, your Mac loads the op­er­at­ing sys­tem and only re­quired ker­nel ex­ten­sions, and it checks over the startup disk for er­rors and at­tempts to fix any it finds. The font cache, ker­nel cache and other sys­tem caches are deleted in case they are the cause of your prob­lem.

Other items, in­clud­ing userin­stalled fonts, Startup Items and Lo­gin Items, are pre­vented from open­ing au­to­mat­i­cally. While this may sound un­in­tu­itive – since you want to use those apps and sites man­u­ally once you’ve reached the desk­top – us­ing Safe Mode helps free your Mac of op­er­a­tional clut­ter. If you can’t recre­ate your prob­lem while in this mode, restart your Mac as nor­mal to see whether the is­sue re­turns.

Start in Safe Mode

To start in Safe Mode, restart your Mac, hold ß when you hear the startup chime, and re­lease it when you see the Ap­ple logo. MacBooks must first be plugged into a power source. You’ll need to log in to your user ac­count even if your Mac nor­mally does so au­to­mat­i­cally. If you use FileVault, you may need to log in twice af­ter restart­ing with the ß key pressed.

Not ev­ery­thing you usu­ally do on your Mac will work in Safe Mode. You won’t be able to play DVDs or cap­ture video in apps like iMovie. Some in­put, out­put or other de­vices may be un­avail­able too. This is a tem­po­rary, thing how­ever.

Although Safe Mode loads fewer things, it may take longer than usual for your Mac to fin­ish start­ing up. This is be­cause of the checks and at­tempts at er­ror res­o­lu­tion it un­der­takes. These safety checks are broadly sim­i­lar to the re­pairs per­formed by Disk Util­ity in OS X. Your Mac may restart if it finds an is­sue while check­ing your startup disk for er­rors. If your Mac restarts or shuts down re­peat­edly, you should book it in for a re­pair.

Once Safe Mode has com­pleted its checks, sim­ply restart your Mac to re­turn to its nor­mal state. Fu­ture restarts should be faster than be­fore. If your Mac is still hav­ing prob­lems or you get er­ror mes­sages when start­ing as nor­mal, you may need to dis­able items that are set to load at startup.

To do this, go to Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Users & Groups, click your ac­count name then Lo­gin Items. Note all the items that are listed. Next, select all the items in the list and click the – but­ton. Restart your Mac. If your prob­lem is gone, add items back to the list one at a time, restart­ing af­ter each one. If the prob­lem re­curs, it’s likely that the last item you added is the cause. Re­move it and restart again as con­fir­ma­tion. Down­load­ing a new ver­sion of that app or ex­ten­sion may help. If not, you’ll need to do with­out it – also, try con­tact­ing its de­vel­oper for sup­port.

NVRAM and SMC are low-level fixes that you should only try af­ter you’ve ex­hausted all other self-help trou­bleshoot­ing. Af­ter tin­ker­ing in Safe Mode and restart­ing, you can con­firm OS X has started as nor­mal by open­ing Sys­tem In­for­ma­tion and se­lect­ing Soft­ware.

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