When the Mac restarts: Restore keyboard shortcuts

On the Apple Mac, there are various key combinations which, if you hold them down at system start-up, execute a specific command. For example, you can access the via a shortcut when booting Recovery Mode. Another example brings you to the Startup Managerwhere you can choose the startup volume and thus the operating system to be started (macOS, Windows, Linux, etc.). In the following I have summarized which key combinations will take you where when restarting your Mac - for recovery, Apple hardware test, resetting NVRAM and PRAM as well as for other features.

When restarting the Mac, use a key combination to restore macOS - here you will find the shortcuts for the system boot on the Apple computer. You can use it to achieve recovery mode, safe mode, NetBoot, Apple Hardware Test and more.

When restarting the Mac, use a key combination to restore macOS - here you will find the shortcuts for the system boot on the Apple computer. You can use it to achieve recovery mode, safe mode, NetBoot, Apple Hardware Test and more.

Restore keyboard shortcuts on Mac restart

In fact, there are three keyboard shortcuts for System Restore on Apple Mac startup. These all contain the R key, but also the command key (⌘ or cmd), the option key (⌥ or Alt) and / or the shift key (⇧ or Shift). In the following table you will find the explanation of the three possibilities.

shortcut Buttons view Causes at system start ...
Command + R [⌘] + [R] Installs the latest version of macOS that was installed on the Mac (recommended by Apple)
Option + Command + R [⌥] + [⌘] + [R] Installs the latest version of macOS that is compatible with the Mac (possibly as an upgrade)
Shift + Option + Command + R [⇧] + [⌥] + [⌘] + [R] Installs the macOS version that came with the Mac, or the one that comes closest to it (if the original is no longer available)

Counselor: Where are the Mac keys, what do they do and what are their names?

Instructions, exceptions and important information

The table is only intended to provide an initial overview and a reminder. In Apple's support document HT204904, which is the source for the above overview, you will find a few notes and exceptions. For example, if you have never installed macOS 10.12.4 Sierra, Option + Command + R will not install the latest, but the original (or later still available) operating system. 

You will also find a note on the linked page that you will probably have to enter your password first when using the recovery mode / recovery mode. Then you select the installation or restoration of macOS in the window "Utilities" and also decide whether you want to format the hard drive. Thanks to the screenshots, the instructions are clearer - take a look;)

Download list: Installer from old macOS and OS X versions

More shortcuts that can help with the system start of the Apple Mac

In addition to the three key combinations for restoring the operating system when the Mac is restarted, there are also other shortcuts that can help you when booting the Apple computer. Which keys (or sometimes just a single key) are to be pressed and where they will lead you, I have summarized for you in the following.

shortcut Buttons view Causes at system start ...
Option key [⌥] Displays the Startup Manager to choose a different startup disk. Is a Firmware password set up, it is queried here.
Option + Command + P + R [⌥] + [⌘] + [P] + [R] Resetting NVRAM or PRAM; is ignored if a firmware password is set (then starts the macOS recovery)
Shift key [⇧] Start the Apple Mac in safe mode
D [D] Starts the "Apple Hardware Test" or the "Apple Diagnostics" (Explanation here)
Option + D [⌥] + [D] Starts the "Apple Diagnosis" or the "Apple Hardware Test" over the Internet
N [N] If the Mac supports network startup volumes, the system will be mounted through a NetBoot server
Option + N [⌥] + [N] Selects the default boot image on the server instead of the NetBoot server
Command + S [⌘] + [S] Starts the Mac in single-user mode on macOS 10.13 High Sierra or later
T [T] The Apple Mac starts up in disk mode
Command + V [⌘] + [V] Mac starts with a detailed log
Eject key or F12 or mouse button or trackpad button [⏏] or [F12] If there is a disc drive, the removable medium (CD or DVD) will be ejected at startup

More tips and explanations

I have linked some terms in the "Causes at system start ..." column so that you can read what they mean. Usually I have detailed instructions for you each. If you find a term that is still strange to you and that I have not yet been able to link (because I have not yet written a contribution to it), take a look at the Apple support document HT201255. This is also the source for the table above.

In the document you will find further information, links to even more support documents with explanations, instructions, screenshots and tips as well as contact details for professional help. If you don't get any further, just write me an email or leave a comment. For my readers I offer - within the scope of my possibilities and knowledge of the last 20+ years - a free help service. But you can also use the search function here in the blog beforehand. There are already instructions for many topics;)

Did you like the article and did the instructions on the blog help you? Then I would be happy if you the blog via a Steady Membership or at Patreon would support.


  1. Didi says:

    hey, what you are doing is great. maybe I can find help with you. something has changed on my macbook pro. if i need the AT sign i now have to click alt + q, which is very annoying because other things have changed too. question: how can I change it again? the AT under the L key does not work!.
    maybe you can help me, that would be great.
    Have a good day, would be nice to hear from you.

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hi Didy! I didn't know that you can change that. ALT + Q is the key combination on older Mac keyboards... on newer keyboards it's ALT + L. But you can go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Input Sources to see if German is set there or something...
      Alternatively, you can also use a workaround and set under "Shortcuts" that the character that appears with ALT + L twice is converted into an "@". Then you just have to press ALT + L twice and you have an @ :)

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