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How to Start a Mac in Safe Mode

Most of the time, any Apple device “Just works”, it works so flawlessly that people go awe over the perfection it was built with. However, there are times that even a Mac gets bugged by a scoundrel app developer who would have implanted a malicious code into his app or maybe just because of unexpected app incompatibility. In these cases, it is important to troubleshoot the problem and rectify it for a smoother overall experience, for this reason, Apple has included a “Safe Mode” which can be used to find out the problem and the cause behind it so that it can be rectified.

In safe mode, the Mac prevents some software from loading, the startup items and other non-essential bits of software are skipped. This helps isolate the cause of software conflict and helps you diagnose the problem. As a bonus, booting in Safe mode also forces a check on your startup disk.

One of my collegue had recently purchased a new MacBook Air so that he can easily write articles on the go, after some looking around he finally got it setup to his requirement and was getting himself acquinted to the new features and differnece in the visual appeal of a Mac while he encountered several erros cause by a rougue app. Calling up the Apple customer support adviced him to enter the Mac into Safe Mode and check for the problem.

Steps to boot into Safe Mode:

In case your Mac was awake, first shut it down by choosing Shut Down from the Apple menu and then after your Mac completely shuts down, go ahead and power it on again. Immediately after you hear the startup sound, press and hold down the Shift key. Be careful not to press the Shift key before you hear the startup tone and ideally you should try to hit the shift key as soon as you hear the tone. Keep holding the Shift key and only release the Shift key when you finally see the OSX desktop or the login screen appears.

Note: In case you’re using the OS X’s FileVault option to encrypt your entire startup disk, then release the shift key when your Mac prompts you to unlock the disk, then type in your password and press the Enter key.

Leaving the Safe mode:

Leaving the safe mode is as simple as just restarting your Mac, just go ahead and restart the Mac like you normally would. In the menu click on shutdown and when the Mac turns off, go back and press the power button, just make sure not to press the Shift key this time. Your Mac should now boot back to the normal mode. Also, keep in mind that it would take longer than normal for the device to leave the Safe mode and enter the normal boot mode, just be patient and don’t panic. Strictly avoid interrupting the boot process by holding the power button to hard reset your Mac.

Advantages of Safe mode:

In the safe mode, the Mac automatically does the following stuff.

  • It verifies your startup disk and checks it for any errors if any are found it attempts to repair the directory issues.
  • The Mac loads only the bare minimum required kernel extensions.
  • It prevents the automatic launching of startup items.
  • All the user enabled fonts are automatically disabled.
  • The Mac automatically deletes font caches, Kernel cache, and other system cache files and performs a clean boot.

Disadvantages of Safe Mode:

By default several inbuilt OSX features tend to get disabled while in the Safe mode to enable troubleshooting and pinpointing the problem, this does reduce the functionality of your Mac for a short time. Some of the changes during Safe mode boot are as follows:

  • The movies in the DVD Player of the application will not play.
  • The iMovie app and other apps won’t let you capture any video.
  • Some audio interfaces won’t function properly.
  • Few of the USB and Thunderbolt devices might not be shown and will not function.
  • Wi-Fi network might be restricted and the usage might be limited or it might be turned off, on the whole, depending on the version of your Mac
  • On booting to Safe Mode in OS X v10.6 or newer, the operating system disables File Sharing.
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