I'm currently having a Macbook Air 120GB SSD where I tried to update the OSX to El Capitan. Very first it did not want to update due to lack of disk space.

After I cleared up some photos so it had around 3-4 GB available space, the installer of OSX launched and started loading, after few minutes it booted into a setup-only mode, where you only see the setup and select language and click next-next-next, but at this point it now stops me saying "not enough disk space".

That's fair enough, but now I'm stuck in this bootmode, if I turn off or reboot my Mac, it reboots into this installer again and I can't really exit and get back to my OSX to delete more files to free up some diskspace. I'm basically stuck in the updater itself when booting.

Any suggestions how I can get out of this boot and back to the original OSX, so I can free up some space? Thanks in advance.

2 Answers 2


Go in the Recovery menu (hold cmd+r), in the top left corner, you should see the Apple logo. Click on it and select the boot disk, which should appear as your internal hard disk, you will be prompted to enter your password to decrypt it and you should be good to boot into your old system.

  • Cool! Thanks for the tip here, I'll have it in mind until next time it happens, since it's a good while ago this happened.
    – Blt950
    Oct 7, 2016 at 17:25

macOS High Sierra (10.13) or later

APFS file system does disk state snapshots which are accessible as Time Machine backup.

That means what in case of restart loop because of lack of free space you need to boot into recovery mode by holding Cmd + R right after machine starts, and go into Restore from Time Machine Backup there: you will have local time machine backups and will be able to restore system to its state just before the upgrade.

You don't need an external disk with Time Machine copy to do that, APFS does this for you automatically.

macOS Sierra (10.12) or lower

The operating system with the HFS+ file system doesn't have automatic local backups. If you don't have one created yourself just before the upgrade, you'll need to remove files from the system manually from recovery mode.

For that, you'll need to:

  1. Go into recovery mode by holding Cmd + R right after machine starts
  2. Go into Disk Utility and mount your disk
  3. Close Disk Utility, and open Terminal from Utilities menu at the menu bar on top
  4. Proceed with deleting enough big files or folders from your disk from Terminal, using this answer for example. Be careful, as you have nothing restricting you from required system files deletion! Delete files only from your home directory (/Volumes/<VolumeName>/Users/<username>/)
  5. Close the Terminal and restart the machine to proceed with the stuck installation.

This won't work for newer systems like macOS High Sierra, Mojave, Catalina because of APFS: deleting a file from recovery mode would not free any disk space because of the snapshot system, mentioned above.

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