I have recently been having issues with my mac and want to do a clean install. I still have Yosemite and thought it’s a good time to upgrade the OS. However, I am wary of jumping directly to Sierra when it’s so fresh.

My specific circumstances:

  • Sierra could run on my computer (early 2015 Macbook Pro), but I would prefer to install El Capitan
  • I have not previously downloaded the El Capitan installer

I realize apple provided a link to install El Capitan from Snow Leopard. However, when I follow the links to the app store to get the install file, I am met with this message:

This version of OS X 10.11 cannot be installed on this computer.

Is there a way to download the El Capitan installer now that Sierra is out, for more modern computer? Searching El Capitan on the app store yields no results for the installer.

  • Pointing all 'where can I get old OS' questions to - apple.stackexchange.com/questions/309399/… - even if not strictly dupes.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Dec 24, 2017 at 10:37
  • Pete's answer is what I was looking for and the best answer if you are looking to install from a Mac that already has El Capitan installed, but cannot go higher and I just wish to reinstall.
    – ZaxLofful
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 23:45
  • support.apple.com/downloads/macos has all MacOS original CD/DMG images to be freely downloaded
    – Prado
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 19:25

8 Answers 8


It depends on your circumstances. It can be difficult to find old OS downloads.

If you purchased it previously it will be in the App Store under the Purchased tab.

If your mac came with it pre-installed you may have to go the internet recovery or Recovery HD route, but that would entail wiping your hard drive in order to do the install. You could then migrate your user data from a Time Machine backup or similar.

Alternatively, if you have a bootable backup of your El Cap system (assuming you had it installed) you could reinstall that.

More specific answers will require more specific information from you (it's generally a good idea/helpful to provide more information so that answers can be geared towards your situation and others in the same situation can benefit).

Whatever you do, make sure you have a full working backup (which you have tested) so that you can revert should something fail.

  • This would be true for any older OS other than El Capitan. Apple are keeping it available because it's a stepping stone from Snow Leopard & for machines that cannot run Sierra
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 6:59
  • 2
    @Tetsujin: if you know where El Capitan is available for download (as your comment alludes) please provide an answer to the question.
    – Pwdr
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 7:16
  • I've voted to close it as a dupe, it's a question that already has an answer.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 7:18
  • I see, good call.
    – Pwdr
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 7:20
  • 1
    @Tetsujin Thank you for providing the other post. I followed the links on that post but it didn't work for me. I have updated the question for my specific circumstance, per Pwdr's suggestion
    – Delyle
    Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 14:09

The following link, opened in Safari, should trigger the App Store to show the El Capitan download even if it is not already in the purchases list.


I tried the link a few times but my App Store did not open. Maybe it was a server issue on Apples side or maybe it helped already having opened the App Store. Anyway today the link lead me correctly to the El Capitan download in the App Store.

Update: After that I tried the link a few more times by directly clicking or by copy paste it into the URL-bar. Sometimes it worked but sometimes not. So it seems a matter of retrying until success. Just reloading the page with Cmd+R did not have the same success rate as clicking into the URL-bar and resubmit the request by hitting Return.

Source of the link is the link of the OP


where it is provided under the words "get El Capitan from the App Store"

Update2: Here is what someone says on upgrading from Yosemite to El Capitan in an Apple discussion thread:

If you Mac is compatible with Sierra, then you cannot install El Capitan unless you had previously downloaded it. The version you tried to install is for those with Macs that cannot run Sierra or still have Snow Leopard installed. Since your Mac cannot run Snow Leopard either, there isn't a way for you to get El Capitan.

... too sad.

So one idea left would be to get an older Mac of a friend. Log in the App Store with your account. Download El Capitan. And finally have access to it via your purchases tab in your account from your newer Mac.

  • 1
    Unfortunately, that link doesn't work. Clicking on "Get" results in the message "This version of OX S 10.11 cannot be installed on this computer." I don't believe that to be a true limitation; I have a Late 2013 MacBook Pro Retina.
    – MikeB
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 1:50
  • 1
    @MikeB Maybe Apple disallows this link for Macs where Sierra can be installed. My MBP 13 is from late 2009 and the link works at least after some retries. I never saw the message you and the OP quoted.
    – Pete
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 8:25
  • @MikeB So one idea would be to get an older Mac of a friend. Log in the App Store with your account. Download El Capitain. And finally have access to it via your purchases tab in your account.
    – Pete
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 8:32
  • @MikeB Are you already on Sierra?
    – Pete
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 9:00
  • Here is what apple says in one of its own support threads: origin-discussions-us.apple.com/thread/… “If you Mac is compatible with Sierra, then you cannot install El Capitan unless you had previously downloaded it. The version you tried to install is for those with Macs that cannot run Sierra or still have Snow Leopard installed. Since your Mac cannot run Snow Leopard either, there isn't a way for you to get El Capitan.”
    – Pete
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 9:06

Since MacOS images are digitally signed by Apple, you can safely download El Capitan using eg. BitTorrent (link) or a reddit (link), as long as you

  1. Don't run the Install OS X El Capitan.app file, but only write the OS image it contains (Contents/SharedSupport/InstallESD.dmg) to a USB stick (because, as far as I can gather, only the install image is signed)
  2. Verify the digital signature over Contents/SharedSupport/InstallESD.dmg, inside the downloaded Install OS X El Capitan.app, as per this answer: https://apple.stackexchange.com/a/262914/93129
  • Why was this downvoted? Short of going to the Genius Bar (hah), this seems like one of the only ways to do this if you don't already have El Capitan in your "Purchased" tab of the App Store. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 17:22
  • @BrianMorton I suspect people either associate BitTorrent with piracy only, or they don't fully understand digital signatures. If there's a flaw in my approach, I'd certainly like to know.
    – runeks
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 4:15
  • I asked a similar question (and answered it myself), which contains info on how to download the images right from osxapps.itunes.apple.com if people don't like BT :) Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 15:43
  • support.apple.com/downloads/macos has all Original MacOS versions freely available to be downloaded [CD/DMG images]. Don't download that using torrents or other untrusted sources. Get it free from Apple on the link I provided
    – Prado
    Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 19:28

FYI, for those having trouble downloading the El Capitan installer from the Mac App Store...

El Capitan will not come up in a keyword search. You need to switch to the Purchased tab and then manually scroll down the list and find it that way. In my case, I had installers in there going back to Lion.

Also note that once you you've downloaded it, you may still be unable to run it, since Apple doesn't let you revert directly to an older OS. You will need to create a bootable installer USB using Terminal:



the correct methods to obtain El Capitan are outlined in the above answers, via the Purchased tab. if however they are not working, you could find a public source, such as torrent and verify the Sha1 of the InstallESD.dmg against the link.

shasum /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ *.app/Contents/SharedSupport/InstallESD.dmg

for 10.11.6 El Capitan (15G31) it should return 7739e3f62080000da5d28efa689c53976112a262



I just installed Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan on a Mac with Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, despite the app store offering me only macOS 10.12 Sierra. My method was a variation on Pete's answer as edited from 1 Jan 2017.

  1. From the app store, I downloaded macOS 10.12 Sierra. This finished up as an application, /Applications/Install macOS Sierra.app. And, I had macOS Sierra in my app store purchase history.

  2. I dug out and booted up my old computer, which runs Mac OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard. The Snow Leopard wanted to update my App Store, so I did this.

  3. On the Snow Leopard computer, the App Store offered only macOS Sierra, not El Capitan. The Software Update feature had no El Capitan either.

  4. I ran iTunes, confirmed that I was logged out there. (OK, this is a simplification. The first time through I didn't do this, but didn't have the OS install in my purchase history. I went through these steps a second time. The App Store refused to let me download again. I logged out of iTunes, which was logged in as a different user, and then the App Store let me download.)

  5. On the Snow Leopard computer, I used Safari to visit the URL from Pete's answer, https://itunes.apple.com/app/os-x-el-capitan/id1147835434?mt=12 . The App Store appeared. It offered OS X El Capitan, release Sep 20, 2016, version 10.11.6. The description says, "this version of OS X El Capitan is for users running OS X Snow Leopard who would like to upgrade to macOS Sierra."

  6. I clicked the download button. This finished up as an application, /Applications/Install OS X El Capitan.app. However, I did not have OS X El Capitan in my app store purchase history. (Clarification: after the second download started, I did have an "OS X El Capitan" entry in my purchase history on the Snow Leopard computer.)

  7. Copied the macOS Sierra and El Capitan installers to my file server.

  8. On my current Mac, copied Install OS X El Capitan.app to my /Applications directory.

  9. Ran the Install OS X El Capitan app. It ran as expected, and I had Mac OS X 10.11 on my current Mac. So far (6 hours) it appears to be doing well.


Contrary to what is said here (and above about past OS releases where the N-1 installer is removed soon after version N launches) Apple now has an article with links to the store and detailed requirements for getting and installing OS X El Capitan that works. (And yes, even after Sierra and High Sierra are out – and apparently now independent from previous "purchases" of that operating system. It is also not appearing in the purchased tab whether or not it was purchased or not.).

Apple says on https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT206886 - How to download OS X El Capitan:

OS X El Capitan remains available for Mac computers that can't upgrade to macOS High Sierra, or that need to upgrade to El Capitan first.

If you still need OS X El Capitan, use this App Store link: Get El Capitan. To download it, your Mac must be using macOS High Sierra or earlier.

The direct link to the App Store is (currently) here.

Current advice here on this site seems to use the help article HT206886 to check for an updated link if the Mac App Store one fails you.


Given the information in the question, the information Apple provides means currently that on Sierra and High Sierra accessing the link given will provide you the opportunity to download the El Capitan installer from the App Store.

The fact that this currently gives the error "not possible because your current system is newer" can only mean three things: 1. that there is a bug in recent versions of the App Store on Sierra or High Sierra, 2. that this policy has changed recently but the KB article doesn't reflect that change 3. that Apple simply lies on the above page which is quoted accurately here.

As memory tempts me to remember that I did download El Capitan from a newer system, it seems options 1+2 are more likely.

However, this does not apply to the conditions listed in the question by OP above.

  • As the OP said, if you follow that AppStore link from a computer running Sierra, it won't let you download it.
    – Demis
    Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 19:19

I am not allowed to comment yet, I cannot even up-vote, so I will reiterate Pwdr's first solution - "If you purchased it previously it will be in the App Store under the Purchased tab." Consider this an up-vote.

I also needed the El Capitan installer, and based on Pwdr's answer, I went to my App Store Purchased tab and found the installers for El Capitan, Mavericks, and Mountain Lion. I am downloading all of them.

This issue is a sore spot with me because I wanted to upgrade from Leopard to Lion years ago, but I had to first upgrade to Snow Leopard. The Apple store did not have Snow Leopard anymore, just Lion, and referred me instead to one of their "partners". Why does Apple expect a partner, like B.Buy, to provide better service than themselves? I ended up paying a premium at a Mac store for Snow Leopard ($50) that I used long enough to upgrade to Lion, and then to Mountain Lion.

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