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My Mac suffered a physical failure at the very beginning of the upgrade from El Capitan to Sierra. The physical failure has been fixed. I can get to the screen with Disk Utility, Reinstall OS and Time Machine options. But I don't have a Time Machine backup.

One option is to reinstall the OS. Would that wipe out my data? If so, what options are there for recovery?

The most important data are saved in a version control system, but there is always this and that around the edges that one would still want.

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  • "Physical failure" is pretty vague: if your hdd/ssd broke your data is probably lost but if the wi-fi chip fused your data should still be there. Mount and check the file system on the main volume. If the previous system and your user data exist you should be able to simply upgrade to Sierra. Just don't wipe your main volume. If you've booted to Internet Recovery Mode an "upgrade" will probably fail, because it tries to install the original system your Mac was delivered with. So please add some additional details.
    – klanomath
    Oct 10 '16 at 9:04
  • The failure was due to the motherboard being somewhat out of shape, likely because I dropped the macbook (inside its case) a couple of times. After that, it sometimes stopped working, depending on changes in its temperature, then finally had the final failure, which has now been repaired. The disk appears to be in working order, but without an OS, we can't get at the files. Oct 10 '16 at 9:27
  • You can get the files or verify the system by booting to (Internet) Recovery Mode or simply attaching the Mac in Target Mode to a second Mac. Depending on the age you need either a Thunderbolt or a Firewire cable for the latter. It's not unlikely that the disk was erased by Apple or the Apple Authorized Service Provider before repairing you Mac. Then your data would be lost - at least parts of it.
    – klanomath
    Oct 10 '16 at 9:53

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