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Let me first mention that a related question and answer is given in Backup to External in Recovery Mode (Terminal or Time Machine) . For the sake of completeness, I will tell the complete story about my recent nightmare.

Some days ago, I was trying to update my MacBook Pro (13 inch version from 2011) from Sierra (the latest version of it) to High Sierra. However the installation failed and I received a message that I should restart my computer. By clicking the (unique) option "Restart", I ended up with a prohibitory sign after some time.

I tried to use First Aid on Macintosh HD from Recovery Mode. It failed miserably and the details contained a bunch of "Missing thread record" followed by some numbers. The final message after the failed process was the following "First Aid process has failed. If possible backup the data on this volume. Click Done to continue".

I tried to access the Internet Recovery Mode following the advice of the Apple support. It failed giving the error -2002F.

My third attempt was to use the Single User Mode in order to apply the fsck command. However I could not even start to write in the terminal since it was going crazy in a loop by giving the message that the Root could not be found (the number of the error if relevant was probably 19). After some time, everything stopped and the background got white, while the letters got black.

As I understand, now my only option is to backup through Recovery Mode following the options mentioned in the above cited question and, then, erase my Hard Drive through Disk Utility. If I have any other available options, please, let me know.

The problem is that I don't have an external hard drive and also I don't have another MacBook. I will try soon to borrow an external hard drive from a friend.

Now, I shall ask my questions.

1) Suppose that I can have access to another MacBook. By using First Aid through another MacBook in my Hard Drive in the Target Disk Mode, would I obtain a better result? In other words, does the First Aid of Disk Utility acts differently when applied through another MacBook than when applied through my Recovery partition (assuming that my Recovery partition is fully functional)?

2) Suppose that I transfer my files to an external HD through any of the methods in the above cited question and, when trying to access the transferred files, discover that they are actually corrupted. Would they also be corrupted if I have instead performed the transference by using another MacBook and the Target Disk Mode?

3) More generally, what would be the better method of recovering my files that would optimize the amount of fully functioning files recovered?

4) In general, when such failures in installation occurs, what folders and files are likely to have been overwritten or erased? More precisely, what folders are modified by updating from Sierra to High Sierra when the installation completion is successfully achieved?

I ask these question because I may be able to get my hands in an empty MacBook if I pay someone, therefore I would like to know beforehand if such action would indeed be optimal.

Thanks in advance.

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There's a fair bit to your question, but...

On one hand you tell us that you don't have an external hard drive or another Mac, but then you say you may be able to get your hands on an empty MacBook if you pay someone.

So, if you were going to be spending money, it'd be best spent on an external hard drive. Not only could you use it to get yourself out of this jam, but then you'd be able to use it as a Time Machine backup drive or even a temporary boot volume for your Mac.

Now to address your four questions:

1) Suppose that I can have access to another MacBook. By using First Aid through another MacBook in my Hard Drive in the Target Disk Mode, would I obtain a better result?

No. You should have an external hard drive anyway, so while this is certainly one way to go to transfer your data, it still leaves you with no backup regime once you're back up and running. And, if you're thinking of doing this as a way to try and fix your existing drive, you may in fact hasten its untimely end. Basically, your priority should be to backup your data to another drive. Proceed on the assumption that your current drive will die very soon.

2) Suppose that I transfer my files to an external HD through any of the methods in the above cited question and, when trying to access the transferred files, discover that they are actually corrupted. Would they also be corrupted if I have instead performed the transference by using another MacBook and the Target Disk Mode?

The method you use to transfer your data will not change the data itself. In other words, if your data is corrupted, then it's corrupted.

3) More generally, what would be the better method of recovering my files that would optimize the amount of fully functioning files recovered?

Based on the info in your question, we can only assume your hard drive has started to fail. The first thing to do is not to overuse it at this point - as we have no idea how much life is left in it. In other words, you may only get one shot at this, if you're lucky. If you're really lucky, you will be able to recover all your data. Your hard drive may last one more minute, or it may last another week. We just don't know.

So, to maximise the amount of data you save, the absolute best option would be to buy an external hard drive and then to selectively backup your data in order of importance. The reason this maximises things is that you're selectively recovering what you want, whereas making a full backup will also backup an awful lot of stuff that isn't important. This is okay (in fact preferred) if you know the drive will last long enough to do this, but if you don't know how long the drive will last, then selectively backing up your data is a much better approach.

If you're not familiar with or comfortable using Terminal to selectively transfer your data, then getting access to another Mac is the best way to achieve this. Ideally you would have the other Mac and an external hard drive. That is, put your old Mac in Target Disk Mode and then connect it to another Mac to browse your data and copy it across to the external hard drive. But if you can't get both, then temporarily transferring your data to the other Mac is your best bet until you can also get an external hard drive to put your data on.

However, keep in mind that assuming your internal hard drive is dying, you will need to replace that as well, although with an external hard drive you could first install macOS on that and then transfer your data to it as well. This way you could use your old Mac for a while by booting up from the external drive.

4) In general, when such failures in installation occurs, what folders and files are likely to have been overwritten or erased?

This is impossible to answer as there is no way to know at what point of the installation process it failed. However, it's unlikely your user data would have been overwritten. Basically, unless you had formatted the hard drive, a macOS upgrade is only going to change system files, default apps, etc. It is not going to change your documents, media, downloads, etc.

A final word / recommendation

Having gone over both of your related questions I get the sense you need to perhaps make a choice between spending some money on getting access to another Mac or on buying an external drive.

If I was in your situation I would do as follows:

  1. Purchase an external hard drive of higher capacity than your internal drive
  2. Connect the external drive to your Mac
  3. Boot up your Mac in macOS Recovery mode
  4. Access Disk Utility and then format/erase your external hard drive
  5. Proceed to install macOS onto your external drive
  6. Once completed, your Mac should be booted into the new installation from your external drive. If not, restart your Mac and press the option key until you see your drives on the screen Then select the external drive and boot from that.
  7. Once you're logged into your Mac, go to Apple > System Preferences > Startup Disk and make sure that the external drive is selected as the default Startup Disk
  8. Exit System Preferences
  9. You'll also notice in Finder that you can see the internal drive as if it's an external drive
  10. Now you can do one of the following:

NOTE: Once your data is copied across, you can use your Mac by continuing to boot from the external drive. However, this is not really a long-term solution as you'd be better to replace the internal drive on your Mac at some point or, when finances allow, upgrade to another Mac.

  • Thank you for your answer. I'm aware that I should have an external drive. Once the problem in solved I will have regular backups using some cloud service, which seems to be more affordable. Regarding your answer, I believe that 2 is not entirely correct. For instance, here ngszekiat.com/5-ways-to-backup-mac-wont-boot-recovery-mode it's mentioned that the transference through dd command rendered a corrupted file while the cp command worked fine. I dont know if such difference would happen by using a MacBook and the Target Disk Mode instead of an external hard drive. – user40276 Dec 3 '17 at 23:34
  • About 1, my question is whether the First Aid of Disk Utility acts differently when applied through another MacBook than when applied through my Recovery partition. – user40276 Dec 3 '17 at 23:36
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    @user40276 The dd command and cp commands do different things. I read the article you linked to and the _IZO7707.jpg file he references is actually a bad example to use. Regardless, the writer used the dd command to clone an entire drive, meaning it'll duplicate every single byte of data, corrupted and all. When using the cp command they only copied the data in their User home folder. One process duplicated 1TB of data, the other only 120GB of data, so we're not comparing apples with apples. The dd process did not corrupt the data. – Monomeeth Dec 3 '17 at 23:49
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    As for your first question, in both cases Disk Utility is not being run from the boot volume, therefore either option will work in exactly the same way (assuming of course they're the same version of Disk Utility). – Monomeeth Dec 3 '17 at 23:54
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    As for the modifications that High Sierra performs, you're worrying about something you don't need to worry about. The system files and default apps that macOS High Sierra may have updated don't impact your personal data. For example, files on your desktop will be the same, files in your Documents folder will be the same, files in your Pictures folder will be the same, and so on. However, there may be things in your User's library folder that you need to backup (e.g. your Mail folder if you used Apple Mail), so you should factor that Library folder into your data recovery. – Monomeeth Dec 3 '17 at 23:57

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