Downloading older versions of OS X using Recovery
As of September 28th, 2015, Apple has apparently removed the listings for older versions of OS X and other discontinued software from the Purchased tab of users who had previously purchased or downloaded them.
With this software unavailable in the Mac App Store, this change means that it’s no longer possible to download the following versions of OS X from the Mac App Store:
- Mac OS X Lion
- OS X Mountain Lion
- OS X Mavericks
Update – 9-29-2015: The listings for older versions of OS X and other discontinued software have re-appeared in the Purchased tab as of this morning, so this software is now available for download again.
Fortunately, it’s still possible to download installers for these versions of OS X, provided you have access to a Mac or virtual machine running the version of OS X that you need to download. For more details, see below the jump.
When reinstalling your OS using Recovery HD, Apple will send you the correct installer for the OS which your hardware shipped with. It does this by looking at the type of Mac you have and the serial number. Once it has those, your Mac will have the correct installer pushed to it. Once your Mac has the installer fully downloaded, it will then reboot and install OS X.
This behavior will also apply to reinstalling in a VM, but Apple will instead provide the generic OS X installer previously available in the Mac App Store instead of a hardware-specific OS X installer.
You can use this behavior to capture the InstallESD disk image that Apple uses for the OS X installer. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Boot your Mac or VM from your Recovery HD partition by holding down Command-R at startup
2. Connect an erased external disk with at least 10 GBs of free space
3. Select the Reinstall Mac OS X or Reinstall OS X option and select your external disk
4. Provide your Apple ID if prompted. This Apple ID must have previously been used to download the desired version of OS X from the Mac App Store.
5. The OS X installer files will download to the external disk.
6. Once the installer finishes downloading and prompts you to restart, shut down instead.
7. Disconnect the external disk
8. Boot from your Mac’s regular boot drive.
9. Reconnect the external disk
When you take a look at the external disk, you will find a directory called Mac OS X Install Data or OS X Install Data. Inside that folder is the InstallESD.dmg disk image file for that version of OS X.
I’ve verified that this method works for the following versions of OS X:
Mac OS X Lion
OS X Mountain Lion
OS X Mavericks
This method also works with Apple’s Internet Recovery. In the event that you don’t have a Recovery HD partition, but your Mac supports Internet Recovery, you can boot to Internet Recovery using Command-R.
If you have a Recovery HD partition, but want to boot from Internet Recovery anyway, you can boot to Internet Recovery using Command-Option-R.