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TNCS-0017 - Create a Recovery Partition on Your Bootable Backup Disk

April 5, 2014

INTRODUCTION

Before you get started with this tech note, a couple things you should know:

  • A recovery partition does not NEED to exist to encrypt the volume.
  • This tech note only applies to HFS+ Recovery partitions. The Recovery volume on APFS formatted drives is fully preserved when creating a bootable backup to another APFS drive.

The Recovery partition was introduced by Apple along with macOS 10.7. It is a hidden partition on your hard drive that functions as a separate, bootable volume containing a scaled-down version of the operating system along with some diagnostic and repair utilities. The purpose of the Recovery partition is to provide an alternate boot volume that you can use should something go wrong with your primary boot volume. You can then diagnose and repair the problem and be back on your way. The Recovery partition is part of the macOS Recovery system. More information can be found here.

The Recovery partition has evolved over time. It was once a separate, physical volume on your primary system drive that could be accessed via the Startup Manager (holding OPTION key down while you boot). It has since become a hidden, logical volume that is no longer accessible via Startup Manager (but still can be booted by holding COMMAND-R while starting up). Furthermore, on more modern Macs, Apple has introduced Internet Recovery which allows you to boot from an internet based Recovery volume (hold COMMAND-OPTION-R while starting up) without the need for a functioning Recovery partition.

Many users express an interest in backing up the Recovery partition. ChronoSync does not do this. It was once possible when the Recovery partition was a physical volume (and still is if you're using an older version of macOS) but it has become harder to accomplish over time now that it is a logical volume. However, the Recovery partition does not actively change through normal system use and thus does not need to be regularly backed up. What's more important is to simply create a Recovery partition on your additional drives should you desire to boot from them in Recovery mode. This tech note will explain how to do this.

Note: If a bootable volume is converted to use FileVault 2 encryption, the operating system imposes the requirement that a Recovery partition must be in place before doing this. If you are trying to encrypt an existing bootable volume, OPTION 3 will be your best bet. However, if you are starting from scratch, you can format the drive in Disk Utility using one of the "macOS Extended (Encrypted)" options and then make a bootable backup to that volume — a Recovery partition will not be required to boot that volume!

PICK A CREATION METHOD

This tech note presents three options for creating a Recovery partition on any hard drive. They are presented below. Read the introduction for each method to determine which is right for you. You should also read all of the steps for any given method before you attempt to follow them.

OPTION 1: INSTALL macOS

This method is the most sure-fire way to get a Recovery partition installed on a drive. It is the easiest from a technical perspective but it is certainly the most time consuming. It can also be regarded as "killing ants with dynamite" and that is a somewhat justified description. The fact remains, however, that installing macOS on a hard drive will create the recovery partition for you. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Obtain the desired version of macOS that you would like to use. Later versions are available as free downloads from the Mac App Store.
  2. Launch Disk Utility from the Applications folder.
  3. From the left sidebar, select the drive you wish to create a Recovery partition on, then select the Partition tab.
  4. From the 'Partition Layout' popup choose the desired partition scheme. A single partition is adequate but you may create more, if you'd like.
  5. Name the partition(s) you just created. The exact name is not important but try to choose something that matches the intended use of the drive. For example, choose 'Bootable Backup HD' if this will be a bootable backup of your primary system drive.
  6. Now run the macOS installer through completion. You do not need to take the time to fully configure the OS (iCloud, etc.).
  7. Use ChronoSync to setup a bootable backup to the partition you installed macOS on*. You should choose the "Bootable Mirror" option.
  8. Run the bootable backup.
  9. If you do not desire to run bootable mirrors from now on, you can change your synchronizer document to a "Bootable Backup" at this point.

NOTE: all data will be lost when partitioning your drive, so if there is any existing data you wish to preserve, copy it to a safe location until this process is complete.

NOTE ALSO: A Bootable Mirror will completely overwrite all data presently on the destination target. This should be the copy of macOS you just installed. It will leave the Recovery partition alone. If you want to store additional data on this drive, you should switch to "Bootable Backup" after the initial mirror is run.

Again, this option is the most time consuming since it involves a full OS install that you're probably going to just end up overwriting. The next two options will be much quicker, provided you feel confident taking the extra steps required.

OPTION 2: USE RECOVERY DISK ASSISTANT

Apple has a handy utility named Recovery Disk Assistant that can convert any physical partition to become a Recovery partition. This is a very straightforward and easy to use utility and it would seem to be the best solution for creating a Recovery partition. Unfortunately, things aren't always this easy! The problem with Recovery Disk Assistant is that it has certain requirements that you might not be able to meet. These requirements are: you must have an existing Recovery partition and you must be using physical partitions, not logical volumes. The first requirement is easy to meet since you most likely already have a Recovery partition on your primary system drive. The second requirement is a little trickier. If the drive is using Core Storage, it is divided into logical volumes. This would happen if you've encrypted any volume on the drive, have a Fusion drive or if it is larger than 2.2 TB in size. The requirement that you cannot use logical volumes applies to the volume that contains your existing Recovery partition, too.

To determine if you are using logical volumes, follow these steps:

  1. Launch Disk Utility from the Applications folder.
  2. From the left sidebar, select the drive you wish to create a Recovery partition on.
  3. Look at the bottom of the window and see if it lists the 'Type' of device as 'Logical Volume Group.' If not, continue…
  4. From the left sidebar, select the device or partition from which you booted. It is probably named 'Macintosh HD.'
  5. Look at the bottom of the window and see if it lists the 'Type' of device as "Logical Volume Group.'

If you see 'Logical Volume Group' listed (or 'Logical Partition' if you selected the partition name instead of the device), you are using Core Storage and cannot use Recovery Disk Assistant to create a Recovery partition. You will have to use either OPTION 1 or OPTION 3.

If you CAN use Recovery Disk Assistant, continue with these steps:

  1. If Disk Utility is not still running, launch it again.
  2. From the left sidebar, select the drive you wish to create the bootable backup on, then select the Partition tab.
  3. From the 'Partition Layout' popup choose 2 partitions.
  4. Select the top partition, and use the following settings:
    Name: 'Recovery HD'
    Format: macOS Extended (Journaled)
    Size: 1 GB — If Disk Utility resizes this to something larger, that's okay
    Options: GUID Partition Table
  5. Select the second partition, and use the following settings:
    Name: 'Bootable Backup HD'
    Format: macOS Extended (Journaled)
    Size: Should be automatically sized based on the first partition's chosen size
  6. Select Apply, then select Partition.
  7. When the process has finished, close Disk Utility.
  8. Download the Recovery Disk Assistant from Apple.
  9. Mount the RecoveryDiskAssistant.dmg and run the Recovery Disk Assistant utility.
  10. Run through the steps of the utility, making sure to choose the 'Recovery HD' partition you created earlier.
  11. Click 'Quit' when the utility has finished.
  12. Use ChronoSync to create a bootable backup to the 'Bootable Backup HD' partition*.

NOTE: all data will be lost when partitioning your drive, so if there is any existing data you wish to preserve, copy it to a safe location until this process is complete.

OPTION 3: USE RECOVERY PARTITION CREATOR

Recovery Partition Creator is a handy utility created by Mac consultant, Christopher Silvertooth. It is capable of creating a Recovery partition on any existing drive. In many ways, this is the simplest of the three methods presented in this tech-note but it does come with some minor trepidation and thus can't be categorized as 'sure-fire' like OPTION 1 is.

The only requirement for this method is an existing copy of the macOS installer from which you want to master the Recovery partition. It works with macOS 10.7 through 10.10. Yes, this includes Yosemite, despite a lack of definitive statements regarding this compatibility on the website.

To use Recovery Partition Creator, follow these steps:

  1. Obtain the desired version of macOS that you would like to master the Recovery partition from. Later versions are available as free downloads from the Mac App Store.
  2. Download Recovery Partition Creator. Latest version is 3.8 as of this writing.
  3. Launch Recovery Partition Creator and follow through the steps it presents. A few notes:
    • We recommend using this utility without any other applications running.
    • There are a couple points in the process where good feedback isn't provided. It may seem like nothing is happening. Be patient! When the process is complete, Recovery Partition Creator will let you know it is done.
    • At some point in the process, you may be asked what Installer OS you are using. Choose the version that matches the installer you pointed Recovery Partition Creator to. If you chose a macOS 10.10 installer, select 10.9 since 10.10 isn't listed as an option.
    • In theory, this utility can convert an existing drive w/ partitions to contain a Recovery partition, leaving the existing data intact. It has behaved this way on all drives we have tested. However, we recommend performing it on a newly formatted/partitioned drive as outlined in OPTION 1 or OPTION 2. If you absolutely must run this on a drive with existing data, we highly recommend you back it up first. ChronoSync is a good tool for that!
  4. Upon completion, you may Quit Recovery Partition Creator. The destination drive will now have a recovery partition on it!
  5. Use ChronoSync to create a bootable backup to the drive containing the new Recovery partition*.

CONCLUSION

When completed, the Recovery partition on your backup drive should be bootable. Depending on which version was installed, it may or may not be available for selection in Startup Manager by holding OPTION down while starting up. In all cases, you should be able to startup from a Recovery partition by holding COMMAND-R while starting up — your Mac will look for a Recovery partition to boot from on all available drives.

* - technically, you don’t have to create a bootable backup — it could be a data-only drive and still have the Recovery partition on it.

REVISION HISTORY

Jun-13-2018 - Note about HFS+ Recovery partitions added.
May-29-2015 - Updated to include other options for recovery.
Oct-6-2014 - Updated to use Apple’s Recovery Disk Assistant utility.
Apr-5-2014 - Created.