Apple

How to create a bootable USB to install OS X Mavericks

Jesus Vigo goes over the steps to create a bootable USB to install OS X 10.9 (aka Mavericks).

OS X Mavericks USB

In April, I wrote an article on TechRepublic about how to create a bootable USB to install OS X. The latest iteration of OS X, version 10.9 (aka Mavericks), marks not only 200+ changes in the OS, but also does away with the fabled "big cat" naming scheme. However, the focus of this article is the change in the process for creating a working, bootable USB drive.

Creating a USB Installer for Apple OS X 10.9

Before proceeding, you'll need the following items to complete the process:

  • 8 GB USB Flash Drive (or SD Card)
  • Install OS X Mavericks.app (installer downloaded from Mac App Store)
  • Apple computer with Mac App Store (OS X 10.6.8+)
  • User Account with Administrative privileges

Follow these steps:

  1. Using a Mac with at least OS X 10.6.8 installed, access the Mac App Store and download the Mavericks (10.9) app installer
  2. Insert the USB drive into the Mac and launch Disk Utility
  3. Click on the USB drive from the left-hand menu and select the Partition tab
  4. Click the drop-down menu, selecting 1 partition
  5. Select Mac OS Extended (Journaled) for the format-type from the drop-down menu (Figure A)
    Figure A
  6. Click on the Options button, select the radio button for GUID Partition Table, and click OK (Figure B)
    Figure B
  7. Launch the Terminal.app by selecting it from the /Applications | Utilities folder and execute the following command (Figure C)*:
    defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE;\killall Finder;\say Files Revealed

    Figure C
  8. Upon completion of the USB formatting, locate Install Mac OS X Mavericks.app (downloaded in step #1 to the Applications folder, by default). Right-click the file and select Show Package Contents (Figure D)
    Figure D
  9. Navigate the file structure Contents | Shared Support and double-click the InstallESD.dmg file mount OS X Install ESD on the desktop (Figure E)
    Figure E
  10. Double-click the mounted .dmg file and locate the hidden BaseSystem.dmg (Figure F)
    Figure F
  11. Go back to Disk Utility and click on the newly formatted USB Drive in the menu, then click on the Restore tab
  12. Drag the BaseSystem.dmg over to the Source text box. For Destination, drag and drop the partition created on the USB drive onto the textbox (Figure G)
    Figure G
  13. Upon verifying that the fields are correct, click the Restore button and select Erase from the application, if prompted to do so (Figure H)
    Figure H
  14. The process may indicate in excess of one hour, but in my experience, the process takes significantly less time to complete (Figure I)
    Figure I
  15. Once the files have finished copying over, the drive should mount automatically. Navigate the file structure to System | Installation and delete the alias to the Packages directory (Figure J)
    Figure J
  16. Going back to the mounted Install ESD.dmg file on the desktop (step #10), locate the directory named Packages and copy it to the directory in step #15 (Figure K)
    Figure K

There you have it -- a bootable copy OS X Mavericks on USB Flash Drive that can be used to install, upgrade, and/or troubleshoot compatible Apple computers. The process has become a bit more cumbersome, but once all the files are in their proper place, the USB drive works much the same. Simply insert your drive, power on the computer, and hold down the Option key to access the boot selection menu. From there, select the USB drive partition and press enter to initiate the boot process.

About

Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 15 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...

47 comments
Gabrovszki
Gabrovszki

Dear Jesus! I can't see the hidden "BaseSystem.dmg" ! I see only many .pkg files! How can I see the BaseSystem.dmg ?

zachyelle
zachyelle

So i did everything as you said but when I Select my thumb drive from the Boot menu it gives me a "Prohibited" sign. I am trying to Install Mavericks onto a brand new never used 120GB SSD. The reason I switched hard drives is because my HDD died. Can you please help?

rndmspwnpnt
rndmspwnpnt

I got it to work using this script, "sudo '/Applications/Install OS X Mavericks.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia' --volume '/Volumes/Mavericks' --applicationpath '/Applications/Install OS X Mavericks.app' --nointeraction", I could not get it to work using the one in this article.

rndmspwnpnt
rndmspwnpnt

This is one of the worst instructional computer guides I have ever read, you left way too many steps in the process completely open-ended.

lorenzosjb
lorenzosjb

Did not work, I have a mini mac with a 10.9.2 and the terminal commands (all I have seen) did not worked. Plz help.


capal4321
capal4321

Jesus, thanks so much. i managed to create the bootable usb disk - on a SSD and also a ubs thumb drive. My mac is already running mac os 10.9. what i am trying to do is a clean install over existing drive because of data corruption. When i try to boot using the option key, it books to the main disk and not the thumb drive or usb ssd drive. what am i doing wrong here. 

jallan1
jallan1

Thanks so much for this write-up! It worked flawlessly, and got me out of a jam. I appreciate that.

DMIMAGE
DMIMAGE

Thank you Jesus for this excellent tutorial

DMIMAGE
DMIMAGE

Use this command to unhide files if you are within 10.9.


defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles 1


Then reboot.

jiangjiefs
jiangjiefs

大神,十分感谢你的教程
我的md761装win7结果两个系统都被我搞没了,找了半天只有你的教程能用,太厉害了!
还好我有一台hackintosh,哈哈哈

Puttepeter
Puttepeter

When I try to install the USB everything looks fine but when I have to choose a disk to install it on - nothing shows. I've changed from HDD to SSD. Do I have to connect with a SATA to USB converter, and then what?

Any suggestions? :)


thegreengoblin
thegreengoblin

Thanks for the info.  I have a 16bg jump drive but someone told me that when you did this, you couldn't break it into multiple partitions in order to make a bootable Mavericks disk?  I told them I thought they were wrong and as long as you had at least 8gb available on one partition, that it didn't matter.  I'm assuming this is correct? :)

stalet
stalet

For those who are running OSX 10.9 allready you need to run this command to show all files:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles -boolean true; killall Finder

nickcage49
nickcage49

I got to the last step but all the usb drive did was erase.  It didn't ask if I wanted to replace it with the contents of the file.  HELP!!

Einna888
Einna888

After I created the boot USB, I insert the drive, power on the computer and hold Opt. I selected the USB drive from boot menu. However, the Apple logo appears in the middle of the screen for a little while then the screen goes back to my computer desktop screen... what should I do?? 

omar.saab.96
omar.saab.96

 I repeated the command in step 7 and I replaced |TRUE" with "FALSE" but the revealed files (such as .DS_Store) does not go hidden. 

Please help !!!

omar.saab.96
omar.saab.96

I repeated the command in step 7 and I replaced |TRUE" with "FALSE" but the revealed files (such as .DS_Store) does not go hidden. 

Please help !!!

JamsoWamso
JamsoWamso

If I download the install file on say a MacBook Pro, will the same install file work for an iMac?

babney
babney

Thank you, this worked perfectly!!

stilnox76
stilnox76

i'm on late 2013 mbp (mavericks) and followed closely to guide. Try to boot and press option, am able to see the osx base system, however when i click it, to goes to a grey screen with a X. hangs there and system shut down. is there any thing i am doing wrong?

Orlandovin
Orlandovin

Anyone know how to reverse STEP 7? How do you make the revealed files, hidden again? Thanks!

colterlovette
colterlovette

Also, if you're trying to create this on a Mavericks installed Mac, the command in terminal to show hidden files in Finder is a wee bit different. The "f" in com.apple.finder simply needs to be lowercase:

defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE && killall Finder

macmanjim
macmanjim

You can also pipe the commands instead of using a semicolon and backslash

nzjc
nzjc

@zachyelle I was in the same situation this morning, I ended up booting direct from the stick without going to the selection menu, which only worked after about 3 reboots :/

karlstones
karlstones

@stalet Thanks for this tip it has worked but can you tell me how to re-hide the files again? Thanks

themacjesus
themacjesus

Thanks for sharing @stalet! As the saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat.

themacjesus
themacjesus

Hello @nickcage49, I would go back to step #1 and start the process once again. Ensure that each step is followed concisely, especially when extracting the "OS X Install.dmg" since that is where the files will be copied from, onto the USB itself. It isn't uncommon for a user to skip this step, since be default the process creates an alias that points to the original file. However, this simply won't do as the boot process will not have access to this stored file unless it is completely copied over to the bootable USB.


Good luck!

themacjesus
themacjesus

I'm sorry to here you're experiencing this issue @Einna888. It sounds like the drive is not finding the boot code and executing properly. I would retrace the steps, particularly, ensure that the partition is set to "GUID Partition Table" as this is the only partition type that will boot modern versions of OS X. If that's setup correctly, I'd recommend going through the steps to recreate the bootable USB, as the device might be malfunctioning.


Best of luck!

themacjesus
themacjesus

@omar.saab.96  You might want to double-check that you're running the command from an account with administrative privilege. You might need to run the command with the "sudo" prefix. When you press enter, terminal will ask you to enter an account with admin access prior to executing the command. After you authenticate, the command will run with the necessary access rights and should execute as intended.

themacjesus
themacjesus

@JamsoWamso  Yes. OS X is hardware agnostic. This means that OS X will boot and install on all Apple hardware so long as the hardware fully supports the version of OS X. Check the minimum requirements for OS X to determine if it is compatible with your hardware.


Thank You for writing  in, that's a great question!

themacjesus
themacjesus

@stilnox76  Sorry to hear about the trouble in getting it to boot. I would double-check the settings on the partition, ensuring that it is set to "GUID Partition Table" and also look to see if the contents of the OS X Install.dmg were copied over, as well. Both of these are crucial to getting the USB bootable. Lastly, test the USB device itself, as it might be malfunctioning.


Hope this helps!

TheRealMacTroy
TheRealMacTroy

@Orlandovin Actually, that step is not necessary.  Instead, in step 12... Select "Image..." button, then navigate to the directory list on "Install ESD" mounted image.  Once in that directory press the key sequence: "Cmd-shift-." (command-shift-period)  That's the key sequence in the open file dialog to revel any hidden files.  I find that MUCH safer than leaving hidden files visible from anywhere in the finder.

themacjesus
themacjesus

@Orlandovin To hide the files once again, repeat the command but change the "TRUE" to "FALSE" and the files will be hidden once more.

themacjesus
themacjesus

Yes @Tanmoy Debnath as a matter of fact you can. It goes against Apple's EULA however, a web search will locate the proper software packages needed to emulate the Mac's firmware and loading of the proper drivers in order to install OS X. :)

themacjesus
themacjesus

Thank You for sharing this tip @macmanjim! By the way, I like the avatar photo, I miss NYC!

themacjesus
themacjesus

@TheRealMacTroy  Thank You for the shortcut tip! It's always best practice to know different ways to perform the same command. One never knows when they're going to need it.


Thank You!