Making an El Capitan Installer and Recovery Drive in 2023

Yeah this seems like a very odd article to write on the face of it. I mean, who needs to make a recovery drive for a version of Mac OS that’s almost 8 years old (at the time of writing)? I would have thought the same thing, until a friend asked me to help them wipe a 2009 MacBook whose recovery partition had borked and couldn’t erase the internal drive. And because of the age of the machine it wouldn’t boot to newer recovery drives that were made like Ventura, Catalina, or even High Sierra.

You also might think that this article is still unnecessary because Apple offers 10.11 El Capitan on its website that you can download. Until you realize that the Upgrader file that doesn’t have the InstallESD package, meaning if you try to run it on a machine that never had or could upgrade to El Capitan to begin with (such as an Apple-Silicon Machine) the installer file just fails to run. El Capitan is no longer available in the App Store, and you can’t run the Terminal command to get older versions of Mac OS to get El Capitan either.

So, what do you do? It depends on the type of Mac you have.

Macs made from 2007-2015

If you’ve got a Mac that either came with or was officially compatible with El Capitan then you can use that upgrader file from Apple. Here’s the direct link. If for some reason Apple ever takes it down, skip to the next section.

It may take a bit to download, but be patient with it. It will download a file called “InstallMacOSX.dmg” Once the download completes, double click the file and it will run a quick check of the machine to ensure that your machine is capable of running 10.11. Once it’s done, click through the “installer” and let it “install” El Capitan. I’m using install in quotes because all it does is put the “Install OS X El Capitan” app in your Applications folder. And it’s this you can use to create your El Capitan Recovery Drive on a USB drive.

If for some reason Apple ever takes the link down or the verification check fails then skip to the next section.

Macs from 2016 and later (Intel and Apple Silicon)

Since Apple is only offering the upgrade file for compatible Macs, and you can’t download the full installer from the App Store anymore, we’ll have to go about getting it another way. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to upload the 10.11 installer to the Internet Archive.

Now I, like many good techies, would rarely ever tell you to download a program from anywhere other the official source or legitimate digital stores such as the Mac App Store, Steam, etc. especially something as big as an entire operating system. However, it seems Apple has chosen not to perfectly preserve this OS for us, so we have to rely on the community and those who work to archive and preserve software. And while the Internet Archive is a very community driven resource, it is also a well-regarded and reliable tool for just these sorts of purposes (so support it if you can).

With that said, you’ll need to download the 10.11 file from the Internet Archive. Click on the link below, and then click on the ZIP link on the right side of the page.

Internet Archive:

Even for my fast and stable network connection, it still took about 45 minutes for the 5 GB file to download. Be patient with it. You’ll have a ZIP file in your downloads folder once it’s done. Double click the file, allow it to unzip, and in a few moments you should have an “Install OS X El Capitan” app in next to your ZIP file. I recommend dragging this to your Application folder. From here’s you can create your El Capitan USB recovery drive.

Creating the Drive

Make sure you have a 16 GB flash drive or larger that you’re ok with erasing, because anything on it will be wiped out.

If you prefer to go the graphical app route, I suggest using the “Install Disk Creator” app from The link can be found here: One you’ve got that downloaded and installed, run the app, select the flash drive name at the top of the app. If the El Capitan installer is the only one in your Application folder, it will automatically show that logo in the center. Otherwise hit the “Choose Installer” button below your flash drive, navigate and select the El Capitan installer in your Application folder. Once you’ve done all that then “Create Installer” button and let it run.

If you prefer not to install anything else and are cool with using the Terminal, then open up the Terminal and type in the following command. PLEASE NOTE you will need to replace the word TEST in the command with the name of your flash drive.

sudo /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\ --volume /Volumes/TEST --applicationpath /Applications/Install\ OS\ X\ El\

Once you’ve typed that in hit enter. If everything was type in correctly, it will prompt you to type the letter “y” to confirm that you are ok to erase the drive, at which point it will wipe and format the flash drive and begin making your drive.

Whichever method you use can take between 10-30 minutes to complete depending on the Mac you’re using, the speed of the USB ports, and the flash drive you’re using. But once you’re done you should be able to use this to wipe and install El Capitan on a compatible Mac.

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