Rebooting MacOS into recovery mode to disable System Integrity Protection (SIP) without the command key

My love for Apple and especially MacOS does not run deep. Actually, it is essentially nonexistent. I was recently reminded of the myriad reasons why I don’t like MacOS, and one of them is that the OS should never stand in the way of what the operator wants to do. In this case, I found that even the root account couldn’t write to certain directories that MacOS deemed special. That “feature” is known System Integrity Protection. I’m not going to rant about how absurd it is to disallow the root account the ability to write, but instead I’d like to present the method of disabling System Integrity Protection.

First of all, one needs to get into the Recovery Mode of MacOS. Typically, this wouldn’t be all that difficult when following the instructions provided by Apple. Essentially, to get into Recovery Mode, one just has to hold Command+R when booting up the system. That’s all fine and dandy if it is a physical host and one has an Apple keyboard. However, my situation called for Recovery Mode from a virtual machine and using a non-Apple keyboard (so no Command key). Yes, yes, I know that MacOS offers the ability to set different key combinations, but then those would still have to be trapped by VMWare Fusion during boot. Instead, I figured that there had to be a way to do it from the MacOS terminal.

After digging through documentation and man pages (I’ll spare you the trials and tribulations of trying to find answers 😛 ), I finally found that, yes, one CAN reboot MacOS into Recovery Mode without the command key. To do so, open up the Terminal and type the following commands:

nvram "recovery-boot-mode=unused"
reboot recovery

The Apple host will reboot and the Recover Mode screen will be presented:

MacOS Recovery Mode - Utilities - Terminal
Click to enlarge

Now, in the main window, there are plenty of tasks that can be launched. However, I needed a terminal, and it might not be readily apparent, but to get it, you click on the “Utilities” menu in the top menu bar (see the screenshot above), and then select “Terminal”. Thereafter, it is fairly simple to disable System Integrity Protection via the following command:

csrutil disable

All that’s left is to reboot by going to the Apple Menu and clicking on “Restart”.

Though the procedures of getting to the MacOS Recovery menu without using the Command key and disabling System Integrity Protection are not all that difficult, they were a pain to figure out. Furthermore, I’m not sure why SIP disallows root’s write permissions anyway. That seems absurd, especially in light of Apple’s most recent glaring security hole of allowing root access without a password. 😳

Cheers,
Zach

4 comments

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    • joe on Friday, 9 August 2019 at 18:55
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    If I may ask 2 short questions:

    1) Does it* still work with latest Mojave? (*it = reboot from terminal into recovery)
    2) How to reset nvram argument afterwards, or is it only valid for one session?

    Gotta be cautious nowadays, I’d rather ask before act.
    Thanks

      • Zach on Monday, 12 August 2019 at 10:37
        Author
      • Reply

      Hello Joe,

      I can’t confirm that the command is the same to reboot into recovery for Mojave, but you can still do so via these instructions:
      https://www.macworld.co.uk/how-to/mac-software/mac-recovery-mode-3674052/

      You don’t need to worry about resetting the NVRAM arguments after the fact.

      Cheers,
      Zach

    • Daniel Buus on Thursday, 3 January 2019 at 07:35
    • Reply

    OMG, thank you!

    This was driving me insane, and Googling for it was useless. What the hell is going on with Apple? Being able to get into recover (or select an alternate boot volume) used to not only work with Macs, but also be easy. Wait for the chime, press your keys.

    Then, they removed the chime, because they apparently hate us, and it started to get tricky to time it. Try, fail, repeat. Great fun. Now, FFS, they don’t even connect the keyboard until AFTER the whole boot sequence is completed. WTF Apple c**ts?!?!?

    Every update to macOS since Mavericks has made everything worse. The hardware is getting worse as well. F**K YOU APPLE.

    But thank you! And also, you might wanna update the commands to include the necessary `sudo` prefix. Also, I accidentally wrote `sudo reboot recoveryt` (because the new Apple keyboards are shit), and tapped enter before correcting it, and it still booted to recovery. Not sure if that’s because the argument isn’t needed, or because it falls back to recovery for unknown values there.

    Cheers!

      • Zach on Thursday, 3 January 2019 at 11:17
        Author
      • Reply

      Hello Daniel,

      You’re welcome; I’m glad that you found the article helpful. Apple is notorious for making simple tasks exponentially more difficult than they need to be. I find that their OS reflects a mentality of their users being incapable of understanding basic functionality, and so they want to “shield” everyone from these types of tasks. The `sudo` prefix is only necessary if your login user is not an administrator.

      Cheers,
      Zach

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