In the following article, we will explain to you what Safe Mode is and how you can enable it on your Mac computer to help troubleshoot various system problems. Follow the steps carefully and make sure to ask for our assistance in the comments if you have any questions that relate to the topic of the article.
Table of Contents
What is Safe Mode?
Safe Mode is a special mode on your Mac that doesn’t allow the computer to load non-essential processes on startup. Thus, enabling Safe Mode can help you determine the cause of a certain problem and/or help you troubleshoot it.
Some examples of software that Safe Mode prevents from loading are non-essential startup/login items, different system extensions that macOS doesn’t need to function normally, third-party fonts, and more.
When the computer is started with Safe Mode enabled, macOS will also perform a startup disk check that has a function similar to that of the startup check performed by the First Aid Disk Utility. One additional effect of starting your Mac in Safe Mode would be that certain system cached data such as font and kernel caches would be deleted (those get created automatically when needed).
As we already said, one of the best uses for Safe Mode is when you are experiencing a certain problem with your Mac and are trying to find out if that problem is software or hardware-related. If the symptoms stops when the computer is in Safe Mode, the problem is likely software-related. If the disturbances/irregularities persist, it is likely that your Mac has a hardware issue.
Also, Safe Mode can greatly help with resolving detected software/system issues by keeping the software/process that causes them inactive so that it doesn’t interrupt your troubleshooting attempts.
How to Start your Mac in Safe Mode
To start your Mac in Safe Mode, first you need to figure out whether your Mac an Apple Silicon processor or an Intel processor. The method to start your Mac in Safe Mode varies depending on the type of processor that the machine has.
To see what your Mac’s processor is, select the Apple Menu and click on About This Mac. Now, if your Mac has an Apple Silicon processing unit, you will see an item in the Mac’s description that is labeled as Chip and next to it will be the name of the chip (for example, Apple M1). If, instead of Chip, you see an item labeled Processor followed by the processor’s name, then this means that your Mac has an Intel processing unit.
Depending on what the processor of your Mac is, follow either of the two sets of instructions listed below.
Instructions for Macs with Apple Silicon processors
- First, start with turning off your Mac and, once it shuts down completely, press hold down its Power Button for 10 seconds – this should cause your Mac to start booting up.
- Once you see the Startup Menu, stop pressing the power button.
- From the Startup Menu, select the startup disk of the computer, hold down the Shift key from your keyboard, select the Continue in Safe Mode option, and release Shift.
- If you are asked to provide your login details, do so – once macOS loads, you will be in Safe Mode.
Instructions for Macs with Intel processors
- Restart your Mac if it is currently turned on or turn it on if it isn’t and as soon as the machine begins to boot up press and hold down the Shift button from your keyboard.
- As soon as you see the login window of your Mac, release the Shift key and fill in your login details to log in.
- On some Mac models and macOS versions, you may be asked to log in a second time. Either after the first or the second login, there should be a “Safe Boot” text written near the upper-right part of your screen.
What does it mean if the problem persists?
If the problem still persists and you are still seeing its symptoms even when Safe Mode is enabled or if your Mac keeps restarting when you try to enter Safe Mode without ever managing to properly boot into it, one possible solution that is suggested is to reinstall the computer’s macOS as this usually fixes most software and system problems. Another possible solution might be to make sure that all Apple and third-party software on your Mac have their latest updates installed as sometimes outdated software may also be causing problems.
However, you should also consider the possibility that your Mac may have a hardware problem. Oftentimes, such problems can cause some pretty dramatic symptoms such as kernel panic, severe slow-downs, and unresponsive system. One example of a common hardware problem that can cause that is faulty RAM sticks or ones that aren’t properly connected. Another possible hardware problem is a damaged hard disk. Whatever the specific case, however, it is best to bring your computer to a licensed technician who can take a look at it if you haven’t been able to determine the cause of the problem on your own even after trying to boot up into Safe Mode.
What does it mean if the problem no longer occurs when in Safe Mode?
If the problem is no longer present while you are in Safe Mode, we suggest restarting the computer and allowing it to load normally so that it is no longer in Safe Mode. In some cases, the problem will have been fixed altogether and won’t show up again even when you are in regular mode.
If the problem comes back when you are in regular mode, this means that the most likely cause of the issue is a faulty startup item(s). Different apps could automatically install startup items of their own when those apps are installed and this could sometimes mess with your system configuration, causing the disturbances that you have been experiencing. In those cases, it is suggested to test the login items of your Mac which we will show you how to do below. However, it is also suggested updating your macOS software because, in many cases, this could also be a potential solution for such problems. Now here’s how to check your startup/login items:
- Select the Apple Menu from the top-left corner of your screen, click on System Preferences, and then go to Users & Groups.
- Next, select the name of your Account (you will see it below Current User) and then click on Login Items. Write down on a piece of paper all of the login items that are listed there – you will need that list for later.
- Now remove/disable all of the login items by selecting them and clicking on the Remove (-) button.
- Restart your computer and test it for some time until you can determine whether the problem is gone or not. If the problem no longer seems to occur, go to Users & Groups > Login Items again and start adding back one by one the login items that you removed, restarting the computer after each re-added item to test and see if the problem comes back. Once you notice that the problem has returned, you will know exactly which login item is behind. When that happens, go back to the Login Items manager, remove the problematic one, restore the rest, and restart your Mac one final time.
- If, after you removed all login items in Step 3 and restarted your Mac the problem wasn’t fixed, this means that the cause of the issue isn’t a login item. In that case, go to Users & Groups > Login Items one more time and restore all login items.
Other alternative solutions
Here are some other things that can be tried if nothing s =i far hasn’t worked:
Set up a new account on your Mac to find out if software specific to your main account is causing the problem.
Disconnect all peripherals from your Mac such as USB devices, printers, projectors, speakers, etc. as sometimes a faulty peripheral may be responsible for system problems.
Reinstall the OS of your Mac.
Additional information about Safe Mode
Note that Safe Mode isn’t intended to be used as the main operating mode of your Mac, instead, it is primarily for troubleshooting different issues. There are many features that may not be available or that may not work properly when in Safe Mode. Some of them may include Wi-Fi connection, file-sharing, video-capturing, certain accessibility features, connected audio devices, as well as different other devices connected to your Mac via USB, FireWire, or Thunderbolt. Accelerated graphics would also be disabled during the time Safe Mode is enabled so this could cause screen distortion and blinking when the computer is starting. It is strongly suggested to leave Safe Mode after you are done troubleshooting the problem that you are dealing with.