Stuck in Boot Loop on the Mac ?

Recently 2-3 friends have had this problem with their Macs. Maybe its a 3rd Party extension, or or add-on causing it, or maybe a hardware fault. Unfortunately, most of the time in India, if you take your Mac to your local Apple Third Party Reseller or Apple Authorized Service Provider, they will tell you that the only way to resolve this is to wipe your hard disk and by doing so you will lose all your data. But there are other ways….

First off, let me say, that the only Service Provider I’ve seen that doesn’t give up so fast on your data is PCSS, Mahim, Mumbai. I’ve had a fantastic journey with them, for over 15 years I think. I highly recommend going to them (rather than Maple or Chroma) for any Apple Related issues you may face.

Now back to the possible solutions/workarounds. One of the following list should pull you out of the Boot loop, and from there you can take measures to stop it from reoccurring. But first let’s look at what’s probably happening in the background.

Why is this happening ?

When you start up your Mac, the system generally shows a grey Apple Logo (the color changes depending on what OS you’re running) for a brief period followed by your Log In screen or directly jumps to your desktop (again depending on the settings you set in System Preferences).

However, in the in some cases, instead of booting properly, the system may display the Apple Logo and then reboot, repeating this step over and over again. This could be if there was a power outage/fluctuation, an app crashed, you ran out of HD space (yes, that’s happened to me, I download… a lot) or if your system libraries are corrupt.

Once the Kernel loads properly, even if there’s a problem with background services like location,  the computer will still boot, only in this case those particular background services may not work. This can be reset with a simple reboot. However, if your computer is not booting, but is stuck in a boot loop, then there could be two problems : it could be a kernel issue, or a hardware issue.

To narrow it down, lets take it one step further. During the boot, when the Apple Logo shows up, that means the System has a valid boot device (ie could be your bootcamp, or your HD, or your bootable HD). Then a spinning wheel shows up underneath. At this point, the system loads kernel extensions, boot caches and more. If one of these are causing a problem, your reboot should start immediately after the spinning wheel. If not, then it could be a add-on causing the problem.

How to circumvent this ? One of the following processes should get you out of this loop

Disconnect all Peripheral Devices

This technically shouldn’t come first, because it’s quite likely not to be the problem with the Mac. But I’ve had friends who gave their external Hard Disks to some PC users, which when returned caused some library plist or permission to malfunction. So we’ll eliminate this one right away.

  1. Shut down your computer by holding down the power key for a few seconds
  2. Disconnect all the external devices that did NOT come with your mac. This could be hard drives, USB hubs, FireWire Cables, etc
  3. Disconnect your Ethernet / LAN cables (if connected)
  4. Start your mac

If this works, then the problem is with one of the external devices. You can shortlist which one it is quickly by simple elimination. Once you know which one is causing the boot loop, you can get the device fixed by the manufacturer maybe.

Restart in Safe Mode

To restart in Safe Mode, hold down “Shift” while the computer restarts immediately AFTER you hear the start up Chime (not Before).

If the system loads properly, then you know that the issue is likely with some third party extension or add-on that you installed.  If you restart without the Shift key after this, and it goes back into the loop, you can be sure of it.

To fix this, in Safe Mode, run Disk Utility, and do the following :

Verify Disk Permissions –> Repair Disk Permissions –> Verify Disk –> Repair Disk

This should solve the problem. If not, try restoring to an earlier OS backup (assuming you use Time Machine, which you should)

Here’s a link to the Safe Mode on the Apple Support site (the link gives you an additional option of how to boot into Safe mode if (say) your Shift key on your keyboard isn’t working using Terminal during Start up.

Here’s an additional link that will tell you exactly what Safe Mode actually is and does for you 

Reset the PRAM / NVRAM

Your mac stores some settings in the PRAM or NVRAM (for newer Intel Macs). Even the selection of your start up disk is stored here. Sometimes, resetting the PRAM/NVRAM can help get you out of the reboot loop if its is one of these settings or kernel panic information causing the problem.

To do this, first Shut Down your Mac. If needed, hold the power key down for several seconds. It will force your mac to power down. Once this is done, do the following :

  1. Locate the “Command”, “Option”, “P”, and “R” keys on your Keyboard.
  2. Turn on your Computer, and before the Gray Screen appears, hold down Command-Option-P-R.
  3. Keep holding this down till you hear the start up chime 3 times.
  4. Release the keys.

If this gets you past the boot loop, your problem was possibly to do with the PRAM settings being corrupted. You may lose a few settings like Screen Resolution, or Start Up Disk selection if they were different from the default Mac ones (this hasn’t happened to me yet, so I can’t confirm that).

If this still doesn’t work, then read on.

Start from the OS X Install Disk – Use Disk Utility

  1. Insert your Installation Disk, or create a Bootable USB Drive and connect it to your Mac. Try to boot up in same version of the OS that you’re having the problem in if possible.
  2. Shut down the Mac
  3. Start up the Mac while holding down the “C” key
  4. Once started, goto Disk Utility in the Utility menu
  5. In Disk Utility, perform a disk repair of the Mac OS X volume. If no issues are found, do a permission repair as well.
  6. Try restarting without holding down the C key.

Start from OS X Install Disk – Archive & Install

If the Disk Utility doesn’t fix the problem above, but you’ve managed to start from the OS X Install Disk or the Bootable drive, do the following :

  1. Start up in the Install Disk by holding down the “C” key as described in the steps above.
  2. Goto the Install and Restore option
  3. Select your language. Click Continue. Read the license, click continue.
  4. Click the volume you wish to install to
  5. Click Options **do not miss this step, it’s important so that you do not lose your data
  6. Select Archive and Install
  7. Select the Volume where the Mac OS X was already installed
  8. Select Preserve Users and Network Settings (to keep a safe backup of your home directory, and any other users directories where your files may have been)
  9. Click OK
  10. Click Continue for the installation to begin

To check the list of files and folders that are stored before you continue to the last and final 2 options, please goto the following link and scroll down :: Mac OS X About the Archive and Install Feature

Erase & Restore – Time Machine as a Life Saver

Assuming that you have a backup of your entire OS and all the files and documents and settings, etc on Time Machine, this is a good option.

We know that your computer was working perfectly say 2-3 days ago ? Maybe more, maybe a week or a month ago ? Perfect ! Then do the following :

  1. Insert your Mac OS X Install Disk or Bootable Drive
  2. Shut Down you Mac
  3. Start up using the “C” key
  4. Do the same steps as in the previous “Archive and Install” process. However, when the choice is given, go for the “Erase & Restore” setting.
  5. Set up your mac as a new one. Reconnect your Time Machine disk
  6. Restore from a previous back up of Time Machine where you know for a fact it was working correctly (say a few weeks back)

If none of this works… 😦

In the end, Apple does have a brilliant customer care. If not in India. If your computer is in warranty, you can ask for a new computer (since we’ve now shortlisted the problem to a hard ware issue). The Customer care should be able to replace the computer for brand new device if they cannot fix the problem. At this point, if you have Time Machine, you’re still home free, and can do a complete restore. If not, well you knew the risks of not backing up your data.

You can give your computer to the nearest Customer Care center. They will unfortunately return it to you without any of your data. If you have a second Mac that you use, you can use Migration Assistant to transfer the files over to this one so that atleast some of your documents or apps are saved.

If you’re warranty is about to run out, don’t fret. Here’s an article that will tell you how to extend that AppleCare plan you have for your Mac.


The next time you see the following highly misleading, yet somehow wryly amusing comic strip on the internet (perhaps your friends shared it with you as mine did with me), redirect them to this page. There is 6 in 7 chance that if your computer crashes you will NOT lose your data. And don’t forget this is a Mac. There’s already a 95% chance that your computer won’t crash at all (I have one computer that hasn’t since 1994 OS 9.0).


And when all else fails, always remember, that while this comic above isn’t true, the ones below definitely are :



Well, almost true 😉

16 thoughts on “Stuck in Boot Loop on the Mac ?

  1. Hi, I have an issue. My macbook air 2014 Yosemite OS broke down. Whenever I try to type my password it shows “Bluetooth device setup” and does not respond, trackpad and keyboard just don’t work. I have tried that pvrm and scm no response. Finally I tried to wipe everything out just by reinstalling but in that case their appears an image of Bluetooth keyboard and I cannot reinstall OS. I didn’t split any water on it or delete smth important from system or it didn’t fall down. And the most interesting is that I have windows 8 partition which works perfectly fine, trackpad and keyboard work as usual. Please help I have read almost everything and nothing is helping.

  2. Hi Dake,

    Since you report that when loading win* from a different partition on the same MBP the keyboard and trackpad work fine, that would rule out a physical problem (ribbon cable or connector faulty or not making a food contact).

    A way to try and fix it would be pair a bluetooth keyboard and mouse to try to regain access first and from there try and identify the culprit of this issue. If can’t get a hold of a BT keyboard/mouse then try by connecting an external USB and mouse to the MBP and see if that works with it.

    The cause might be a .kext (kernel extension) that, for whatever reason, got corrupted therefore causing OS X to fail to recognize the hardware and asking the user for the next possible option (bluetooth). If the USB mouse works, but the trackpad doesn’t it might be just a corrupted .kext that needs to be fixed (you can reinstall the OS if you don’t want to deal with that fix which is rather involved and isn’t 100% guaranteed to be work, though it should).

    If the issue is indeed one depending on corrupted kext then you could try to start your machine from an OS X installer (you can make one using DiskMaker to copy the installer of OS X on an external USB using a working MBP of a friend or colleague) or if you have a copy of OS X on an external drive you could start up your MBP using that to troubleshoot your current internal HD.

    Hope the above will help you find a solution to your issue or at least point you in the right direction.

    Cheers! 🙂

  3. I’m trying to install OS X El Capitan on my clean 2010 Mac Pro tower. Downloaded the OSX from the app store onto a 8gb thumb drive. It is currently in the boot loop and none of the above helped. I hold the option key which brings up the usb logo and says “Install OS X El Capitan”. I click it and it begins the loop again
    Would it be to do with the thumb drive or OSX or the difference in years between hardware and software?
    Any help would be great.

  4. “quite likely not to be the problem with the Mac” – stopped reading here… idiot.. Google Murphys Law and learn some shit.

  5. I have tried all the above on my macbook pro late 2011…I was told the HD may need replaced since it doesn’t start in Recovery not Safe mode. Basically, the restart reboot process loops and never lands on a logon screen but when trying recovery mode, it boots to the dark blue color of the sky on a clear sunny day. Do you think I just need to replace the HD? I was going to get a bigger storage, SSD for the replacement. Any thoughts on which is the best brand?!

  6. Here’s the real “iMac boot loop fix” download and create an osx lion bootable usb, from there go into disk utility and fix the hdd or ssd offender, it takes 10 seconds and problem is solved. I’ve tried all the other “crap’ and this is all that works.

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