How can I download and install Mac OS X Yosemite, Mac OS X Mountain Lion and Mac OS X Snow Leopard? They're all gone from the Mac App Store. For that matter, how do I install any of the older versions of OS X on my Mac? 

If you're looking to install Mac OS X El CapitanMac OS X Yosemite, Mac OS X Mountain Lion, Mac OS X Snow Leopard or another version of Mac OS X from years past, prepare yourself for a disappointing trip to the Mac App Store - none of them are there any more. Searching for Mac OS brings up only the current version, macOS Sierra, which replaced El Capitan in autumn 2016, and macOS Server.

Fortunately, it's still possible to download and install Mac OS Yosemite, El Capitan and the rest on your Mac, even though it's been removed from the store. We show how in this tutorial.

In this article we explain how to install older versions of Mac OS X, such as Yosemite. If you'd like to know how to install the current version (macOS Sierra), this is covered in another article: How to install macOS Sierra.

Read next: Mac buying guide

How to install Mac OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, Snow Leopard: Why does Apple remove old versions of Mac OS from the Mac App Store?

When Apple releases a new version of its operating system, it tries to get as many people as possible to upgrade to the latest version. Which is hardly a sinister aim: the newer version is typically more secure, efficient and has newer features, and Apple no longer charges users to upgrade anyway.

As part of this aim, Apple removes previous versions of Mac OS X from the Mac App Store.

How to install Mac OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, Snow Leopard: Reasons to install an old version of Mac OS X

There are sometimes problems getting older third-party software to run on the latest Mac OS; conversely, developers may need a Yosemite-based test machine to see how their new software works on older operating systems. 

Perhaps your job entails testing an app on legacy versions of the operating system. Or maybe you want to update from an older version of OS X, but you aren't ready to go all the way to El Capitan because you wouldn't have the drivers you need, or software that you need to use won't run on El Capitan.

In other words, there are legitimate reasons why you may want to get hold of a copy of El Capitan, Yosemite or whatever on your Mac.

How to install Mac OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, Snow Leopard: Where can I get Mac OS X Yosemite?

 How to get OS X Yosemite

The good news is that it's pretty easy to pick up a copy of OS X Yosemite from the Mac App Store - as long as you have previously 'purchased' it. (It's free, so purchase may not seem the best word. But if you've clicked the download the button on the store, that's the equivalent of purchasing; the software will be stored in your purchase history even though no money has changed hands.)

While Apple removes older operating systems from sale, they remain on the system for anybody who has bought them before. So, assuming you had downloaded it in the past, Yosemite should be there for you now. You'll also find Mavericks, Mountain Lion and Lion.

Here is how to get Mac OS X Yosemite from the App Store if you've purchased it in the past.

  1. Open the App Store (choose Store > Sign In if you need to log in).
  2. Click Purchased.
  3. Scroll down to find OS X Yosemite.
  4. Click Install.

The installer application will be downloaded to your Applications folder (as a file called OS X Yosemite).

You won't be able to install Yosemite directly on to a machine running El Capitan, but it can be used to upgrade a Mac running an earlier operating system.

If you want to revert OS X El Capitan to OS Yosemite, you will need to format the hard drive and install Yosemite onto a blank drive.

See this article for more information: How to remove El Capitan and go back to Yosemite | Revert to OS X 10.10 Yosemite from El Capitan

How to install Mac OS X El Capitan, Yosemite, Snow Leopard: I can't see Yosemite in my Purchased List. Where can I get a copy?

If you can't see OS X Yosemite in your Purchased list, you've probably not download Yosemite - at least not from this account. This makes it tricky to download a copy of Yosemite with that account, but don't worry, there are other options.

Here is one thing you really mustn't do. Do not go to a torrent site and download a copy of OS X Yosemite. Just because Apple gives away its software for free, don't think it's fine to just pick up a copy. Nefarious types have bypassed Apple's security systems by uploading pirated copies of Apple software in the past. These have been adjusted to allow the developers access to the software. OS X controls all of your system, and if a hacker produced a customised copy of OS X, they have control over everything you do. Don't do it.

By far the best option is to find somebody who has an Apple ID with a version of Yosemite in the downloads list. Then use their account to download OS X Yosemite. You can either log into your App Store with their account, or they can download the OS X Yosemite install file and pass it on to you. The file isn't locked to the account and will install on any Mac.

Apple keeps a list of older Mac OSes on its website that you can purchase. It currently goes up to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion. We have no doubt Apple will eventually add Yosemite to this list, so it's worth checking there.

How to download Mac OS X Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard and older Mac software

Where to download older Mac OS X software

Contrary to popular belief, it's still possible to pick up older Mac OS X software from the Apple Store (the online store, not the App Store app). You can pick up copies of Mac OS X from Apple running back to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard (the first operating system optimised solely for Intel-based Apple Macs).

Here are prices and buying links for some older versions of the Mac OS X operating system.

How & where to buy, download and install Mac OS X Snow Leopard

Mac OS X Snow Leopard, or Mac OS X 10.6, is available from the Apple online store for £14.99.

Apple Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard - £14.99

How & where to buy, download and install Mac OS X Lion

Mac OS X Lion, or Mac OS X 10.7, is available from the Apple online store and will also set you back £14.99.

Apple Mac OS X 10.7 Lion - £14.99

How & where to buy, download and install Mac OS X Mountain Lion

The most recent of the operating systems we'll look at is Mac OS X 10.8. This too costs £14.99 from the Apple online store.

Apple Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion - £14.99

Apple has a page outlining information on the older Mac OS X operating systems.

Note that each operating system will ship to you on an optical disc, so you'll need an Apple SuperDrive to install the operating system on one of the newer Macs that ship without an optical drive.

Read more: Is it worth buying an Apple USB SuperDrive?

If you want to go back older than that you need to start hitting stores other than Apple. A good place to look is Amazon, which has a series of marketplace stores as well as the Amazon itself. These independent stores host a range of software.

Buy old Mac operating systems from Amazon Mac Software department

The Amazon Mac Department is a good place to start when looking for older operating systems and programs.

Amazon marketplace goes all the way back to Mac OS X 10.1 but most people surely wouldn't want to back further than Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, which was the last operating system to run happily on a classic iMac G3. But if you want history for its own sake than Amazon or eBay are the places to go.

Buy old Mac OS X software from eBay

The old stalwart eBay remains a classic point of call for picking up old software; along with any other retro goods and collectables. Of course eBay often lacks the immediacy of Amazon, and while there are a range of sellers on eBay your milage will vary according to the seller.

Browse the eBay Mac Software section or do a web search to find what you're looking for. Don't forget to read the description carefully and be prepared to wait a little longer for it to arrive.

How to download Mac OS X Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard and older Mac software: iMac G3

Getting Older Apple Software Downloads

If you're going to go back older than Mac OS X then you can freely download several items of legacy software directly from Apple. Apple has this list of Older Mac Software that you can download direct from its site.

Running older Apple Software

It is possible to install the older software on your Mac, but if you're looking to install an older version of Mac OS X for testing then it probably makes more sense to run it in a virtualised environment. Ever since Mac OS X 10.8 Apple has allowed virtualisation of its operating systems, and while this doesn't strictly apply to the license of older operating systems there seems to be no physical barrier to running older versions of Mac OS X in a virtual environment.

Parallels Desktop 9 lists support for the following Mac OS X operating system

  • Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8
  • Mac OS X Lion 10.7x
  • Mac OS X Lion Server 10.7.x
  • Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server 10.6.x
  • Mac OS X Leopard Server 10.5.x

See: Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac review - highest-performance virtualisation package for OS X

How to install Snow Leopard - and the importance of Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard is your route into the Mac App Store, and you need the Mac App Store in order to install Mavericks and later versions of Mac OS X. If you aren't running Snow Leopard you need to get a copy of Snow Leopard from Apple. Luckily you still can: the company put Snow Leopard back on sale last year at a lower price of £14 (when it launched initially it cost £25). Once you have the DVD from Apple you can install Snow Leopard, and then via the Mac App Store, which will magically appear in your doc, you will be able to download the new version of OS X. 

How can I get OS X 10.5 Snow Leopard? 

Back in September 2012, Apple was still selling copies of Snow Leopard via its telesales line on 0800 048 0408. At the time we spoke to a representative who confirmed that Apple is "Selling Snow Leopard over the phone exclusively". The legacy software still retails at £25.

Shortly after iOS 6 launched and with it the issues with Leopard (detailed below), Apple started selling Snow Leopard in its online store again. The software, which many Mac users discovered that they required following their recent upgrade to iOS 6, now costs just £14. 

The return to the Apple Store suggests that Apple has been receiving a significant number of pleas from owners of older Mac models. You can buy a copy of Snow Leopard for £14 here

Returning Snow Leopard to the Apple Store also gives users of newer Macs that are still running Leopard (if there are any out there) the opportunity to take advantage of the Mac App Store, without which they will be unable to download any of the newer operating systems from Apple. 

Snow Leopard was initially pulled from Apple's site after Mountain Lion was launched earlier in 2012. 

Can I install Mavericks over Leopard? 

While you need the Mac App Store to be able to download Mavericks, once you have a copy you can install it on a Mac running Leopard (although the license agreement does specify that you can’t upgrade a Mac if you don’t at least have a licence for Snow Leopard).

Installing Mavericks over Leopard is no easy feat, however, so in our opinion you’re probably best off paying £14 for the install disks.

Apple is still offering Snow Leopard on the online store. Read more: Apple returns Snow Leopard to Apple Store