There are a few reasons why you might want to download old versions of Mac OS X. Perhaps you are relying on software you have discovered doesn't work properly in the newest version. Maybe you are using software that requires Rosetta, Apple’s solution for translating PowerPC apps after the Intel transition, or maybe you just don't like the new version of MacOS that you have installed.
Another scenario is that you are a developer and you need to be running multiple versions of Mac OS X so that you can be sure that your software runs correctly on them. Either way, you have questions and we have answers.
In this article we will cover how to get old versions of Mac OS X. We have a separate article about how to install old versions of Mac OS X.
If you are looking for a way to revert back to an older version of Mac OS X, we have a more specific article about downgrading from High Sierra to an older version of macOS. We also have this guide to downgrading from the macOS beta here.
How to download an old version of Mac OS X
You will be able to find older versions of Mac OS X (and macOS) under the Purchased tab in the Mac App Store - assuming you 'purchased' them (not that anyone has had to actually pay for a Mac OS X update for years).
We'll start by walking you through the method of downloading old Mac OS X versions on the Mac App Store. You will be able to get the following downloads this way:
- macOS Sierra
- OS X El Capitan download
- OS X Yosemite download
- OS X Mavericks download
- OS X Mountain Lion download
- OS X Lion download
The only one you won’t be able to get this way is the Mac OS X Snow Leopard download - but we’ll look at that next.
It's worth noting that you'll only see old versions of Mac OS X that you've downloaded here - if you never downloaded it (or if it was never on the Mac App Store), that version will not be in your Purchased section.
Another reason why the version of Mac OS X might be missing is if your machine shipped with that version installed. We'll look at that scenario later.
Here is how to get an older version of Mac OS X from the App Store (this only works if you've downloaded it in the past):
- Open the Mac App Store (choose Store > Sign In if you need to log in).
- Click Purchased.
- Scroll down to find the copy of OS X or macOS you want.
- Click Install
Clicking Install won't actually install the software, but it will download the installer application to your Applications folder.
You won't be able to simply install this older version of the operating system directly onto a Mac running a newer version of OS X or macOS. We will explain how it can be installed on a Mac - including one currently running an earlier operating system - below.
Can't find Mac OS X in Purchased?
If you know you have previously downloaded the version of macOS you are after, but you aren't seeing it in the Purchased section, there are a few things to try:
- Log out of the App Store then log in again.
- If it's a possibility that you downloaded it while logged in to a different Apple ID (perhaps a work-related one), log in using that ID.
- Alternatively, find someone who has downloaded that version of the Mac operating system and ask them to download the installation file for you.
If you never downloaded the version of Mac OS X then jump to step 3 and find a friendly person who did. Ask them to download the Mac OS X installer for you.
Luckily the copy of OS X isn't locked to their account so it will install on any Mac.
The one thing you really mustn't do is go to a torrent site and download a copy of the OS X you want. Just because Apple gives away its software for free, don't think it's fine to just pick up a copy. Pirated copies of Apple software could have been adjusted to allow hackers access to the software and your Mac.
It is possible that the version of Mac OS X you are after was never availble from the Mac App Store. This is the case with Snow Leopard - the first version of Mac OS X to come with the Mac App Store.
That way of downloading Mac OS X updates and new apps was introduced with Snow Leopard and means that anyone with a Mac running Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or earlier can’t actually access the Mac App Store to download anything.
The good news is that Apple does allow the purchase of older Mac OSes from its website, so you can get a copy of Snow Leopard and therefore gain access to the Mac App Store.
Apple sells a boxed version of Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard here for £19.99 (at its launch in 2009 it cost £25). In the case of Snow Leopard you will be sent a physical box containing an optical disc - so you will need a CD/DVD drive to install it.
How to get OS X Lion, Mountain Lion downloads
It’s not just Snow Leopard that you can purchase from Apple's website - currently you can purchase anything up to OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion here.
If it’s Mac OS X 10.7 Lion that you are after, it’s available for £19.99 here. Apple will send you a download code to use on the Mac App Store, so you will need to be running Snow Leopard to install it.
If it’s OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion that you need you can buy it for £19.99 here. As with Lion, Apple will send you a download code to use on the Mac App Store, so you will need to be running Snow Leopard to install it.
How to get OS X Leopard or earlier
If the old version of the OS you are after predates Snow Leopard and you have a developer account you might be able to get it from developer.apple.com/downloads. If you search within the OS X category you should see downloads for all versions of OS X, at least from version 10.3 to 10.6.
You may be able to access the Developer section of the website, but you will only be able to access certain software downloads if your Apple ID is associated with a paid Apple Developer Program.
If you haven't signed up as a Apple Developer, find out what that entails here. It costs £79 ($99) a year to join the Apple Developer Program and you have to sign a non disclosure agreement.
You could also try looking on Amazon or eBay to see if anyone is selling old versions of the Mac operating system. For example there’s a Full Install of OS X Lion available for £12.99 on Amazon here, and a number of other versions of OS X available.