How to Install and Dual Boot Linux on Your Mac 8 Step

Whether you need a customizable operating system or a better environment for software development, you can get it by installing Linux on your Mac. Linux is incredibly versatile (it’s used to run everything from smartphones to supercomputers), and you can install it on your MacBook Pro, iMac, or even your Mac mini.

Apple adding Boot Camp to macOS made it easy for people to dual boot Windows, but installing Linux is another matter entirely. Follow the steps below to learn how to do this.

Why Install Linux on a Mac or MacBook Pro?

Your Mac offers excellent performance, superb battery life, and long durability. The hardware on a Mac is difficult to match, which makes it an incredibly powerful machine for running Linux.

What’s more, Linux breathes life into old Macs that are no longer eligible for macOS updates. Rather than letting your old MacBook Pro turn into an expensive paperweight, install the latest version of Linux and keep it going for years to come.

Ubuntu Is Our Linux Distribution of Choice

There are many different versions of Linux available, but for the purposes of this tutorial, we suggest installing Ubuntu on your Mac. Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution, which means there are lots of active support communities available if you ever need help.

To Dual Boot or Not to Dual Boot

With a dual boot system, both macOS and Linux are installed on your Mac. Hold Option while your computer boots up to choose which operating system to use. The main difference between a dual boot system and a virtual machine is that you can only use one OS at a time while dual-booting, but you get better performance.

If you don’t plan to ever use macOS again, you might want to completely replace it with Linux instead. That way, none of your storage is used up by its system files.

However, if you ever change your mind, it’s difficult and time-consuming to restore macOS again in the future. This is especially true since Linux writes over the macOS Recovery partition.

For that reason, we recommend you dual boot Linux on your Mac. If you’re really certain you don’t want to do that, just skip the Partition step in the instructions below.

Step 1: Prepare Your Mac for Installing Linux

To install Linux on your Mac, you need a USB flash drive with at least 2GB of storage. You’ll erase the flash drive in a future step to put an Ubuntu installer on it, so make sure you’ve backed up any important files first.

Use an Ethernet adapter to connect your Mac to the internet. This is important, because your Wi-Fi may not work in Ubuntu without third-party drivers. Similarly, iMac users should get hold of a USB keyboard or mouse, in case Bluetooth doesn’t work.

If you plan to dual boot your Mac with Linux, you also need to make sure you have enough free storage. Go to Apple menu > About This Mac > Storage to check that you have at least 25GB free (but preferably more).

Mac Storage info

Finally, make a backup of your Mac. You shouldn’t lose any data by installing Linux in a dual boot partition. However, if something goes wrong, you may need to erase your entire Mac to fix it.

If you plan to replace macOS with Linux, rather than creating a dual-boot system, use Carbon Copy Cloner to back up your macOS Recovery partition. This makes it far easier to revert back to macOS again in the future.

Step 2: Create a Partition on Your Mac Drive

Disk Utility window showing Linux and Swap partitions for Dual Boot on Mac

For a dual boot system (which we strongly recommend), you need to create a Linux partition on your Mac’s hard drive. If you don’t want to create a dual boot system, skip ahead to the next step.

In fact, to dual boot Linux on a Mac, you need two extra partitions: one for Linux and a second for swap space. The swap partition must be as big as the amount of RAM your Mac has. Check this by going to the Apple menu > About This Mac.

Use Disk Utility to create new partitions on your Mac:

  1. Open Disk Utility from the Utilities folder in your Applications, or search for it via Spotlight.
  2. In the top-left corner, select View > Show All Devices.
  3. Select the highest-level drive for your Mac hard disk, then click Partition.
  4. Use the Plus button to create a new partition. Name it UBUNTU and set the format to MS-DOS (FAT). Give it as much space as you want to use for Linux.Ubuntu partition information in Disk Utility
  5. Click Apply to create the partition.
  6. Repeat the steps above to create another partition. Name this partition SWAP and set the format to MS-DOS (FAT) again. Make the size match the amount of RAM in your Mac. This might be 4GB or 8GB, for instance.
  7. Click Apply to create the partition.

If you can’t create new partitions, it could be because FileVault is encrypting your hard drive. Go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault to turn it off.

Install rEFInd for Better Boot Options

Boot EFI option from rEFInd boot manager

The standard boot manager on your Mac doesn’t always work with Ubuntu. This means you need to install a third-party boot manager instead, which will let you easily choose between macOS or Linux when you start up your computer.

Thus, your next step is to download rEFInd, which is the boot manager we recommend. To install rEFInd, you need to temporarily disable System Integrity Protection. This is an important security feature for macOS, so make sure you enable it again afterward.

To install the rEFInd boot manager:

  1. With SIP disabled, open Terminal from the Utilities folder in Applications (or search for it using Spotlight).
  2. Open Finder in a separate window and navigate to the rEFInd download.
  3. Drag the refind-install file into your Terminal window and press Enter.
  4. When prompted, enter your administrator password and press Enter again.
  5. After the installation, remember to enable SIP again.

Dropping refind-install file into Terminal window, with the code that appears

Next time you restart your Mac, the rEFInd menu should appear automatically. If it doesn’t, hold Option while booting up to load your boot manager.

Step 3: Create an Ubuntu USB Installer

Download the latest version of Ubuntu as a disk image from the Ubuntu website. You need to use a third-party app to create a USB installer from the Ubuntu disk image. One of the simplest apps for this is balenaEtcher, but you can use anything you like.

To create an Ubuntu USB installer:

  1. Open balenaEtcher and click Select Image.
  2. Navigate to the Ubuntu disk image you downloaded and click Open.
  3. Insert your USB flash drive and balenaEtcher should automatically select it. If it doesn’t, click Select Target or Change to select the flash drive yourself.
  4. Make sure the correct drive is selected since the next step erases it.
  5. Click Flash and enter your administrator password to erase the USB flash drive and create an Ubuntu USB installer.
  6. When it’s finished, macOS prompts you to Eject the flash drive.

balenaEtcher window ready to create an Ubuntu USB installer

Step 4: Boot Ubuntu From Your USB Installer

Restart your Mac while holding Option and reinsert the USB flash drive directly into your computer. When the boot loader appears, use the arrow keys to select the Boot EFI option and hit Enter.

An Ubuntu loading screen appears, followed by the Ubuntu desktop.

Ubuntu desktop showing Install Ubuntu disk image

Use this opportunity to test Ubuntu on your Mac. Keep in mind that because it’s running from your USB flash drive, it may be slow. Since Ubuntu can’t use your Mac’s Wi-Fi by default, use an Ethernet adapter to connect to the internet.

Disable Secure Boot on Macs With the T2 Security Chip

In 2018, Apple introduced the T2 security chip to new Macs. This advancement might stop you from booting other operating systems on your machine. If you experience any boot issues, follow Apple’s instructions to disable the T2 chip.

Step 5: Install Ubuntu on Your Mac

When you’re ready, double-click the Install Ubuntu item on the desktop.

Follow the on-screen prompts to choose your language and keyboard layout. Choose a Normal installation and select the option to Install third-party software. You need to connect your Mac to the internet using an Ethernet cable to install this software, which makes functions like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work. Then click Continue.

Normal Ubuntu installation with third-party software selected

If prompted, choose to keep your partitions mounted.

Option 1: Dual Boot Ubuntu With macOS

From the Installation type screen, select Something Else and click Continue.

On the next screen, you need to identify and select the UBUNTU partition you created. Unfortunately, there are no recognizable partition names, so look for a device with fat32 in the name that matches the partition size, measured in MB.

Ubuntu Installation Type window selecting fat32 partitions

Double-click to select it and choose Use as: Ext4 journaling file system. Set the Mount point to / and check the box to Format the partition. Click OK. In the popup alert, click Continue to write previous changes to the disk.

Now identify your SWAP partition, which should also have fat32 in the name. Double-click it and choose to Use as: swap area, then click OK.

Open the Device for boot loader installation dropdown menu and select your UBUNTU partition again. The name should match what you selected for it from the table above.

Take a moment to ensure you selected the correct partitions, then click Install Now. Click Continue in the popup alert to confirm you want to write changes to those disks.

Finally, follow the on-screen prompts to choose your time zone and create a user account, then wait for the installation to complete.

Option 2: Replace macOS With Ubuntu

From the Installation type screen, select Erase disk and install Ubuntu.

Be warned: this erases everything from your Mac, including the operating system and the Recovery partition!

Erase disk and install Ubuntu option

When you’re ready, click Install Now and select your hard disk.

Follow the on-screen prompts to set the correct time zone and create a user account, then wait for the installation to complete.

Make Using Linux on Mac Even Easier

Congratulations! You successfully installed Linux on your MacBook Pro, iMac, or Mac mini! If you chose to dual boot Linux on your Mac, hold Option while booting up to choose between macOS and Ubuntu.

How to Install and Dual Boot Linux on Your Mac

  • Is it possible to install Linux on Mac?

By far the best way to install Linux on a Mac is to use virtualization software, such as VirtualBox or Parallels Desktop. Because Linux is capable of running on old hardware, it’s usually perfectly fine running inside OS X in a virtual environment.

  • Can I install Ubuntu on MacBook Pro?

Install Ubuntu on Your MacBook Pro

I hope you understand. Restart your Mac and hold down the Option Key while it reboots. When you arrive at the Boot Selection screen, choose “EFI Boot” to select your bootable USB Stick. Select Install Ubuntu from the Grub boot screen.

  • Can you run Ubuntu on a Mac?

The Live Ubuntu Desktop is a good way to ensure your Mac can run Ubuntu without many issues. The live USB for Ubuntu you created earlier can be used for permanently installing Ubuntu on your Mac and for trying out Ubuntu without installing the OS. You can jump to an installation, but try Ubuntu first.

  • Can you dual boot Linux on a Mac?

Installing Windows on your Mac is easy with Boot Camp, but Boot Camp won’t help you install Linux. You’ll have to get your hands a bit dirtier to install and dual-boot a Linux distribution like Ubuntu. If you just want to try Linux on your Mac, you can boot from a live CD or USB drive.

  • Why is Linux better than Windows?

Linux has access to source code and alters the code as per user need whereas Windows does not have access to source code. Linux will run faster than windows latest editions even with a modern desktop environment and features of the operating system whereas windows are slow on older hardware.

  • Can I have two operating systems on my Mac?

It’s possible to install two different operating systems on your Mac and dual-boot them, which means they’re both available and you can choose the one that suits you on a day-by-day basis.

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