3 Steps to Reinstall macOS Big Sur or Catalina Without Losing Data

Connie Wisley
time March 26, 2021 Preview 24.2K
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If you have installed Big Sur, Catalina, Mojave or earlier versions, you may have to reinstall macOS for following reasons:

  • Reinstall When There is New macOS Version Available

Apple keeps working constantly to fix bugs, make performance tweaks, add new features or enhance coding. Therefore, doubtless, there will be new versions of macOS available to upgrade and reinstall. 

  • Your Mac is Running Slow

As we all know, for no specific reason, system reinstallation can magically solve a slow Mac in most cases.

  • Your System Keeps Crashing or Works Improperly

When you continuously see error messages appear on your mac, or your programs randomly crash/freeze for no reason, like FaceTime won't work, Contacts or Calendar shows a delay or mess, blue teeth or WiFi won't connect…Then, you have a good reason to reinstall macOS.

  • You are Going to Sell the Mac 

In the case that you want to sell your mac, besides erasing all your personal data and traces on the mac, you will need to reinstall macOS as well. 

It is not complicate to reinstall macOS Big Sur or Catalina, but if you want to reinstall macOS without losing data, there are 3 steps you must follow.

3 Steps to Reinstall macOS Big Sur or Catalina without Losing Data

We all save tons of data on our Mac, so when we decide to reinstall macOS Big Sur/Catalina, the top concern always goes to “will I lost everything if I reinstall macOS”. In fact, reinstallation of macOS doesn’t necessarily cause lost data, it just create a new copy, your existing files and data saved in programs won't be altered or deleted. But just in case of bad luck, we need to do some work on BACKUP, this is crucial for macOS reinstallation without losing data.

Step 1. Prepare Your Mac for Reinstallation.

  • Make enough room for Big Sur or Catalina reinstallation, at least 36GB, so the reinstallation process won't pause or stopped for insufficient space. 
  • Also, quit all apps or programs under work, so your Mac is fully geared to reinstall.
  • Check drive conditions. Open Disk Utility and perform the Frist Aid on your hard drive where to reinstall the macOS to make sure your drive is in good condition for reinstallation.

Step 2. Backup All Your Files for macOS Install (Crucial)

Backup is an indispensable step involved in the macOS reinstallation, here are several options to backup your data.

Option One: Using Time Machine

  1. Go to Finder>Application, launch Time Machine and choose “Set Up Time Machine”.setup time machine
  2. Click “Select Backup Disk” to choose an external hard drive to back up the files.back up with time machine
  3. Then Check the box before “Back Up Automatically”. Also, you can adjust the backup setting in menu “Options”.

If this is the first time you use Time Machine to backup, wait patiently for Time Machine to complete the backup, it will prompt the notification once finishes.

backup complete

Option Two: Using Hard Drive 

  1. Connect your hard drive to Mac.
  2. Open Finder to check if your hard drive is present under “Devices”.
  3. Create a new folder, copy and paste or directly move the items you want to save from Mac to this folder.
  4. Finally, eject your hard drive.

Option Three: Using iCloud Service (Backup Desk and Documents Folders)

  1. Go to Finder>System Preference, click on “iCloud” to bring up its main interface.back up with icloud
  2. Click the “Options” button for “iCloud”, and check the box before “Desktop and Documents Folders”, then click on “Done”.back up with icloud 02

Most of our mac users prefer to backup all files but apps. So, to save you from troubles of lost data due to macOS reinstallation, you are recommended to keep records of what apps you have installed, the account and password, also, you can take screenshots of the settings.

Step 3. Reinstall macOS Big Sur or Catalina without Losing Data.

Option #1: Reinstall macOS without Losing Data From Internet Recovery

  1. Click the Apple icon>Restart.
  2. Hold down the key combination: Command+R, you will see the Apple logo.
  3. Then choose “Reinstall macOS Big Sur” from utilities window and click “Continue”.reinstall macos internet
  4. Select your hard drive, click “Install” and wait for end of reinstallation.

Option #2 Reinstall macOS without Losing Data From USB

  1. Download the macOS Big Sur install from Mac App Store onto your Mac;
  2. Then connect the USB flash drive to your Mac;
  3. Open Disk Utility program on your Mac, choose the USB flash drive and click Erase to have a clean drive for the reinstallation;reinstall from usb01
  4. Open Terminal, copy and paste sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Big\ Sur.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia;reinstall from usb 02
  5. Then add the volume of usb flash drive: --volume /Volumes/MyVolume, replace MyVolume with your usb flash drive name, mine is Untitled;reinstall from usb 03
  6. Press Enter, input password and wait for the process to finish;reinstall from usb 04
  7. Quit Terminal, restart your Mac, hold Command+R when starting Mac until you see the apple logo;
  8. Login into your Mac with password, go to the menu bar>Utilities>Startup Security Utility, enter password again;
  9. Choose Medium Security under Secure Boot and allow booting from external media;reinstall from usb 05
  10. Restart your Mac, in the same time, hold the Option key;
  11. Choose Install macOS Big Sur, click Next and input password, choose Install macOS, continue to finish mac reinstallation from usb.

What if You Lost Data After macOS Big Sur Reinstallation?

However, losing data after reinstallation still happens. It may result from a interrupted installation (power-off/poor internet connection), corrupt setup, insufficient space or improper actions. Then, what to do if you lost data after reinstallation? Here are 2 methods.

Method 1: Use Cisdem Data Recovery to Recover Data

In the case you didn’t do backup before reinstallation, you will need a dedication data recovery program to find the lost data for you.

Here we recommend Cisdem Data Recovery, a powerful mac program allowing users to recover lost/deleted/corrupted/formatted files from a wide range of external or internal storage devices, no matter the file is lost due to human errors, power-off, reinstallation, upgrade, virus attack or disk crash.

Main Features of Cisdem Data Recovery

  • Recover files lost due to OS reinstallation, upgrade, downgrade;
  • Recover deleted, formatted and lost files;
  • Restore files from internal and external hard drive, USB, SD Card, flash drive, etc.;
  • Restore videos, audios, images, documents, archives, 200+ types;
  • 5 recovery modes: Basic, External Drive, Formatted Drive, Trash, Advanced;
  • Preview files before recovery;
  • Fast scanning and recovery;

Steps to Recover Lost Data after MacOS Reinstallation

  1. Download and install Cisdem Data Recovery on Mac.
    Free Download
  2. Choose a Recovery Mode according to your need.
    If you want an efficient recovery, choose “Basic Data Recovery”, if you want to recover files with a higher success rate, try “Advanced Data Recovery”.choose a mode
  3. Select the hard drive where you originally stored the files on mac. Then click “Scan”.choose a disk
  4. Check and preview files found by Cisdem Data Recovery.found files
  5. Select files to recover.
    Check the box before files that you want to recover, then click “Recover” to find back the lost data caused by reinstallation.

Method 2: Use Time Machine to Recover Data with Backup

If you have backed up your files on mac, you can use Time Machine to restore the lost data.

  • Step1. Go to Finder>Applications>Time Machine, launch it and choose “Enter Time Machine”. 
  • Step2. In the popped-up window, use the arrows and timeline to browse the local snapshots and backups.recover with time machine
  • Step3. Find the deleted files, then click “Restore” to recover the lost data caused by reinstallation.

Conclusion

The key to reinstall mac OS Big Sur, Catalina or Mojave without losing data is the backup, since no one can guarantee all data will be perfectly maintained after macOS reinstallation. However, if we unfortunately lost files after macOS reinstallation, Time Machine or Cisdem Data Recovery is helpful to recover them back.

So, do you have any other tips to reinstall macOS without losing data? Please share with more of our mac users.

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Connie Wisley
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Connie has been writing for Mac productivity and utility apps since 2009. Each review and solution is based on her practical tests, she is aways energetic and trustworthy in this field.

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