Computers, Privacy & the Constitution

Figuring out how to download and boot Tails from OS X


The information on this page is based on what I did to boot Tails from a particular piece of Mac hardware. I am more or less technically incompetent, so I may incorrectly use a technical word here or there, and I won't present a solution to every problem you could run into. More importantly, there may be a much more efficient way to do all of this that I didn't figure out. I encourage anyone to edit this page to add any useful information or correct any misinformation I have provided, and I encourage anyone to leave comments.

I installed and ran Tails from a MacBook Pro 7,1 (13-inch, Mid 2010) with a Intel Core 2 Duo processor running OS X 10.11.3 (Yosemite). If you have exactly the same hardware and OS as me, then if you follow the steps I took everything should go fine. If you have the same hardware and a different OS you should probably update the OS anyway because it's probably better and safer, and if you have different hardware and the same OS (more likely) then you will probably run into the same problems I ran into, so this may be useful to you.


If, like me, the last time you purchased a laptop occurred prior to the first class you took with Eben, there's a high chance it was an Apple computer. Installing Tails on a USB from a Mac then booting it on the same computer is not trivial, and it's unlikely that the process described here will go smoothly, especially if you're running Yosemite. I don't know if burning Tails onto a DVD is significantly easier than installing it on a USB drive via the command line, since I did not do it that way. However, the main difficulty I had was in step 4 of the process, where you restart on the Tails disk, and there's no reason why the particular type of data storage device you installed Tails on would affect the ability of your default boot manager to detect that it is a startup disk.

Steps 1-3

Follow steps 1-3.

Step 4.0

Follow step 4. It might work fine.

Step 4.1 (download rEFInd)

If the USB stick didn't show up when you held down the option/alt key, then you should download rEFInd as suggested here. REFInd is a boot manager that allows you to select a disk or disk partition to boot into using a GUI. Unlike the default boot manager that you go into when you hold down the option key as your computer is starting, this program will recognize all disks whose boot files have a .efi extension regardless of the operating system held by the disk. This means that when you use rEFInd you will be able to boot into TAILS if you followed steps 1-3 correctly.

Step 4.2.0 (install rEFInd)

Before you install rEFInd heed this warning. I did not run into any issues, but there's a chance you will. REFInd is in beta, so it might have some problems.

You cannot prompt a GUI installer for rEFInd by clicking on a file, so after unpacking the zip file that you have downloaded, you should look at the README, and as it suggests, you should open Terminal. The README suggests that you install the software to your ESP by typing the command "./refind-install". However, you need to be in the correct directory to make this work. If it does not say something like "refind-bin-0.10.2$" at the command prompt, then you need to change the directory you are in.

Type "pwd" into the command line to see what directory your are currently in. Most likely the output of this command will be something like "/Users/AGerten". This is the root directory. You need to find the path from this directory to the unpacked folder containing rEFInd and tell the computer to change to that directory. If your files are on the desktop you would type "cd Desktop/refind-bin-0.10.2" or whatever file name is displayed into the command line. If your files are in the Downloads directory, then you would type "cd Downloads/refind-bin-0.10.2". Now if you type "pwd" into the command line it should output "refind-bin-0.10.2" or something like that.

Now that you are in the correct directory, the software might install when you type in the command "./refind-install". If it does, lucky you. You can turn off your computer, turn it back on, select the drive you want to boot into at the new GUI, and then follow steps 5-6.

Alternatively, a faster way you could do this is to type the path from the root directory to the "refind-install" command. That should look something like "~/Desktop/refind-bin-0.10.2/refind-install" if the folder containing the rEFInd files is on the Desktop. Typing this will allow you to install rEFInd without putting in any cd or pwd commands.

However, if you have been updating your operating system, then you will not be able to install rEFInd, because of System Integrity Protection (SIP), which prevents you from altering certain files on your computer even if you're the root user.

Step 4.2.1 (Getting Around SIP)

Turn off your computer, turn it back on, and hit command+R. This will launch the Recovery Hard Drive on which the files rendered unalterable by SIP are alterable. Launch a Terminal, and input the command "csrutil disable". This will disable SIP on all partitions, and it will allow you to install rEFInd using the commands in the previous step. If, after installing rEFInd you want to turn SIP back on for some security reason, just go back into the Terminal in the Recovery Hard Drive and type "csrutil enable". There are other ways to get around SIP, but I thought this was easy.

Step 4.3

After you have installed rEFInd, turn off your computer, then turn it back on again. This time, do not hold down the option key: rEFInd will run automatically. If you do press and hold down the option key, the default boot loader will appear on the screen, and you will have to restart your computer again.

Select the drive or dvd containing Tails using the arrow keys, and everything should run fine.

Steps 5-6

Follow steps 5-6. I did not run into any Mac specific difficulties in these steps.

-- AlexanderGerten - 21 Apr 2016


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r4 - 24 Apr 2016 - 06:50:39 - AlexanderGerten
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