Mac is a great platform to run not only the latest macOS ( Catalina ), but also Windows and Linux. Macbook Pro is a popular platform for running Linux.
Under the hood, Mac hardware is remarkably similar to most of the parts used in modern PCs. You’ll find the same processor families, graphics engines, networking chips, and more.
At this time, you cannot install Linux on the internal SSD of a newer MacBook Pro or Mac Pro (2018 or later). However, you can still install it on an external drive.
Running Linux on a Mac
Many Linux distributions can run just fine on a Mac, although installing and configuring the OS can be problematic.
This project is for advanced users who have the time to work through issues that may arise along the way and are willing to reinstall macOS and their data if problems arise along the way.
Get ready, make a current backup and read through the whole process before installing Ubuntu.
Installation and drivers
Problems when receiving Linux distribution, running on a Mac usually involve two problem areas: getting the installer to work properly with the Mac, and finding and installing all the necessary drivers to get the essential Mac components working.
This guide uses Ubuntu, mainly due to the active forums and support provided Ubuntu Community, and also because of Ubuntu’s lighting Internet.
Why install Ubuntu on your Mac?
There are many reasons why Ubuntu can run on a Mac, including the ability to extend the capabilities of your technology, learn about a different OS, and run one or more OS-specific applications. You can be a Linux developer and understand that Mac is the best platform to use, or you can just try Ubuntu.
This dual boot method can easily be extended to triple boot or more.
What you need
You need a few things before you can get started:
- Recent backup : use Carbon Copy Cloner or a similar utility for cloning an external boot drive that contains a copy of the Recovery HD volume. Once you have latest backup of all your data unplug it from your Mac to make sure the clone backup wasn’t accidentally deleted during Ubuntu installation.
- Mac with at least 2 GB of RAM and a 2 GHz dual-core processor : These are the minimum requirements; more RAM and faster processor speed or additional processor cores is useful. The installation described here is done on a 2014 27-inch Retina iMac with macOS Sierra, but this process should work on any Mac released since 2011. If you plan on using an older Mac, you can still install Ubuntu, but you need to pay attention to how the boot process works on older hardware. If you have trouble setting up your old Mac to work with Ubuntu, go to ubuntu forums and find installation guides for your Mac model.
- USB flash drive 2 GB or more : The flash drive is used as a bootable Ubuntu installer, which contains not only the base installer, but also a live version of Ubuntu. This version can run directly from a USB stick without changing anything on your Mac. This is a great way to check if your Mac and Ubuntu can live together.
- USB keyboard and mouse A: You need a USB based keyboard and mouse as it is very likely that Ubuntu Bluetooth drivers will need to be installed or updated before the wireless keyboard or mouse can work. If you’re using a MacBook, you probably don’t have anything to worry about.
- 25 GB free disk space : this is the minimum size recommended for desktop Ubuntu; more space to work might be helpful.
- Latest stable version ubuntu : check latest version on Ubuntu website and any specific changes that may affect installation or use on your Mac. Download the Ubuntu version on your Mac.
Create a Bootable Ubuntu USB Installer for MacOS
The first task when installing and configuring Ubuntu on your Mac is to create bootable USB flash drive which contains the Ubuntu Desktop operating system. Use this flash drive to not only install Ubuntu, but also to make sure Ubuntu can run on your Mac. You should be able to boot Ubuntu directly from a USB stick without the need for installation. This allows you to test basic operations before you decide to change your Mac’s configuration to accommodate Ubuntu.
Prepare a flash drive
The following process completely deletes all the data you have on the USB flash drive.
Insert USB flash drive and run disk utility which is located in /Applications/Utilities/ .
Find your flash drive on the sidebar Disk Utility . Select the actual flash drive, not the formatted volume that may appear just below the name of the flash drive’s manufacturer.
Select » Erase» on the Disk Utility toolbar.
Set the erase options to the following:
- Name : Ubuntu
- Format : MS-DOS (FAT)
Select Erase .
When the process is complete, select Ready .
Before exiting Disk Utility write down device name flash drive . Make sure on sidebar selected name flash drive Ubuntu and find the entry labeled device on the main panel. You should see the device name like disk2s2 or similar. Write down the device name. You need it later.
Exit Disk Utility.
The UNetbootin utility creates an Ubuntu installer on a USB drive. UNetbootin downloads the Ubuntu ISO, converts it to an image format that the Mac can use, creates the boot chain needed for the Mac OS installer, and then copies it to a USB drive.
UNetbootin can be downloaded from UNetbootin GitHub website . Select version macOS . The utility is loaded as a disk image named unetbootin-mac-677.dmg . The actual number in the file name may change as new versions are released.
Locate the downloaded UNetbootin disk image. Most likely in folder » Downloads «.
Double click .dmg file, to mount the image on your Mac’s desktop. The UNetbootin image will open. You don’t have to move the app to your Applications folder, although you can if you want to. The app works fine from a disk image.
Start UNetbootin with a double click. You may need to go to » System Settings» > » Security and privacy» and select » Still open» .
Enter administrator password and choose OK .
The UNetbootin window will open. UNetbootin supports creating a Linux USB installer using a previously downloaded ISO file, or can download a Linux distribution for you. Do not select the ISO option.
Make sure that selected » Distribution», and then use dropdown menu » Select distribution » to select the Linux distribution you want to install on the USB drive. For this project choose Ubuntu.
Use dropdown menu » Select version» for selection version 18.04_Live_x64 or 19.10_Live_x64 compatible with 64-bit architecture.
The UNetbootin application should now specify the type (USB drive) and drive name where the Ubuntu distribution will be copied to. Menu «Type» must be filled USB stick and the drive must match the device name you specified earlier when formatting the USB drive. Select OK .
UNetbootin downloads the Linux distribution of your choice, creates live Linux installation files, creates a bootloader, and copies them to your USB stick. This may take some time.
Once UNetbootin is complete select exit .
You may receive the following warning: The created USB device will not boot from the Mac. Plug it into your PC and select the USB boot option from the BIOS boot menu. You can ignore this warning if you used the Distribute option and not the ISO option when creating the bootable USB drive.
A live USB stick containing Ubuntu is created and ready to try on your Mac.
Creating an Ubuntu partition on your Mac
If you are planning to permanently install Ubuntu on your Mac while keeping macOS, you need to create one or more volumes specifically to host the Ubuntu OS.
The process is simple. You are using Disk utility to partition an existing volume such as your Mac’s startup disk, to make room for the second volume. You can also use an external drive.
Use Disk Utility to Create an Ubuntu Install Target
If you’re going to be using an existing partition, take a look at these two guides on resizing and partitioning:
- Disk Utility: How to Resize a Mac Volume (OS X El Capitan or later)
- Partition your drive with OS X El Capitan Disk Utility
Partitioning, resizing and formatting any drive can result in data loss. Make sure you have current backup any data on the selected drives.
If you are using Fusion Drive macOS imposes a two-partition limit on the Fusion volume. If you’ve already created a Windows Boot Camp partition, you won’t be able to add an Ubuntu partition either. Try using an external drive with Ubuntu.
If you plan to use the entire drive for Ubuntu, please refer to this formatting guide:
- Format your Mac drive with Disk Utility (OS X El Capitan or later)
Regardless of which guide you use, the partition scheme must be GUID Partitioning Map and the format can be MS-DOS (FAT) or ExFat. The format will change when you install Ubuntu. It is only intended to make it easier to identify the disk and partition you are using for Ubuntu later in the installation process.
Give the volume a meaningful name, for example Ubuntu, and note down the size of the partition you make. Both pieces of information are useful for identifying the volume later during Ubuntu installation.
Using rEFInd as a Dual Boot Manager
So far, you’ve been working on getting your Mac ready to receive Ubuntu and have prepared a bootable installer that you can use for the process. Now you need to take the steps to be able to dual boot your Mac on macOS as well as the new Ubuntu OS.
Your Mac is already equipped with a boot manager that allows you to choose between several Mac or Windows operating systems that can be installed on your Mac. You can call the boot manager at startup by holding down key » Options» as described in the manual » Using OS X Recovery Disk Assistant» .
Ubuntu comes with its own boot manager called GRUB (GRand Unified Boot Loader). You will be using GRUB shortly after starting the installation process.
Both available boot managers can handle the dual boot process; they can even work with more than two OSes, but the Mac boot manager doesn’t recognize the Ubuntu OS without a bit of a hassle, and the GRUB boot manager isn’t particularly easy to use.
Instead, use a third party download manager called rEFInd . rEFInd can handle all your Mac boot needs, including the ability to choose from macOS, Ubuntu, or even Windows (if you have it installed).
Setting a link
REFInd is easy to install; simple team Terminal is all you need if you use OS X Yosemite or earlier version . OS X El Capitan and later versions have an additional layer of security called SIP (System Integrity Protection). In a nutshell, SIP does not allow ordinary users, including administrators, to modify system files, including preference files and folders, that Mac OS uses for itself.
As a boot manager, rEFInd must install itself in SIP-protected areas, so if you’re running OS X El Capitan or later, you’ll need to disable the SIP system before continuing.
Restart your Mac while holding down key » team» (cloverleaf) and keys » R» ( team + R ). Hold down both keys until the Apple logo appears. Wait loading screen recovery .
Open terminal which can be found in / Applications / Utilities /.
In the Terminal window that opens, enter the following:
Click Enter or return on keyboard.
Reboot your Mac by typing restart in terminal or using the menu on screen recovery .
Returning the Mac desktop, download rEFInd from SourceForge on rEFInd beta, an EFI boot manager utility. Open the refind-bin-0.12.0 (or later) folder from folders » Downloads «.
Open terminal which can be found in / Applications / Utilities /.
Position the terminal window and the Refind-bin-0.10.4 search box so that both are visible.
Drag file named refind-install from the refind-bin-0.10.4 folder to the terminal window.
In the terminal window, click Enter or return .
rEFInd is installed on your Mac.
These steps are not are mandatory but recommended : Turn SIP back on by typing the following in a terminal: csrutil enable .Then press Enter or return.
close terminal .
Use command » Switch off», to turn off your Mac.
Using a Live USB Drive to Try out Ubuntu on Your Mac
The Ubuntu Live USB you created earlier can be used to permanently install Ubuntu on your Mac. You can also use it to try out Ubuntu without installing an OS. It’s a good idea to try Ubuntu first, because you might find problems before committing to a full install.
Some of the problems you may find include a live USB installation not working with your Mac graphics card This is one of the most common problems that Mac users face when installing Linux. You may also find out that your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is not working. Most of these problems can be fixed after installation, but knowing about them ahead of time allows you to get a little familiar with the Mac environment. You can track down issues and possibly purchase the necessary drivers.
Try Ubuntu on your Mac
Before attempting to boot from the live USB drive you created, there is a bit of preparation to be done.