How to Force a Mac VM to Boot in Recovery Mode in VMware Fusion

For the past several years, Apple has allowed certain versions of macOS to be virtualized on Mac hardware. This works fairly well for using the operating system itself as a virtual machine, but pre-boot options like Recovery Mode are a bit trickier to deal with in terms of VMs.
It’s easy enough to boot an actual Mac into Recovery Mode, but it’s significantly more difficult when using a Mac VM with an application like VMware Fusion. It’s possible to use the Command-R key combination when booting a macOS VM in Fusion, but the time window in which Fusion will accept that command is so small that you’ll likely try dozens of times before it works.
Instead, there’s an easier way to force a Mac VM to boot in Recovery Mode by simply editing the VM’s configuration file. Note that this process is for VMware-based Mac virtual machines with their recovery partition intact. Our screenshots reference VMware Fusion 10.1.3, although the basic process should work on most recent versions of the application.

How to Force a Mac VM to Boot in Recovery Mode in VMware Fusion
  • Make sure the Mac VM is completely shut down and then locate the virtual machine file in Finder. Right-click on the VM file in Finder and select Show Package Contents.
  • Locate the VM’s .vmx configuration file. Right-click on it and open it in your text editor of choice.
  • Add the following configuration option to the bottom of the .vmx file:
    macosguest.forceRecoveryModeInstall = "TRUE"
  • Save the change to the .vmx file and then boot your Mac VM. It should now boot into directly into Recovery Mode without needing to use any boot option keys.
  • When you’re done with Recovery Mode and ready to boot back into macOS, shut down the VM and then re-open the .vmx file and delete the added text. Finally, in VM’s package contents, find and delete its .nvram file (it will be recreated by the VM after the next boot cycle). Now, when you next boot the VM, it should boot back into macOS.

4 thoughts on “How to Force a Mac VM to Boot in Recovery Mode in VMware Fusion”

Jameson N. says:
For yet another GOTCHA now, I found that Fusion 12.1.2 has added that flag to the default configuration for the installer, but that just lead to an infinite reboot loop when I tried to install Big Sur from the Recovery partition. Changing that back to FALSE, and removing the .nvram file was necessary to be able to run the installer.

macosguest.forceRecoveryModeInstall = “FALSE”

Michael S. says:
Nice trick, but as Michael C. pointed out, this does not help if your goal is to disable SIP – since the boot to recovery setting is stored in nvram and the ONLY way to get the Mac guest to boot normally again is to remove the .nvram file – thanks guys. Normally the VMware engineers are pretty thorough – especially the hardware team.

Anyway, it appears that when Fusion encounters this setting on boot, it sets a flag in nvram. I WAS HOPING that rather than removing the setting, changing TRUE to FALSE would cause a subsequent update of the nvram and allow the guest to boot normally. No luck.

What I found was the community article below, which offers other suggestions to get your guest booted into recovery without messing with the nvram settings:

HOWEVER – watch out for your VM keyboard setting to ensure you have not changed the default for sending Apple global keyboard shortcuts to the guest and not the host. This can be changed by editing the Mac OS profile for the guest under “Keyboard & Mouse”

GOTCHA #2: If you’re using a non-Apple keyboard the guest may not recognize Cmd+R. Use an Apple keyboard, or the built-in on a MacBook.

GOTCHA #3: As of Fusion 11, Cmd+R is interpreted as either Restore Snapshot, or boot to firmware depending on when hit it. The latter is OK, but he former can cause you to miss your window.

Michael C. says:
If you are trying to disable SIP (System Integrity Protection) in the VM by booting the Recovery mode, there is a problem. The setting for disabling SIP is stored in the .nvram file. If you remove the .nvram file in order to be able to normally boot the VM, then the SIP disabled setting is gone and reverts back to SIP enabled.

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