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How to Install Linux on a Mac

Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to install Linux on a Mac. It’s not a straightforward process though it is becoming easier with more Linux systems adding support for Apple hardware.

Only mainstream Linux OSes support Macs, so if you are considering to replace macOS with Linux, try to stay with an OS like Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE or Debian. If those OS’s don’t sound interesting, consider looking at Ubuntu derivatives like Elementary OS, or Linux Mint.

The reason Mac-to-Linux switchers should stay with these special distributions is this: mainstream Linux distributions work hard to make Mac hardware compatible with Linux. The same can’t be said of hobby OSes.

In this tutorial, we’ll be going with Ubuntu, as it has the best Mac support by far. If you go with another Mac-supported Linux OS, do so at your own risk!

Bootable USB

The most essential part of installing Linux on any computer is making a bootable USB drive. This is even truer on Apple hardware as the newer models no longer have optical drives.

Start the USB creation process by launching Disk Utility. In the Disk Utility tool, find your USB drive and erase it. Erasing the USB is a critical step because if the drive isn’t blank, the Mac probably won’t boot from it.

With the drive completely blank, it’s time to make use of it. Go download the latest Mac version of Etcher. Mount the DMG file and install the app on your computer. Once the installation is complete, place a USB flash drive into the USB slot and launch the app.

With Etcher open and the USB drive ready to go, download the latest version of Ubuntu Linux. When the download finishes, return to the app and click the “Select Image” button.

Look for the Ubuntu ISO file on your Mac computer, and select it to load it into the Etcher app. Let the ISO image load into the app. When everything looks good, click the “Flash” button to make the bootable USB.

Partitioning

Due to APfs, macOS can’t dual-boot with Ubuntu using traditional detection methods. Instead, everything needs to be set up manually ahead of time in the disk utility.

On your Mac, launch the Disk Utility application and select the “View” menu. Click “Show All Devices” to view your Mac’s hard drive.

Double-click on the hard drive, then select the “Partition” button to bring up the “Apple File System Space Sharing” menu. In the menu, click “Partition” to start dividing up your macOS hard drive.

In the partitioner, click the + symbol to create a new Ubuntu partition (it should be at least 16 GB). Be sure to set the format to “MS-DOS (FAT)”. Do not worry, the partition will be re-formatted later on.

After creating the new Ubuntu partition, go back to the + button and select it again to create another MS-DOS (FAT) partition. This time, write “SWAP” in the label, and make it the same size as your Mac’s physical RAM.

Once all of the partitions are set correctly in Disk Utility, click the “Apply” button to write the changes.

Plug in your Ubuntu USB and reboot. As the Mac reboots, hold down one of the option buttons on the keyboard. This will allow you to choose the live disk (it’ll have the name of EFI Boot).

Install Linux On macOS

Setting up the partitioning in macOS is the hardest part. After we get past that, it’s a simple Ubuntu Linux setup process. This setup process is quick and about as easy as you’re used to on macOS. To start it, click the “Install Ubuntu” button on the pop-up menu.

To install Ubuntu Linux to your Mac, follow the steps below.

Step 1: Choose “Normal Installation” in the setup window. Be sure to also check the box next to “install third party,” for important drivers, etc.

Step 2: Allow Ubuntu to detect macOS on your computer. When it finds it, check the box next to “something else”.

Step 3: Selecting “something else” will bring you to a partitioning menu. In the partition menu, highlight the large Ubuntu Fat32 partition by clicking on it. Keep in mind that Ubuntu displays these partitions in megabytes not gigabytes, so you may need to do some math. With the Ubuntu FAT partition selected, click the “change” button to bring up the partition menu. Select the menu next to “Use as,” set it to Ext4, check the “format” box, and put “/” in the “Mount point” box.

Step 4: Find the second FAT partition (the SWAP one), highlight it with the mouse and click the “change” button. Under the “Use as” menu, find “swap area”, set it in the menu and click “OK”.

Step 5: Move down to “Device for boot loader” information and set it to the main Ubuntu partition. Not sure what the device label for the Ubuntu partition is? Look at the partition menu and set the installer to set the bootloader for the partition that has “/” as a mount point.

Step 6: Click “Install Now” to start the installation process. Go through, set your time zone, username/password, etc.

Step 7: restart your Mac and load up Ubuntu!

If you’re looking for something cosmetic, you can always make Linux look like macOS.

Leave a comment

  • Vittorio Basile

    Well, this is actually wrong as you don’t install Linux on macOS. You install Linux on Mac. macOS is only an operating system whilst Mac is the actual computer itself. So please fix this

    • Hi @vittoriobasile:disqus — that was corrected. You’re totally right and it was an oversight on our part. The initial title we had was “on a Mac computer” 🙂 Thanks for letting us know.

  • This is great write up, thanks for this mind blowing tips, sure will use