Got one of those shiny Mac laptops, but Linux has you realising computer freedom is best?
This is the definitive guide!
Using a Macintosh is (mainly) a delight. The hardware is solid, fast, and beautiful, but over time, macOS has become dumbed down and in some places, downright silly. I long since realised that I could do exactly what I wanted to do with my macbook with Linux, rather than being encumbered by having to follow the ‘Apple’ way of doing things. I never looked back. Here’s the definitive guide to installing Linux on a Mac.
NOTE: This is an advanced tutorial which works at the command line and can cause irreparable damage to your data. If you are a novice, it is not recommended that you undertake this tutorial. If you do proceed, make sure you have backed everything up with TimeMachine or such like tools. I must also acknowledge the awesome work of Jessie Frazelle, her blog entitled ‘Linux or Death’ was the inspiration for this article, and much of it is cribbed from there, simply because it worked, unlike any other blog on the subject we found on the interwebs!
This tutorial has been tested on a late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15″, however it should work with any EFI based Mac (more on that in a bit). The EFI based Macintosh started around 2008 (you can check the list of the Apple EFI systems here). This should include Macbook Pros, Macbook Air, iMac and probably Mac Pro’s…
Step 1: Dual Booting with Mac OS (yes, you can keep MacOS/OS X!)
I am also working on the basis that you want to keep Mac OS X on your hard drive and that you wish to dual-boot it at any time. You should have plenty of free space on your disk drive (the more the better), so either delete some cruft or move some of your old data onto a separate external archive hard drive (because I know you got one or ten of them lying around!).
Finally, we used Mac OS X 10.11.1, ‘El Capitan’, which is the latest OS X at the time of the release. El Capitan introduced a ‘security feature’ called ‘SIP’ (System Integrity Protection) which you will additionally have to overcome if you are using El Capitan or newer. More on that in a bit. We will be installing Ubuntu. Originally this tutorial was written with Ubuntu GNOME 15.10, but this should apply to any Linux distro (including Ubuntu 17.04 and later) more or less, although your mileage may vary with Video stuff particularly.
The tutorial you are about to read has six main sections. These are:
- Installing the EFI boot manager
- Downloading and converting your Linux distro of choice
- Partitioning your hard drive
- Installing Linux
- Finishing up and nice to have items, including being able to see your Macintosh files from Linux.
Installing the EFI boot manager
EFI stands for Extensible Firmware Interface and is now pretty much commonplace in Macs and PCs across the industry. It replaced the trusty old BIOS system that PCs had used since the 1980s. Installing Linux on a BIOS based machine was trivial, but now with Apple’s take on EFI on their customised hardware, it can be a little challenging. No worries, this is the Ultimate Linux Newbie Guide. We got this!
rEFInd is a boot-loader for EFI based machines. Think of it like bootcamp, or GRUB for GRUB 🙂 You’ll want to download rEFInd from the rEFInd website:
Now, if you take a look around the rEFInd website, you’ll see it looks like the guy that wrote it believes in punishing everyone that wants to use it. It took us about 20 minutes just to find the frigging download link! So the ULNG has taken the time to go through all the pertinent steps to make it shit tons easier for you!
The version of rEFInd that we used is 0.10.0, and we used the zip archive version. Once you download the binary, you are going to need to start the rest of your work from the Terminal, so open up the Terminal from the Utilities folder on your Macintosh and head over to your Downloads folder where you saved rEFInd to.
If the zip archive is not already unzipped, unzip it using the unzip command and head into the newly created refind-bin-0.11.0 folder:
For the next step, take a note of the full directory where you downloaded the refind tool into. For example /Users/bob/Downloads/refind-bin-0.11.0 (you can also type pwd at the command prompt to tell you which present working directory you are in).
Installing rEFInd by working around SIP
Before we can properly install rEFInd, we will need to take care of a pesky thing that Apple put into their hardware called SIP (System Integrity Protection). There are a couple of ways to do this, but I found the easiest way to do so is to pop your system into recovery mode and issue a command from the terminal there. There is a bit more information on this process over here.
To enter recovery mode on your Macintosh, shut your machine down completely. Give the machine around 30 seconds and then switch back on. Now quickly hold down the Command and R key at the same time until at least you hear the Apple ‘chime’ sound. Shortly you will enter recovery mode. I recommend plugging in an Ethernet cable to do this, however it is possible to do with WiFi.
Once you are in the Recovery tool, enter the Utilities menu up on the top bar, and click on Terminal.
Issue the following command:
NOTE: Using the latest version of macOS Sierra, the csrutil tool may have been removed. If the csrutil is unavailable for whatever reason, don’t despair, simply go into the directory that you downloaded refind into and run refind-install. Earlier, you noted down this folder, so just cd to it, for example:
Once you have done that, install rEFInd:
(if you are prompted for a password, note that this is your own mac password).
NB: if you have issues and find that rEFInd doesn’t operate properly, you can also try the –alldrivers flag (but use this with extreme caution!)
$sudo ./refind-install --alldrivers
—YOU PROBABLY NO LONGER NEED THE BELOW INFORMATION!—
The next bit of text was necessary for versions of rEFInd before 0.10.0. This guide has been updated for version 0.11.0, and so you shouldn’t need to do any of this. Isn’t that great?! However, if things don’t work the way you expect, then you can do this whilst still in the recovery tool, and in the refind folder.
Now it’s time to edit the EFI config file, but you will need to mount that hidden EFI partition first. Thankfully, rEFInd has a little tool you can use to mount the partition:
Edit /Volumes/ESP/EFI/refind/refind.conf. Like me, you may find the refind.conf file is in /Volumes/ESP/EFI/BOOT, instead of a folder called refind.
$sudo nano /Volumes/ESP/EFI/refind/refind.conf (or use vi like me, if you are that way inclined. Just not emacs!).
locate the line that says scanfor and edit it to say:
If no such line exists, add it into the file near the top.
Next, change the config file to load the appropriate Linux file system driver. Check for a line that starts fs0. If no such line exists, add it as below, otherwise edit it:
fs0: load ext4_x64.efi
fs0: map -r
Save the file and quit your editor. That’s pretty much it for the rEFInd bit. That is the hardest part over and done with. If you want to be sure it worked, you should power off your machine and power on again. If you see a grey screen with the rEFInd logo, then it has worked. You should be able to chose the Mac OS X logo and hit return to start up OS X again.
Step 2: Downloading and converting your Linux distro image of choice
Next, unless you haven’t already downloaded the iso image of your choice, it’s time to go grab it. For this particular demonstration, we are using Ubuntu, however most other Linux distributions should work. Using more hard-ass systems like Arch or Slackware, or even Debian, will be more challenging. This is challenging enough, so do what you will, but we will stick to the easier distros for now!
Make sure you download the x64 version of the distribution you choose, if there is an EFI boot version, choose that also.
Converting the ISO image to something your Macintosh recognises
Next, you need to convert the iso file into an image file that Mac OS X recognizes so that you can stick it on a USB stick to boot from. Although you are back at the terminal for this, thankfully it’s not that onerous a task.
cd (directory where you downloaded the distro to)
hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o <<filename you want.iso.img>> <<filename of the download.iso>>
(so, in other words, hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ubuntu1704.iso.img ubuntu-gnome-17.04-desktop-amd64.iso would convert the latter file into ubuntu1704.iso.img, which would be in the RAW, or more specifically UDRW format).
Mac OS likes to rename the file with a .dmg extension, to avoid confusion over that, it’s probably best that you rename it. A simple mv command will sort that one:
mv ubuntu1704.iso.img.dmg ubuntu1704.iso.img
(renames the file ubuntu1704.iso.img.dmg to ubuntu1704.iso.img).
Next, quickly type in diskutil list in the terminal. It should list one disk drive (if you have any external drives connected, disconnect them for now). Take a note of your Mac OS disk. It should be called /dev/disk0. Look for tell tale signs in there like ‘Macintosh HD’
Next, locate that USB stick of yours and whap it into the usb port. Please note that you want to have an empty USB stick, because this process will destroy any existing data on it.
Once you have the USB stick plugged in and all settled down, issue the following command:
You should see a list of disks like the one in the screenshot to the left. Note the red box around /dev/disk2. You can see that it has a Windows FAT32 partition, our usb stick is 8 GB big, you can see the size there is 8.1GB, which is clearly much smaller than the main hard drive, which is 500GB in size. Just make sure you identify which disk your usb stick is and take a note of that. The one we are using is /dev/disk2.
Now you need to unmount the usb disk, to do that issue the following command
diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk2
Obviously if your USB stick is not disk2 then change it to suit. It should tell you that the unmount of all volumes on the disk were successful. Now all we have to do is copy the UDRW version of the iso image to your USB stick. For that, we will use trusty old dd 🙂
sudo dd if=ubuntu1704.iso.img of=/dev/rdisk2 bs=1m
Things you have to be aware of here
- This is a fully destructive command. It will blow up any disk you point it to, that’s why we made sure you got the note of that USB stick in diskutil list, above.
- if= is short for input file, meaning the input file is the name of the iso file you converted into the iso.img file. We are using the shortened filename here just for an example filename.
- of= is short for output file. The output file, is in fact a device. In this case, we are using (r)disk2; disk2 obviously is the drive we noted earlier, we use the r in front of it because that allows raw device access, so its marginally quicker.
- bs=1m means block size, 1 megabyte. You don’t have to use this option, however it will significantly increase the speed of the transfer to your USB stick.
Mac OS is going to bitch and moan that you have a volume it can’t read inserted. If it says Eject, click that, otherwise type diskutil eject /dev/disk2.
Step 3: Partitioning your Macintosh hard drive
This part chops your disk up in the way you want it. Back in the bad old days of Linux, you used to have to download a partition manager and use that to resize your disk. These days, that’s mainly gone, but because of Journaled, Encrypted HFS+ partitions, that’s not a good idea to let a Linux based partition manager loose with, unless you want to toast your Mac OS data.
Thankfully, this can easily be solved. In your Utilities apps folder, you’ll find Disk Utility. If you like, quickly scan your hard drive for errors, just to make sure it’s all toot sweet before we get down to business. Repair any errors you may have.
Once you are ready, you will see a list of internal drives on the left hand side. Your Disk Utility may look different if you are using an older version of OS X, but it still offers the ability to resize a volume.
On the hard drive that your Mac OS X partition exists on, click on the top drive, not any subsequent partitions listed below it. Click on the ‘partition’ button, and you’ll see a pie chart like the one above (don’t worry if it’s not quite like that). You will see you can move the slider around the pie to resize your partition(s). Pull the size slider back for the Mac OS partition to release the free space on the disk. Make a blank partition until you have enough space for your new Linux system. As much space as you are willing to.
Apply the changes and let the resize operation complete. If you have an SSD, this should be relatively quick (a few minutes).
Step 4: Installing Linux on that Macintosh!
Woo-hoo! This is the fun part! Now we get to install the operating system that your Macintosh has been longing for. All hail Linux on a Macintosh!
Switch your Macintosh off completely. Connect your Ethernet to Thunderbolt adapter (or USB Ethernet Adapter) and your USB drive we made earlier. If you don’t have one of those ethernet adapters, life is going to be tricky for you, you are going to have to download the wireless drivers and install them manually to get things working. If you don’t have one of the adapters, ask a friend for one, or buy one cheap from Ebay or such like. It will save your sanity.
Turn on your computer and hold down the option/alt key. You’ll see a menu pop up which you can see your Macintosh HD as well as the USB stick (it’s a yellow looking drive thing). It will be named EFI or something similar. Use the cursor keys to select that and hit return. PS: if you are having issues with your bluetooth keyboard at this point, make sure you revert to using your laptop’s keyboard and mouse for the time being.
At the step where you have to choose the partition and you are using the Ubuntu style installer, select ‘Something else’ from the options around partitioning. Locate the empty partition you made and create 2 partitions out of it. Make a big partition and a small partition (roughly 8-16 GB in size). The big partition should be the remainder of the free space. The big partition should be ext4 in type, and should be formatted with the mount point of “/”. The small partition should be formatted as swap.
Press next and let the good times roll. Everything else should be pretty normal.
Once the install has finished, restart the computer, no need to hold down alt/option this time. All going well, you should be seeing the rEFInd menu. Use the cursor key to select your Linux installation and hit that return key. Fingers crossed, your system will start up without much of a hitch!
If you don’t see the rEFInd menu, try starting up your mac whilst holding down the Command key.
Notably though, you probably won’t have a few things that work out of the box. Most of these can be covered off on the next section.
Some other things you may need to tend to.
I recently tested this with Ubuntu Gnome 17.04 and the WiFi, NVidia graphics and volume control keys all worked pretty much out of the box. I had to select the propriatery NVidia driver from the Software & Updates app, but that was as simple as selecting the driver and pressing Apply. See the screenshot:
Some lucky people will experience that their WiFi works straight out of the box. For most of us, we are going to need to install the drivers for it, because Apple do weird things with their hardware. Many Apple users these days will find this a bit of a conundrum, since most macbooks don’t come with ethernet ports any more. As noted earlier, the easiest solution by far is to plug a USB Ethernet dongle into your Macintosh. If you don’t have one, I recommend you buy or borrow one, however you can head over to the Ubuntu packages search, select your version of Ubuntu and download the relevant packages, installing them with dpkg, but this gets very messy, very quickly and is not for the faint of heart!
If you have an ethernet connection you can install the drivers for wireless easy by entering the following at the Terminal:
sudo apt-get install firmware-linux-nonfree broadcom-sta-dkms
The broadcom wl, bcwl43 and fwcutter software should all be installed. Reboot to enable the puppy and all should be good when you select your wifi from your system’s networking setup menu.
Graphics & Retina Display.
The graphics display should generally work out of the box, however there may be ‘interesting’ graphical issues. Not all of these might be fixable, but give the NVidia drivers a try, and if you still don’t have any luck, read the many forums until you get a solution that works for you.
sudo apt-get install nvidia-driver xserver-xorg-video-intel
Note if you are not using xorg, you’ll need to make the appropriate changes here. Maybe best to stick with xorg for now!
Your Macbook Pro Retina display is also known outside the Apple world as an HiDPI display. Using the nvidia driver ensures that the maximum resolution of your display is achieved, however if you are used to seeing things extra small (therefore more screen real-estate, you can enable HiDPI scaling for GNOME via the following Terminal command and log out and log back into GNOME:
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface scaling-factor 1
Setting it to a value of 2 returns the display to how it was before. You can also edit this setting within the dconf editor (GUI application)
If you are using another window manager such as KDE or are having issues with other apps not playing nicely, have a look at the ArchWiki for hints on HiDPI.
Screen backlight, Keyboard Backlight and Volume control hotkeys
A package is now available for Debian and Ubuntu called ‘pommed’, which handles the hotkeys found on the Apple MacBook Pro, MacBook and PowerBook laptops and adjusts the LCD backlight, sound volume, keyboard backlight or ejects the CD-ROM drive accordingly.
Installation is as simple as installing the package through apt-get:
sudo apt-get install pommed
This will run pommed as a daemon (run in the background).
If that doesn’t work for whatever reason run it in the foreground and check for any errors
sudo pommed -f. On my Late 2013 Macbook Pro Retina 15″, pommed did not work for me. Check out Jessie’s blog and accompanying script for a more manual solution if you face this problem too.
NB: I did find that my keyboard backlight buttons now work out of the box on Ubuntu 17.10.
Accessing your Macintosh files from Linux
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Okay cokey. Now here’s the thing. Apple can be real pains in the asses some times (read, all the time, at least these days). It is quite likely that you have what’s called CoreStorage, if you have anything OS X 10.10 or newer. This provides an encrypted, journaled file system; even if you haven’t installed FileVault (if you have, turn that off!).
To give full read/write access to your Mac OS X partition from Linux, you will need to revert it back to standard HFS+. To do this, you can pretty much enter one simple non-destructive command.
First up, at the terminal, issue the command diskutil cs list. You will see something like the below. If you know LVM in Linux, this is pretty much the same thing. Your main Mac OS X partition (Logical Volume) should be in Apple_HFS format.
The long string of stuff is that big long alphanumeric string of text highlighted in the red box, you want to use copy and paste it to make sure you don’t make a mistake!
The conversion took ages for us, however your mileage may vary, depending upon how much data is on your drive, and how fast your drive is. If you type diskutil cs list again, you’ll see how much % of the conversion has been accomplished. Don’t reboot your machine until that’s over and done with, but after then, you can safely mount your OS X partition with full read/write access.
First, make sure that you have hfsprogs installed. Example installation command:
sudo apt-get install hfsprogs
Next, mount or remount the HFS+ drive; commands need to be as follows:
sudo mount -t hfsplus -o force,rw /dev/sdXY /media/mntpoint
sudo mount -t hfsplus -o remount,force,rw /mount/point
If you want it to mount each time you start up your tux-ified Macintosh, you’ll need to add the entry to the fstab (sudo vi /etc/fstab):
/dev/sdXY /media/mntpoint hfsplus force,rw,gid=1000,umask=0002 0 0
Where your user gid is 1000 (use the id command to find out your gid)
Okay, that about wraps it up for this ditty, I hope it has worked for you. If it hasn’t, or you have some feedback to offer, we would love to hear it! Drop it in the comments, y’all 🙂