Recover Mac Storage Drive Data via Target Disk Mode

Summary: In this blog, we'll share tips to recover inaccessible Mac hard drive data with the help of target disk mode. Before reading further, don't forget to download the free trial of the software.

Recover Mac Storage Drive Data via Target Disk Mode

Table of Content

To ease down, we categorize this blog into 3 sections, as below:

CASE 1.  Transferring large files from target Mac
CASE 2.  Booting macOS from target Mac
CASE 3.  Recovering data from target Mac by using Stellar Data Recovery software

Target Disk Mode is an exclusive feature in Mac, which plays a vital role in data recovery and file transfer. In this boot mode, Mac’s firmware empowers its storage drive to act as an external storage device without loading macOS.

You can connect two Macs or a Mac to a Windows PC via Thunderbolt or FireWire cable to perform the file recovery operation. The Mac to Mac connection is rather straightforward, but you need software to access your Mac on Windows PC.

Target Disk Mode is useful for:

  • Transferring files from an iMac, MacBook, or Mac mini to another Mac or PC
  • Migrating data from an old Mac to a new Mac faster than Migration Assistant
  • Recovering data from a non-booting or corrupt Mac via data recovery software
  • Booting macOS from target Mac
  • Accessing files from Mac mini without a monitor or iMac with a damaged screen
  • Backing up crucial data before upgrading or downgrading macOS
  • Cloning Mac’s internal disk to the external storage drive

Prerequisite for Target Disk Mode

  • Two Macs, the target Mac that turns into an external storage drive via Target Disk Mode and a host Mac
  • One Connecting cable such as FireWire or Thunderbolt
  • Disable FileVault encryption, if it is enabled
System Preferences

Setting up the hardware

Before file transfer, ensure the target Mac and the host Mac use the same port. For instance, if the target Mac has a Thunderbolt port, then the host Mac must also have a Thunderbolt port. But, if two computers have different ports, then a Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor can be used.

Thunderbolt Mac

Booting into Target Disk Mode

After establishing the connection by using the appropriate cable, turn on the host Mac. On the target Mac, do any one of the following as per feasibility to boot into Target Disk Mode:

  • Turn on the target Mac, go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Startup Disk. Click on the lock icon and enter the administrator password, then click Target Disk Mode. Restart the target Mac and wait till Thunderbolt/FireWire logo appears on the screen.
Select Start-up Disk
  • Press the power button then press and hold the T key for few seconds by using the keyboard for Mac mini without a monitor or until the Thunderbolt/FireWire icon appears on display. This method is quicker and is useful if the target Mac does not boot.

Implementing the Target Disk Mode

Let’s explore different cases on how Target Disk Mode is useful:

CASE 1: Transferring large files from target Mac

As the target Mac appears as an external storage drive on the host Mac via the Target Disk Mode, you can access the target Mac via the host and transfer large files easily and efficiently. Following are the steps:

  1. On the host Mac, go to Finder and find the target Mac listed as an external drive.
  2. Select the required files and drag-drop them to the host drive or another external storage device connected to the host machine.

This one-step file transfer feature helps in transferring large files such as 4K videos at a high transfer rate. And when you’re done, eject the target Mac like any other external storage drive.

CASE 2: Booting macOS from target Mac

As the target Mac shows up as a bootable drive on the host Mac via the Target Disk Mode, you can use the bootable target Mac to start up a not-booting host Mac. This external booting helps in troubleshooting of the host Mac.

Prerequisites for booting macOS:

  • Ensure that the two Macs support the same internal hardware, as it could be possible that one Mac doesn’t have the required drivers needed for the hardware.
  • Ensure that the target Mac is running macOS version equal to or greater than the host Mac, as a lower version of macOS may not support the hardware configuration.

To boot from target Mac, perform the following steps:

  1. Press the power button on the host Mac
  2. Press & hold the Option key until the host Mac displays the connected bootable volumes.
  3. Select the target Mac to boot.
  4. After a few seconds, the host Mac will run the target Mac’s OS.

CASE 3: Recovering data from target Mac by using Stellar Data Recovery software

By using the Target Disk Mode, you can recover data from a problematic target Mac. You can back up or restore essential files from the target Mac and save them on the host Mac. This boot mode is one of the easiest and fastest ways of recovering data from a non-booting Mac.

As long as the target Mac is detected on the host Mac, you can access data present on the target Mac. Check the same from Disk Utility. You can even format, partition, clone, and repair storage drive of the target Mac on the host Mac by using Disk Utility.

Also, in scenarios wherein the target Mac is listed as unmounted, you can install and run a data recovery software on the host Mac for retrieving your files. Stellar Data Recovery Technician for Mac software easily recovers data from the unmounted drive.

Recover all your lost data from the target Mac through the following steps:

I. Run the Stellar Data Recovery software on the host Mac.

Stellar Data Recovery Technician for Mac

II. Choose file types to restore from unmounted target Mac drive.

Select Location - Technician

III. Select the target Mac storage drive and then click Scan.

Scan - Technician

IV. Preview the files recovered from the drive.

Preview - Technician

V. Save the files on the host Mac.

Recover Files - Technician


Target Disk Mode is indeed an incredible functionality in Mac that allows you to access your Mac as an external storage drive from another Mac or PC. The Mac in the Target Disk Mode does not startup macOS; therefore, even if the Mac is unbootable or damaged, you do not need to remove the storage drive to recover data.

Target Disk Mode has many usages, as outlined in the blog. In case your target Mac does not mount on the host Mac but is recognized in Disk Utility, then you can leverage Stellar Data Recovery Technician for Mac to recover data from the target Mac. To recover data from your Mac on a Windows PC, you need to use Stellar Toolkit for Data Recovery.

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