How and Why to Make a Lion Boot Disc

Though my initial knee-jerk reaction to the news that Apple were making Mac OS X Lion available only through the Mac App Store was one of disapproval, upon reflection the decision makes sense from an environmental standpoint at least. There will be trees saved without those retail boxes needing to be made, in addition to fuel and emissions saved from the various vehicles which would have been needed to transport those boxes to their destinations – not to mention a digital distribution method fits in with Apple’s minimalist ethos and their slow but steady march to a complete rejection of physical media.

That’s great and all, but there are situations in which a physical copy of OS X is very useful, such as if the user desires a completely fresh install, or to upgrade several Macs at once, or those wishing to skip Snow Leopard altogether and move from Leopard straight to Lion. If you have any of these needs or just want a physical copy as a means of insurance, read on after the break because we’ve got you covered…

Snow Leopard required?

Snow Leopard is required for initial purchase

Snow Leopard is required for initial purchase

There has been some confusion about whether Snow Leopard is, as Apple states, required for installing Lion. The fact that you need the Mac App Store to receive OS X Lion and that this in turn requires OS X Snow Leopard implies that users need to be running Snow Leopard to enjoy Apple’s latest big cat, but this is only partly true.

In order to purchase your copy of OS X Lion today, you do indeed need to be running Snow Leopard, at least to initially get your hands on Lion. But, crucially, once you have your purchased copy of Lion downloaded, there’s no reason why you can’t then burn the image to DVD, upgrading any other Macs which meet the required hardware minimum specifications too!

Getting Started

The initial steps needed to prepare your Mac may be obvious to most Mac.Appstorm readers but let’s quickly run through them all the same: Make sure your Mac is fully updated, both through “Software Update” and your individual apps too, then backup fully. Now head over to the Mac App Store in order to purchase Lion. This done, Lion will sit in the Dock and download into your Applications folder.

It is important that you follow the next step before continuing forward and installing Lion because the installation process deletes your image file when installing.

After installing Lion, a recovery partition will be inserted on your Mac from which you can perform a fresh installation, access Disk Utility or the other installation DVD tools. Just hold down the option key on boot to access this

Burning To DVD

Navigate To Lion Installer

Navigate To Lion Installer

Once Lion has been downloaded, navigate to the Mac OS X Lion installer located within your Applications folder and then right click to bring up the “Show Package Contents” option. You should now be presented with a folder titled “SharedSupport” and within that you will find an image file named “InstallESD.dmg” – this is in fact the Lion disc image, so copy the .dmg to your Desktop.

Copy InstallESD.dmg to Desktop

Copy InstallESD.dmg to Desktop

Next you need to fire up Disk Utility and click the “Burn” button. Select the “InstallESD.dmg” file currently sat on your Desktop, and burn the DVD – it’s that simple! You will now have a Mac OS X Lion boot DVD which you can use to upgrade your Mac. This DVD will work just as well as the supported App Store process, though I believe you will need an internet connection so that Lion can connect to Apple’s servers and authenticate its purchase. Just power on your Mac while holding down the “C” key to begin installing.

Boot From External Hard Drive or USB Stick

Creating The Lion Boot Disc

Creating The Lion Boot Disc

Those with MacBook Air or any other Mac without an optical drive might prefer to boot OS X Lion from an external hard drive or USB stick. To do this, you’ll need an empty partition formatted to Mac OS Extended (Journaled) with at least 4.7GB of space free, though it wouldn’t hurt to round it up to 5GB if you’ve got the space. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve named my partition ‘LION BOOT DISC’ and will refer to it as such for the remainder of this article.

Follow the process outlined previously in order to place the “InstallESD.dmg” image file on your Mac’s Desktop and then double click that image to mount it. Open Disk Utility once more and select ‘LION BOOT DISC’ from the left hand pane. You should be presented with the screenshot above.

Now we need to point Disk Utility into the right place. Select “Restore” from the right hand pane and ensure that the “Destination” box contains ‘LION BOOT DISC’ and that the “Erase destination” box is ticked. If this is the case, drag the image file titled “Mac OS X Install ESD” over from the left pane to the “Source” box. Make sure everything looks correct, matching up with the screenshot below then click “Restore”.

Restore external HDD

Restore external HDD

It should only take a few minutes to create your Lion boot drive and once the process is complete, you’ll be able to boot from the external hard drive as though it were a DVD. Simply power on or restart your Mac with the external hard drive inserted and hold down the option key while your computer powers up. After a moment, you’ll be able to select the hard drive and drive and follow the standard Mac OS X installation procedure.


Creating a Lion Boot Disc is both quite handy and extremely easy if you know what you’re doing. Be sure to read these instructions carefully before proceeding and make sure you follow each step precisely. Having a Lion backup on disc will definitely be worth the trouble, even if you plan on installing via the App Store initially.

Leave a comment below and let us know if you have made, or are planning to make, a Lion boot disc. Why or why not?


Add Yours
  • I DID in fact need the Snow Leopard DVD after a clean install and here’s why:

    I do video editting on my Mac and I own Final Cut Studio 2. While the whole Final Cut Studio 2 package is Universal Binaries, the installer is not. But Lion discarded Rosette, so what should I do? Of course, I could install Snow Leo, install FCS2, then install Lion, but I want a clean install.

    The reason I needed the Snow Leo DVD is, because you can still install Rosetta from this DVD onto the clean installed Lion and then install FCS2. Sadly, Rosetta cannot be easily copied from the Snow Leo DVD to keep somewhere seperately, but I’ll have to experiment more with that.

    • Really? Rosetta can be installed from the Snow Leopard install disc and it will work under Lion? That’s great news.


      One other thing I noticed about clean Lion installation is that none of the earlier stock desktop pictures are present, only the ones that are exclusive to Lion. I wonder If there are any other things that might be missing from clean installations…

  • Thanks so much appstorm! I’ve got snow leopard but my father has leopard and he is still tossing up whether to upgrade to snow leopard first and then to lion. I just wanted to ask before I went ahead and surprised him with this – is this legal? Apple is extremely picky with legalities and such and I wouldn’t want to do the wrong thing by the people who brought us this wonderful product!

  • I think it’s a must. You never know what might happen!

    p.s. How to Make a Lion Boot Disc, and Why! would be a lovely title ;)

  • So I would have to buy Snow Leopard before I could upgrade to Lion and I would have to make an account at the app store? You know I’m beginning to hate Apple as much as I hate Microsoft!

    • Dude…it’s $30. Chill.

  • I used the Restore to USB method on an 8GB Sandisk Cruzer Blade. Rebooted, formatted my HDD with Disk Utility, and clean installed. If you go this route (clean install) don’t forget to deactivate any software you’d like to use again after re-installing! (Ex. iTunes authorization, Adobe Creative Suite, etc.)

  • Hi Adam – very useful info. The only problem that I can see is that the instructions above don’t work *after* you’ve installed Lion.

    I purchased, downloaded and installed Lion last night but didn’t find your post until today, suggesting that the installer gets completely removed after it’s been run.

    I don’t suppose you know if a cached copy has been left anywhere, do you? If there is one, I can’t find it …

    Other than that, Lion has been OK. I say “OK” instead of something better simply because it a) removed all my carefully prepared trackpad gestures then changed little things like the direction the scroll wheel makes things scroll and b) Mission Control and LaunchPad seem kinda gimicky – I can’t see myself getting much use out of them.

    • It appears that there isn’t a copy cached anywhere, I’m afraid.

      I haven’t been able to find a workaround if you’ve already installed Lion as of yet, unless you’re running a golden master.

      It appears that those running the GM can simply go to the app store and hold down option while clicking ‘installed’ – this causes Lion to re-download and you can grab it then.

      • No problem, thanks for the response, Adam. BTW, Josh’s response below is basically the same as yours only he says Option-click ‘Purchases’ whereas I was Option-clicking ‘Installed’ after reading your response – I was Option-clicking the wrong button until I read that suggestion. :-)

    • Redownloading Lion: Option-click on “Purchases” then click “Install” by Lion. Then make that boot disc!

      • That’s it! Thanks Josh! :-D

  • App store Smapp store. If you want to watch the range and quality of software available for your Mac decline even more rapidly, don’t complain to Apple about making the App store the only way to buy most software.

    First, let’s start with the term “App.” That alone diminishes real software that is full featured and capable. An app does has a very limited range, often single purpose and single function. So if you are a developer of a real software package, you are suddenly competing with the “price image” of an app as opposed to, again, a full featured software package. To many users of mobile devices limited function “Apps” are all they can use and all they likely need. That’s fine. For the rest of us who live and work on our computers and likely make a living with them – that suks.

    Developers spend thousand of hours perfecting their software, they cannot sell it for $9.95 or even $19.95. Apple has made it labor intensive enough to develop for a small segment of total software users, by forcing new languages and new methods – admittedly some good – on developers. Meaning total rewrites every few years. If you are a developer/programmer making a living from your efforts, this makes life and Macs less attractive.

    NOW add the fact that Apple is trying to force you to give them a good percentage of everything you produce, and does nothing to help you market but place you among thousands of often not comparable “products” and you have futher oppression of the Mac developer world. Ok I like you Steve and all that you did to revive the Mac for all of us, but when is enough money enough money????

    Give us a test we have to pass with our software to prove it’s functionality on the Mac – that’s fine. But leave us as many avenues as we can find to develop our audience and sell our work!!!

    • I highly disagree. Look at what Adobe has done with their “developer power”. And the term “app” is just short for application, which is a word that defined Mac software since the 80s. I know, I’ve used Macs since 1986.
      And lets take Adobe as an example for writing software…if Adobe had followed Apple’s recommendation for turning to Xcode to rewrite their applications, we as their customers would have better products to use to get our work done nowadays. But instead they insist on writing over the top of millions of lines of ancient code. Only bothering to update what needs to be updated. That why developers of “apps” are going to gain more and more of a foothold. They are writing software that is streamlined for a specific purpose. It doesn’t do everything that Adobe applications do, but it certainly can do it as well, or in many cases, better. Take Hype, for example. Well, that’s enough ranting.

    • What a crap!

      Who said App means a simple set of features, where had you been all that time?
      Tim’s answer is good too, also publishing to App Store you have wider audience, cheaper marketing budget, hassle free server maintenance so and so forth even individual developers can evenly compete with Adobe like powerhouse (Eg. Adobe Vs Pixelmatter)
      So what for all that hassle Apple keep a margin?

      On the user side you have cheaper, focused build by innovative people software for cheaper price, easier, downloaded and license keeping. Tough competition innovate them further.

      You are J.R. Lakeside, way into negatives

    • If there is one more thing Apple should do right now, it is to make Mac App Store the only place people could buy software. It would force all Mac developers to comfort to the most strict API and security standard, it would eliminate all non-standard hack coding such as code injection and haxie and make our platform far more stable. It will also keep developers from reinventing the wheel in the name of user interface enhancement and instead direct their talent to make something more useful and advanced.

      Don’t worry, Post-PC era is here to stay. Eventually everything will be just a variation of iOS, and most people shouldn’t care about stuff like creating a boot disc manually. We shouldn’t have to worry about this. We should be able to just get to work using a handful of innovative apps without tinkering and breaking stuff.

      • I strongly disagree, and I would also suggest you be careful with your tone as well. ;)

        Desktop software market is vastly different from mobile phone software market. Besides, what’s wrong with enhancing your workflow and efficiency with many third-party software? Apple wouldn’t be adding 250+ features if it didn’t matter. Besides, very few, if any at all, apps advocate and implement nasty code injection and weird hacks these days. I suggest you learn more about how this stuff works before posting angry comments. ;)

  • Great Article! Was looking for a way to do this..


  • So, my only question is, if I bought my Lion copy and I want to put it on my wife’s laptop but she has her own account where she didn’t purchase Lion, will this work?

    I mean, this is what threw me off a bit:

    “though I believe you will need an internet connection so that Lion can connect to Apple’s servers and authenticate its purchase.”

    So please let me know what’s the answer here pelase!!


    • I don’t think that will work (although I’m not 100% sure). I’m currently using my Mac Mini and can download all the apps I purchased on my Macbook Pro – obviously I’m signed into the Mac App Store as the same account on both machines. However, if I sign in as my girlfriend’s account it looks like I have to buy OS X Lion again.

  • You should be able to just login with your apple id on her computer. you can purchase one app to be used on mulitiple computers. No need for her to buy her own copy. Each Family member has a separate apple id. we just log on to each other devices and selected apps that we want on our device that the other has. a little time consuming but worth to save the $$

  • inb4 piracy

  • hi Joel,
    i as usual, screwed up. i downloaded lion the minute it was released, and installed it on my white macbook, now i have low disk space and i want to clean install.. once i got over the net i read articles that you need to make a bootable dvd or usb drive.

    is there a way i can clean install lion now?

  • It took me 2 hours to download on broadband a copy of the Lion software to my 2nd edition MacBook Air. The installation procedure seemed to go quite smoothly, so that I was able to do other things and not have to constantly watch the laptop screen. However, my Eudora Email & Office for Mac (Word, Excel etc) have now both been declared non operational. I have been trying out the default Mail software and find while I was able to migrate from Eudora into it, Im now unable to send or receive any emails. I dont particularly like Mail it looks rather juvenile. My Word and Excel files wont open in Lion despite the software supposedly being the latest version. Any ideas for other email software I can use (my ISP requires 2 different passwords one for collection and another one for sending thru POP). Thanks. Paul

  • Here are detailed instructions in German on how to create a Lion Bootdisc or a USB-Bootstick for those who have difficulties with the english instructions (like me ;-)):
    Anleitung: Mac OSX Lion 10.7 – bootbaren USB Stick erstellen

  • Nice Article! This guide is really useful for me.

  • I have leopard and I want to upgrade to Lion. However, I have a question: I don’t want to do a clean install. Is that possible too?