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Creating a bootable Mac OS X Lion Server USB Installer Disk

Working on hints I gleaned from this article, I’ve created my own Lion Server USB Installer. Here’s how:

For most people installing Lion Server is a case of downloading Server.app from the Apple Store and installing on top of an existing OS X Lion setup. This is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons primarily because you don’t get to use the Server set up application. If you have an existing Lion Server that you have set up this way it’s very useful to keep a Lion Server Installer USB drive handy in case you need for some reason to re-install. You cannot use Recovery Disk for this as Recovery Disk will only give you a plain vanilla Lion client install. So presuming you have Lion Server installed now put a copy of “Install Mac OS X Lion” into your Applications folder. Make sure you also have a copy of the latest Server.app there as well. At time of writing the latest download of “Install Mac OS X Lion” from the App Store is at version 1.0.16 and is 4.07 GB. The latest Server.app is at version 1.3.1. These together will install Lion Server 10.7.3. If you launch “Install Mac OS X Lion” using a blank USB or Mac partition as your target  you will see the following:




Clicking on Customize will give you the option to install Server Software:


Now when you start this installation the Server components will be downloaded to the target drive. This can take a very long time (in my case about 50 minutes), so to save myself time for future installations I shut down my computer before the reboot for the install process. If you do that you will see two folders on the target drive, one called Applications which contains the latest version of Server.app and another called  Mac OS X Install Data which contains 3 files – “indexes.product”, “MacOS_10_7_IncompatibleAppList.pkg” and “Server.Essentials.pkg”. Keep these two folders as they can be copied to future install media to save the downloading time. If these folders are on the install media the install of Sever components will only take 3 minutes.

Then at this stage you can resume the installation and when the new drive reboots you will get the Server Assistant which will guide you through either setting up a new server or importing from an existing server. To make a USB disk for future installs you only need a very basic setup with no configuration for Server services. It’s handy to keep the two folders Applications and Mac OS X Install Data on the Desktop for copying to new drives that need to have Server installed.


This is a HACK and not officially sanctioned by Apple. If you use this method you do so at your own risk!!

Leave a comment


  1. You will of course need to copy Install Mac OS X Lion to your new disk, so the final size will be about 12 GB and on a 16GB stick you can add repair utilities such as DiskWarrior etc.

  2. Note to self:
    It does help to check the Wordbooker options occasionally!

  3. This is my most popular post ever but I never see any comments. Does this work for you?

  4. Thanks for this info. I cant find it anywhere else on the web. I will try it out this evening. I purchased a mac mini server second hand and will probably be replacing the drives. I want to make sure I have a way to clean install lion server on the new drives and this post is the only way I know of to make it happen. If I put in new drives, would Apple and the Mac App store still recognize this Mac Mini Server and allow/validate the clean install of Lion server? I would prefer to not have to repurchase Server as I already own a copy of Lion and feel by purchasing this Mac Mini Server I have also purchased rights to Lion Server.

  5. I was just playing around with a new MM and found that by going to disk utility–>Restore and making a restore image to an external drive works just fine. If you do this before playing around with the drives it goes fast. To restore the image (make a clean install) you just need to boot to the “Restore HD” which will be different than the image you made but should reside on the same drive. Then using disk utility in “light mode” you can restore your image to the HD that you want by pointing your source(external HD) to the destination(internal HD.)

    Worked like a charm. I am doing this because I blow away OSX on the mini and install win7 for my work. I figured this out because at some time in the future I thought I might want OSX Server back on the box.

  6. Oh, FYI my method was derived partly from a colleague’s interaction with the genius bar at the local Apple store. This is more or less the method they used to do a clean install for him on a MBP he was having trouble with.

    Thanks for posting this info.

  7. This will not work with Mountain Lion, so don’t get too excited! Nuff said till release.

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