How to Install Minecraft Mods to Customize Your Game

On its own Minecraft is an awesome game you can lose yourself in for days upon days. With mods installed, Minecraft is the kind of game you can play for years as you can continually reinvent the game with new layers of complexity and content.

Why Mod Minecraft?

Mods allow you to do everything from enhance the vanilla Minecraft experience by rendering the graphics more smoothly and adding in minor enhancements (like an on-screen navigation map), to completely overhauling the game to have extra items, different mobs, and even different game mechanics.

Even if you have no desire whatsoever to greatly alter the vanilla Minecraft experience, we’re still going to urge you to mod your game. Mods like Optifine do nothing to change the basic game mechanics but radically improve the graphics rendering on even beefy computers, and add-ons like shaders also preserve the game mechanics but turn Minecraft from an 8-bit experience to a beautiful 3D one. There’s a mod to help everyone from the diehard purist to the game-overhauler.

Before we proceed, we do want to emphasize the importance of a good backup. Unlike resource packs, modifications actually changes the game. While 99 percent of the time this change is good and introduces super awesome new features to Minecraft, very rarely you can corrupt something, permanently alter a game world you’ve been working on, or otherwise have an unpleasant experience.

As such, we strongly recommend fully backing up your Minecraft directory or at minimum, your game worlds, before proceeding. Refer to our guide to backing up Minecraft for the full rundown on how to back up your game.

That caution aside (although we’ve never had a problem running mods, we insist on good backup procedures) it’s time to dig right in to experimenting with Minecraft mods.

Also worth noting, before we proceed, is that there is presently no mod loader system for Minecraft Pocket Edition or Minecraft Console Edition. There could in theory, be a mod loader in the future for PE, but it’s highly improbable there will ever be a mod system for consoles outside of an officially developed one.

What Are Mod Loaders and What Do I Need?

We’ve bandied the phrase mod and “mod loader” around a few times already in this tutorial. Let’s clear things up before we move on.

In broad game terms, a “mod” is anything that modifies a game although it is typically reserved for things that modify the game code beyond superficial changes. Changing your Minecraft skin or even retexturing the in-game blocks and mobs isn’t usually referred to as modding but as retexturing or reskinning the game because you haven’t changed any actual gameplay elements — the mobs aren’t harder, there are no new weapons, there aren’t any extra levels, etc.

Forge is both a mod and mod loader simultaneously. It modifies the game in order to provide a standardized API for other mods. Forge by itself does absolutely nothing to change the game. If you just install Forge and play the game you’ll experience nothing different than if you had left the game completely vanilla. What Forge does behind the scenes, is create an interface that mod designers can use to plug their modifications into the Minecraft game engine.

Although Forge is the primary mod loader used by the Minecraft modding community, there is also a small secondary loader that is used for a handful of very cool client-side mods. Liteloader is, as its name implies, a very light mod loader that some mods and game overhaul packages require in order to apply all their modifications and settings. Since Minecraft 1.6.4, it has been possible to chain your installations of Forge and Liteloader to use mods for both systems successfully side-by-side.

We’re focused on Forge because 99 percent of Minecraft mods use it. Liteloader is great, but unless you run into a specific mod you want that relies on it, it’s typically unnecessary to install it.

Are There Any Downsides To Modding?

At this point we’ve been talking modding up pretty hard (and sincerely so as we do love a well modded Minecraft game), but if you’re a cautious person (you should cautious when messing around with your computer and software), you’re surely curious if there are any true risks involved.

After years of modding Minecraft, we’ve never had any serious issues with anything and the chance of anything catastrophic happening to your game is very slim, and the chance of anything happening to your computer is nonexistent.

One thing we will caution is that Minecraft gets very unhappy if you willy-nilly switch a world between a modded and unmodded state, especially when the mods inject major changes into the game. As a simple example: let’s say you install a mod that adds new building blocks and you build a castle out of those blocks. Further, let’s say you completely decorate that castle with vanilla game items like picture frames, chests, and torches. If you take that map and load it in a vanilla game where those mod-added block values correspond to nothing, your castle will literally vanish and all your decorations will be sitting in piles on the dirt you built the castle upon.

In that regard, the biggest risk that comes with modding isn’t screwing up your computer or anything that grave, but in screwing up your creations. In an upcoming Minecraft lesson we’re going to explore some great techniques for keeping all your mods sorted and how to keep your modded worlds from colliding or worse, imploding. In the meantime, however, just know that you need to always load a world with the same mods lest you remove or break elements (like those castle blocks) that require the modded components.

There are two other “risks” worth looking at. One, mods (and Forge itself) tend to trail behind the current release of Minecraft. If you find a mod you love, and we’re sure you will, you’ll oftentimes find yourself playing an older version of Minecraft longer (and potentially missing out on future bug fixes and new features) simply because you can’t bear to part with your favorite mod.

Two, you’re probably going to get addicted to cool mods and messing around with mods will likely (for a time anyway) consume as much time as actually playing the game. That’s a small price to enjoy a radically expanded game experience though, right?

On a more serious note, follow these modding rules and you should avoid nearly any trouble you might encounter:

  • Backup when you start and backup before any major changes or new mods.
  • Only load mods that match your Minecraft version. While a 1.7.2 mod might still work fine on Minecraft 1.7.9 there’s no way a 1.6.x mod will work on a 1.7.x game and vice versa; crashes are guaranteed.
  • Never download an executable mod installer unless the mod is expressly vouched for on the official Minecraft forums or another very trusted source, and certainly not from the first random search results you come across.

By following these three simple rules, you’ll effectively avoid just about every modding pitfall out there.

Where to Find Mods?

We’re going to spend more than a few lessons focused on mods of all stripes, but before we do it’s only fair to show you the best places to get mods so you get a head start exploring and getting excited about modding!

The Official Minecraft Forums: Just like with the resource packs, the ultimate authority and the place to find the most updated stuff is the official forums. The Minecraft Mapping and Modding forum is bustling and full of mods of all sizes. Rare is the mod that isn’t announced and play tested here first, then later added to the mod archive sites we’re about to list.

Planet Minecraft: Is there anything Minecraft-related the folks over at Planet Minecraft aren’t cataloging? They’re good for skins, resource packs, server listings, and of course, mods. You can sort by new, what’s hot, most popular, most looked at, and the most downloaded, as well as by category and game version.

They also have a real handy “completion” meter that mod authors can fill in to give you a sense of whether or not the mod is a work in progress (that you’ll be essentially play testing for better or worse), or a completed project. Don’t let the completion rating put you off by the way, some of these modders are just perfectionists and 70 percent done is still pretty darn cool.

MinecraftMods: It’s not the flashiest or most in-depth site around, but we’ve had great luck finding some neat mods just meandering around looking in the simple categories here.

Installing Forge Mod Loader

The official Forge website is a large discussion forum and file storage for the Forge community. You can use Forge without registering for the discussion forum but in the rare case that you run into a problem that can’t be solved by searching the numerous posts, you can start your own discussion topic with a registered account.

For our purposes, we’re going to jump right into installing the mod loader. As of this tutorial the current version of Forge is 10.13.0.x for Minecraft release 1.7.10. Barring running into problems with the most current release or purposely using an older version of Minecraft in order to use older mods (like 1.6-era mods that haven’t been updated), there’s typically no reason to use a less-than-current version of Forge.

Go ahead and visit the Forge file repository and grab the current edition. You’ll notice that you can grab either an installer JAR file, a Windows .EXE installer, or a universal JAR file. Although we’ve cautioned you against wantonly downloading executable files because of the sheer number of scam Minecraft sites out there, it’s okay to use the installation executable in this case, and it’s much easier than manually editing JAR files to insert the mod.

Once you’ve downloaded the installer, go ahead and run it, just make sure you’re not running Minecraft of the Minecraft loader when you run the installer.

You’ll be given three options: install client, install server, or extract. We’re interested, at this point in the modding process, in installing the client mod loader. Select “Install client” and ensure that the directory listing in the path box is the path to the Minecraft profile directory you want.

The loader will grab files from the file repository and then announce a successful installation. Don’t be surprised if Windows pops up a program compatibility inquiry window and asks if the program installed correctly, the Forge installer confuses it a bit.

After installation, you need to run the Minecraft Launcher and select the “Forge” profile:

Click “Play” and launch Minecraft. You do not need to actually play the game. You do need to successfully launch the game and check the main menu, though.

In a regular vanilla Minecraft install, there will only be one bit of text in the lower left corner: the game name and the version number. In a Forge-modded version of Minecraft there will be the game name and version plus four additional lines: the Minecraft Coder Pack, Forge Mod Loader, and Minecraft Forge version numbers plus the number of mods loaded and the number of mods active.

In addition to that, the “Minecraft Realms” button is reduced in size and paired with a new button “Mods.” If you click on the Mods button you’ll see all the installed mods (active or inactive).

On the left-hand side you’ll see all your mods. On the right hand side you’ll see a description of the mod that helps clarify what it does and often includes instructions. In addition there is a “Config” button and a “Disable” button under the mod list.

The three default mods: Minecraft Coder Pack, Forge Mod Loader, and Minecraft Forge are core mods and cannot be disabled. Other mods can be toggled on and off. The “Config” button allows you to, when applicable, configure mod-specific settings. We’d strongly advise against making any changes to any of the core mods unless a very specific error or error log combined with research on the Forge forums leads you to a very specific configuration solution. The options are very arcane and in our years of modding we’ve never had to change even one of them.

In addition to simply confirming that Forge works properly by running it immediately after installation (and before attempting to install any mods) we also allowed Forge to do a little housekeeping (moving various files, creating directories, etc.).

Installing Your First Mod

Installation confirmed, it’s time to install our first mod. While it’s tempting turn yourself into a My Little Pony, grab a Portal Gun, or radically expand your choice of in-game blocks right off the bat, we’re going to steer you toward installing the one mod that everyone (regardless of their love of Portal or My Little Pony) should install: Optifine.

Whether you play Minecraft on an old laptop or a beefy gaming rig, Optifine is a fantastic mod that does an extraordinary job improving the graphics performance in Minecraft. Even if you’re the most pure of the purist player, it’s foolish not to install it. Regardless of how much we love Minecraft, we’ll be the first to recognize that the code is a bit on the sloppy side and could use the optimizations that Optifine provides.

To download Optifine, visit the official site. From the downloads section, grab a copy of the mod. Remember to grab a copy that matches your Minecraft version number. In our demonstration today, we’ll grab the 1.7.10 version to match the version of Minecraft and Forge we’re working with. While the majority of mods you’ll find are just one bundle like SomeCoolMod, you’ll notice that Optifine is subdivided into Ultra/Standard/Light for most Minecraft releases.

As you might imagine, Ultra makes the most changes to your game and includes the most optimizations, standard takes a middle-of-the-road-approach and balances optimizations with performance considerations, and Light is designed for low-end desktop and laptop machines that are really struggling with Minecraft.

If you read the fine print, you’ll notice that Optifine Light has a note indicating it isn’t compatible with Forge. Not compatible with Forge? How is the mod installable without Forge? Optifine can actually be installed without forge as a totally standalone mod, which is extremely rare in the Minecraft modding world.

All three versions of Optifine can be run as a Java executable and they will create a new Minecraft profile called Optifine. This is a great option for players who want an absolute vanilla experience with improved graphics rendering (and no chance of using other mods) or for players with computers that struggle so much with any extra additions that Optifine is the only thing they want to install. We recommend against limiting yourself to just installing Optifine by itself; instead we’re going to add it to Forge’s mod list where it will load alongside the rest of mods.

Mods come in two file container formats: .JAR and .ZIP. Optifine is a .JAR but if it were a .ZIP the procedure would be the same. You do not unpack the container; you simply place the container file into the /mods/ sub-folder of your Minecraft profile folder that was created during the Forge installation. After that, simply run Minecraft again and load one of your worlds.

Once in your world, you can confirm the installation of Optifine by pressing F3 to load the on-screen debug interface like so:

Note the readout on the 3 line in the upper left corner. The end of the line has been annotated to include “Optifine_1.7.10_HD_A4”. Optifine is also listed in the mod list on the right-hand side of the screen. Optifine has been successfully loaded, we’re enjoying the automatic graphic rendering improvements that come with the mod, and all we had to do was download a file and then drag and it into a folder.

Press “ESC” to bring up the in-game menu, and then look in Options -> Video Settings, you’ll find that your Video Settings menu is radically expanded and includes very helpful mouse-over hint boxes. If you’re a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of settings there, don’t worry. Tomorrow’s lesson is focused completely on the benefits of Optifine and how to work your way through each of the video options to really maximize performance (and even fix some minor annoyances).

In the meantime let’s talk about minimizing your mod-installing frustrations.

Banish Mod Installation Frustrations with This Checklist

In all our years of modding games, including Minecraft, the vast majority of any issues, frustrations, or headaches we’ve had can be directly traced back to us being too excited/hasty in our mod selection. We’ll save you a bunch of headaches and troubleshooting by providing this simple checklist.

Before working through the checklist, take the time to write down or otherwise note the version of Minecraft you’re using as well as the version of Forge installed. Use this checklist for any new mod you’re considering installing.

  • Is the mod compatible with my current version of Minecraft or at least from the general release version? For example, we’re running 1.7.10, so is the mod indicated to work with 1.7.10 or at least with the general 1.7.x release?
  • Is the mod compatible with my current version of Forge? This is much less flexible than the general release version spread for Minecraft itself. For example, if a mod says it needs Forge version or higher, it means exactly that.
  • Does the mod documentation (always look for an official thread on the official Minecraft forums, if possible) indicate any conflicts with my current version of Minecraft, Forge, or any mods you have currently installed? e.g. Optifine, etc.

Just by working your way through this simple three-point checklist you’ll save yourself from pretty much any modding headache. If you follow this checklist and you still run into a problem, the easiest way to start the troubleshooting process is to work backward from the most recently installed mod. Disable it from the Minecraft start menu (if Minecraft fully loads and the problems arise after you start playing the game) or, if the game won’t even load, remove the mod entirely from the /mod/ folder or rename the modname.JAR or modname.ZIP file to modename.OLD to disable it.

In addition to disabling it to confirm the mod in question is the one causing the trouble, you can also look in the /logs/ folder, read the log, and look at what error was created when the mod in question crashed the game. Don’t be alarmed at how cryptic the log files usually are, just look for the last entry before the game crashed and then search for the contents of those last few lines on the Minecraft forums to look for other users who have posted questions about similar error codes.

With Forge and Optifine under your belt you’re ready to tackle just about any Minecraft modding situation. Now is a great time to revisit the Where to Find Mods section above and search out cool mods to take for a spin.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.