How to Update a Mac

Keep your Mac running clean and efficient

What to Know

  • Update Macs running macOS Mojave (10.14) or later by selecting System Preferences > Software Update.
  • Update Macs running macOS High Sierra (10.13) or earlier through the App Store.
  • You can find information about the latest security updates on Apple’s security update page.

This article explains how to keep your Mac computer updated from regular security patches to major new macOS versions and whether you're updating manually or automatically.

Before updating your Mac, it’s a good idea to create a backup to ensure you don’t lose any data—especially if you’re installing a new version. You can easily do this using Apple’s free Time Machine backup tool and an external hard drive.

How to Update a Mac Running macOS Mojave or Later

Apple regularly releases updates for its Mac operating system, macOS. While it can be tempting to delay or put off installing these updates altogether, keeping your Mac up-to-date is essential. Apple’s software updates frequently fix security vulnerabilities, general bugs and sometimes even add new features.

If you’ve purchased a Mac since 2018, it most likely has macOS Mojave (10.14), Catalina (10.15), or Big Sur (11). Here's how to install an update for these versions of macOS.

If you’re unsure which version of macOS your Mac uses, open the Apple menu in the top left-hand corner of the screen and click About This Mac. A window will open showing your Mac’s operating system information, as well as other vital specs. You can also initiate a system software update from this screen!

  1. Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your screen to open a drop-down menu.

    Opening Apple menu on Mac desktop.
  2. Click System Preferences.

    Opening System Preferences on Mac desktop.
  3. Click Software Update.

    Opening Software Update on Mac.
  4. Click Update Now. If you haven’t upgraded to macOS Big Sur yet, click Upgrade Now instead.

    Confirming Software Update on Mac.
  5. If you’d like updates to be installed automatically, check off the box next to Automatically keep my Mac up to date.

    Checking off automatic updates under Mac Software Update.
  6. Click Advanced… to bring up automatic update controls:

    • Check for updates: Your Mac will automatically check for updates when available and display a notification in the top-right corner of the screen.
    • Download new updates when available: Automatically download system updates.
    • Install macOS updates: Install system software updates automatically.
    • Install app updates from App Store: Automatically install updates for any apps you own.
    • Install system data files and security updates: Software Updates will automatically install specific security updates and system files that do not require a restart.
    Selecting advanced options under Mac Software Update.

    Even with automatic downloads and installations turned on, you may still need to restart your Mac for certain updates to take effect.

How to Update a Mac Running macOS High Sierra and Earlier

Unfortunately, Macs running older versions of macOS can’t download updates using the above method. Here’s how to update your Mac if it’s running High Sierra (10.13), Sierra (10.12), or an earlier OS.

  1. Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your screen.

  2. Select App Store…

    Selecting Apple App Store from Mac Desktop.
  3. Click Updates in the left sidebar.

    Checking Apple App Store updates on Mac.
  4. If a macOS update is available, click Update. You’ll also be able to download updates for Mac apps on this screen.

    If your Mac computer was released in 2012 or later, it should be able to update to at least macOS Catalina. You can find a full list of Macs that support macOS Catalina.

How to Upgrade to a New Version of macOS

Apple typically puts out new versions of macOS once a year. The most recent version, Big Sur, was released in November 2020 and included a user interface design, a revamped version of Time Machine, and support for Macs with ARM-based processors.

Beginning with Mavericks (10.9) in 2013, every new version of macOS has been made available for free for all Mac owners. 



Here’s how to upgrade your Mac to the latest version of macOS it will support.

  1. Launch the App Store.

  2. Type “macOS” into the search bar.

    Searching for macOS updates on App Store.
  3. Find the version of macOS you’d like to download and click VIEW.

    Locating macOS Big Sur in App Store.
  4. Click GET to begin downloading. You may need to enter your Apple ID password or use Touch ID to confirm.

    Downloading MacOS Big Sur from App Store.
  5. Once the download is complete, installation should begin automatically. This can take up to a few hours to complete.

FAQ
  • Why is my Mac not updating?

    If you receive an error while updating macOS, try installing the update in Safe Mode. You can also use Disk Utility to repair your startup disk, then re-attempt the update. If no other solutions work, you can erase your Mac and reinstall the OS.

  • How do you update software on a Mac?

    You can keep your software updated on a Mac using the App Store. Open the Apple menu to see if you have any updates available, then select App Store if you do. Once the App Store opens, select Updates to download them.

  • How do you uninstall programs on a Mac?

    Select the Finder icon in the Dock, then choose Applications. Drag the software you want to remove to the Trash icon. Or, if it's in a folder, check to see if it has an uninstaller and run it.

  • How do you free up space on a Mac?

    Transfer documents, photos, and other files to iCloud to free up physical storage space. You can also go into the Storage Management tool and select Optimize Storage, which automatically removes Apple TV films and shows you've watched and removes older email attachments. Lastly, set your Recycle Bin to automatically delete its contents after 30 days to keep those unwanted files from piling up.

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