How to Perform an Upgrade Install of OS X Mavericks

Upgrade from a previous version of OS X

Hand updating software on a laptop

pxhere / CC0 Public Domain

Upgrading from a previous version of OS X is the most common method of installing OS X Mavericks. An upgrade install also offers at least two benefits over a standard install; it's a simple process, and it retains almost all of your settings, files, and apps from the version of OS X that you're currently using.

You may be wondering what the phrase "almost all" in the above sentence means. Mavericks will check to make sure that all of your apps are compatible with the OS; apps that won't work with Mavericks will be moved to an Incompatible Software folder. In addition, it's possible that some preference settings, particularly for the Finder, will need to be reconfigured. That's because Finder, along with other parts of the OS, includes some changes that will require you to modify preference settings to meet your needs.

When you use the upgrade install method, OS X Mavericks is installed over your existing system. This process replaces most system files with new ones from Mavericks but leaves your personal files and most preferences and apps alone.

Aside from these minor inconveniences, performing an upgrade install of OS X Mavericks is pretty straightforward.

OS X Mavericks was released in October of 2013 and was the first version of OS X to use place names in place of big cats as the operating system name.

Upgrade From Any Previous Version of OS X

People sometimes think of an upgrade install as only applying to the previous version of the OS; that is, you can upgrade OS X Mountain Lion to OS X Mavericks, but not an older version, such as OS X Snow Leopard. This actually is incorrect. With OS X upgrade installs, you can skip over versions of the operating system, jumping from just about any older version to a newer one. That's because upgrades since OS X Lion have included all of the core files needed since OS X Snow Leopard, and the installer is smart enough to determine the version of the OS that is being upgraded and which files are needed to bring it up to date.

So, if you have OS X Snow Leopard installed on your Mac, you don’t need to download and install Lion and Mountain Lion just to get to Mavericks; you can jump right to OS X Mavericks.

This also holds true for later versions of the operating system. So long as you have OS X Snow Leopard or later running on your Mac, you can jump to the very latest version of the Mac OS, as long as your Mac meets the minimum requirements.

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Back up Your Data Before You Upgrade to OS X Mavericks

Apple Time Machine icon



You probably won't have any issues with installing OS X Mavericks, but when you make a major change to your Mac, it's a good idea to back up your system first. That way, if anything goes wrong in the installation process, you can return your Mac to the state it was in before you started the upgrade.

Also, you may discover after upgrading that one or more of your critical apps aren't compatible with OS X Mavericks. By having a current backup, you can either return your Mac to the previous OS or create a new partition that will allow you to boot into the older OS when needed.

We highly recommend having both a Time Machine or other conventional backup of your Mac, as well as a clone of your startup drive. Some may consider this a bit of overkill but we like having a very reliable safety net.

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What You Need

OS X Mavericks installation screenshot

Coyote Moon, Inc.

  • A copy of the OS X Mavericks installer, which you can obtain from the Mac App Store. In order to access the store, you must be running OS X Snow Leopard or later.
  • A startup drive with sufficient space for the Mavericks installation. Because you're performing an upgrade install, the target destination for the upgrade will be your startup drive. The drive must have enough free space to perform the installation as well as enough free space for your OS and apps to work well after the installation is complete. Our general guideline is to keep a minimum of 15% of the drive available as free space; a larger percentage of free space is much better.
  • 650 MB additional free space on the startup drive for the Recovery HD partition that will be created during the installation process.
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Launch the OS X Mavericks Installer

OS X Mavericks installation location

Coyote Moon, Inc.

The upgrade method of installing OS X Mavericks shouldn't take too long. For most Mac users, it will take less than an hour; in some cases, it will take much less than an hour.

Upgrade Install of OS X Mavericks

When you purchase OS X Mavericks from the Mac App Store, the installer will be downloaded to your Mac and placed in the Applications folder. The download may also auto-start the installer process. In this guide, we're going to assume that either the installer didn't start on its own or you canceled the installation so you could obtain some background information on the process.

  1. Close any apps that are currently running on your Mac, including your browser. If you like, you can print this guide by selecting Print from your browser's file menu.
  2. If you previously quit the Mavericks installer, you can launch it by double-clicking the Install OS X Mavericks icon in the /Applications folder.
  3. The Mavericks installer window will open. Click the Continue button.
  4. The Mavericks license agreement will display. Read through the agreement (or not), and then click the Agree button.
  5. A dialog sheet will open stating that you have agreed to the terms of the license. Click the Agree button.
  6. The Mavericks installer will display the drive icon for your startup drive. If you have multiple drives attached to your Mac, you will also see a button labeled Show All Disks. If you need to select a different drive for the installation, click the Show All Disks button, and then select the drive you wish to use. Once the correct drive is selected, click the Install button.
  7. Enter your administrator password and click OK.
  8. The Mavericks installer will start the installation process by copying the files it needs to the selected drive. This initial copying process is relatively fast. When it's finished, your Mac will restart automatically.
  9. Once your Mac restarts, the install process will continue. This time it will take a great deal longer. The install time can range from 15 minutes to an hour or so, depending on the speed of your Mac and the type of media (hard drive, SSD) that you're installing the upgrade on.
  10. Once the installation of OS X Mavericks is complete, your Mac will restart automatically once again.
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Configure Your Mac After the Upgrade Install of OS X Mavericks

iCloud keychain

Coyote Moon, Inc.

At this point, your Mac has restarted for the second time during the OS X Mavericks install process. It may seem like your Mac is stalled, but the first startup takes a bit of time because your Mac is performing a number of one-time housekeeping chores after the initial install of the new OS.

  1. Once the housekeeping is complete, your Mac will either display a login screen or your Desktop, depending on how you had your Mac configured previously. If requested, enter your login password.
  2. If you didn't have an Apple ID set up in the previous OS, you'll be asked to provide your Apple ID and password. Supply the requested information and click the Continue button. You can also click the Set Up Later button to bypass the Apple ID step.
  3. You'll be asked if you wish to set up iCloud Keychain. This new feature in OS X Mavericks allows you to save frequently used passwords to iCloud, so you can use them on any Mac. You can set up iCloud Keychain now or later (or never). Make a selection and click Continue.
  4. If you decided to set up iCloud Keychain, continue from here; otherwise, jump to step 7.
  5. You'll be asked to create a four-digit security code for the iCloud Keychain. Enter the four digits and click Continue.
  6. Enter a telephone number that can receive SMS messages. This is part of the security system. If you need to use the four-digit security code, Apple will send an SMS message with its own set of numbers. You would then enter those numbers into a prompt, to prove that you are who you say you are. Enter the phone number and click Continue.
  7. Mavericks will display a list of applications it found that are not compatible with the OS. The applications will be automatically moved to a folder named Incompatible Software, located in the root folder of your startup drive.
  8. The iCloud preference pane will open and display the new iCloud licensing agreement. Huddle around the display with your attorney, and then place a checkmark in the "I have read and agree to the iCloud Terms and Conditions" box. Click the Continue button.
  9. At this point, you can close the iCloud preference pane.

The OS X Mavericks installation is complete.

Take some time to explore the new features of OS X Mavericks, and then get back to work (or play).