How to Update Your MacBook Air Laptop

Is a macOS update available for MacBook Air and how do you install it?

MacBook Air

Brian Kersey / Getty Images

The operating system on your MacBook Air gets updated from time to time to introduce new features and, perhaps more importantly, to fix bugs and improve security.

There are different ways to update your MacBook Air. We'll look at all the ways for you to get this done.

Before updating your MacBook Air, make sure to have a good backup in place. Most of the time you won't run into any problems, but the one time something goes wrong may be the time you don't have a good backup.

How to Update MacBook Air: macOS Mojave and Later

Searching for software update

macOS Mojave (10.14) introduced a new way to check for operating system updates. Here's how it's done now:

  1. From the menu bar, select the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the screen.

  2. Select System Preferences...

  3. Select Software Update.

  4. If your MacBook Air finds a new update, select Update Now.

If your MacBook doesn't find a new update, a message will appear that says, "Your Mac is up to date." If it does find a new update, select Update Now to begin the update process.

Depending on the size of the update, this can take a few minutes or up to an hour.

How to Update MacBook Air: macOS High Sierra and Earlier

High Sierra update

If you're running macOS High Sierra (10.13) or an earlier operating system, such as El Capitan (10.11) or Yosemite (10.10), you'll have to update your MacBook Air using a slightly different route. Here it is:

  1. Open the App Store on your MacBook Air.

  2. In the menu bar at the top of the App Store window, select the Updates tab.

  3. If a "Software Update" is available, select UPDATE.

Once again, depending on the size of the update, this can take a few minutes to nearly an hour. Once the update has finished, your MacBook Air will restart.

Make a Backup Before Updating

Time Machine backup

While a backup is rarely ever needed when updating a MacBook Air, it's still a good idea to make one, just in case something goes wrong during the update process.

  1. Connect an external storage device to your MacBook, such as a Thunderbolt, USB, or FireWire hard drive.

  2. From the menu bar, select the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the Mac screen.

  3. Select System Preferences...

  4. Select Time Machine > Select Backup Disk…

  5. Select the external drive you're using, then select Encrypt backups.

  6. Select Use Disk.

This will begin the backup process, which will be regularly and automatically repeated in the future if you keep the Time Machine linked to your storage device in the ON position.

Can Your Mac Run the Latest Operating System?

About My Mac

One other thing you may like to do before updating is to check the compatibility of your MacBook Air with the macOS version you want to download and install. Once again, this isn't entirely necessary, but it can give you an idea of whether your Mac will be able to upgrade to that version or not.

For instance, if you're aiming to download macOS Catalina, Apple's website states that you'll need a mid-2012 MacBook Air (or later). It also notes that you can update directly to Mojave from any macOS stretching back to 2012's OS X Mountain Lion.

Likewise, here's what you'll need if you're planning to update to any of the following operating systems:

  • macOS Mojave or Catalina: MacBook Air from mid-2012 or newer; OS X Mavericks (10.9) or later.
  • macOS Sierra or High Sierra: MacBook Air from late 2010 (or later); OS X Lion or later (Mountain Lion in the case of High Sierra)
  • OS X El Capitan: MacBook Air from late 2008 (or later); OS X Snow Leopard or later
  • OS X Yosemite: MacBook Air from late 2008 (or later); OS X Snow Leopard or later

You can do the following to find out which operating system your MacBook Air is running:

  1. Select the Apple icon in the upper-left corner of the Mac home screen.

  2. Select About This Mac.

  3. You'll see the version of the operating system displayed in the window that appears.