How to Update Your iPhone's Software

iTunes App on an iPhone
Getty Images / Iain Masterton

Did you know that Apple often updates iOS, adding new features and cool new tools? To make sure that your iPhone is running the latest version of iOS, you'll need to connect it to your computer and download the update using iTunes. But don't worry: the process is pretty painless. Here's a guide that explains exactly how to get the latest iOS software on your iPhone.

Apple delivers its iPhone software updates through iTunes, so the first thing you should do is make sure you have the most recent version of iTunes running on your computer.

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Before You Update Your iPhone, Update iTunes

To update iTunes, go to the "Help" menu, and select "Check for updates."

If iTunes says you have the most recent version, you're all set to move on to Step Two. If iTunes tells you that a more recent version of the application is available, download it.

Accept all prompts necessary to install the updated software. Note: Apple's updater is likely to suggest additional software that you can download (such as the Safari browser); none of this is necessary. You can download it if you like, but you don't need it to update iTunes.

Once the iTunes update has downloaded, it will begin installing itself automatically. When the installation is complete, you may need to restart your computer in order to run the new version of iTunes.

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Connect Your iPhone to Your Computer

Once you restart your computer (if you had to restart it), open iTunes again. You'll have to review and accept the iTunes Software License Agreement before the new version will launch.

When you have iTunes open, connect your iPhone to your computer using its USB cable. (You may see your computer automatically installing the necessary drivers; if so, let this run.)

Once all the necessary drivers are installed, iTunes will recognize your iPhone. The phone's name (which you gave it when you activated it) will appear under the "Devices" heading in the menu that runs on the left side of the iTunes screen.

iTunes may begin backing up and syncing your iPhone automatically, depending on whether or not you've set it to sync automatically. If you haven't set up automatic syncing, you can do it manually.

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Check for New iOS Update

Now you can check for a new version of iOS.

Double click on the iPhone icon in the menu on the left side of the iTunes screen to open the iPhone Summary screen.

In the middle of the screen, you'll see a section called "Version." This tells you what version of iOS your iPhone is running. If a newer version of the iOS is available, you'll see a button that says "Update." Click this to continue.

If you see a button that says "Check for Update," that means iTunes has not automatically found a newer version of the iOS software. Click this to manually check for an update; if your iPhone is already running the most current version, you'll see a pop-up message saying "This version of iOS (x.x.x)* is the current version." That means no updated software is available.

* = version of the software.

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Download and Install the New Version of iOS

If a new iOS update is available, you should have already clicked "Update".

You'll see a pop-up message from iTunes, notifying you that it is about to update your iPhone's software and that it will verify the update with Apple.

Click "Update" again to continue.

iTunes may then present you with information about the new features in the software update and the hardware required to install it. Make sure that you have compatible hardware before you continue. If you do, click the prompts to move forward.

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Accept the iOS License Agreement

iTunes will then show you the end-user license agreement to use the new version of the iOS. You should read through the terms of the agreement​ and then click "Agree". You have to agree to the terms in order to download the software.

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Wait for iTunes to Download the iPhone Software

Once you've accepted the license agreement, iTunes will begin downloading the new iOS update. You'll see a message telling you that the software is downloading in the middle of the iTunes window, under the heading "Version."

On the left side of the screen, you'll also see rotating arrows and a number next to the "Downloads" menu item. (This is under the "​STORE" heading in the left-hand menu in iTunes.) The rotating arrows show you that the download is in progress, and the number tells you how many items are being downloaded.

Once the software has been downloaded, you'll see a message that iTunes is extracting the new update and another says "Preparing iPhone for software update." You'll also see a notification that iTunes is verifying the software update with Apple, and you may see drivers automatically installing. Some of these processes run quickly, while others take a few minutes. Accept all necessary prompts. Do not disconnect your iPhone during any of these processes.

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Let iTunes Install the iPhone Software Update

The new iOS update will then begin to install on your phone. iTunes will display a progress bar that says "Updating iOS".

Do not disconnect your phone during this process.

After the software has been installed, you'll see a message that says "Verifying updated software." This process takes just a few minutes; do not close iTunes or disconnect your phone while it's running.

Next, you may see a message that iTunes is updating the iPhone's firmware. Let this run; do not disconnect your iPhone while it is doing so.

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Make Sure the iPhone Update Process is Complete

When the update process is complete, iTunes may not give you any notification. Sometimes, iTunes just automatically disconnects your iPhone from the software and then connects it again. This happens quickly, and you may not even notice it.

Alternatively, you may see a notification that iTunes is going to reboot your iPhone. Let this process run.

Once the update process is complete, iTunes will tell you that your iPhone is running the current version of the iPhone software. You'll see this information on the iPhone Summary screen.

To verify that your iPhone software is up to date, look at the top of the iPhone summary screen. You'll see some general information about your iPhone, including which version of iOS its running. This version should be the same as the software you just downloaded and installed.

Before you disconnect your iPhone from your computer, make sure that iTunes is not backing it up or syncing it again. When iTunes is syncing, your iPhone screen will display a large message that says "Sync in Progress." You can also check the iTunes screen; you'll see a message at the top of the screen that tells you if the backup and syncing progress has finished.

Congratulations, your iPhone has been updated!