Upgrade Install macOS Sierra Safely on Your Mac

macOS Sierra on mac desktop

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In all the operating systems running on all of the computers in the world, there is likely nothing easier than performing an upgrade install of macOS Sierra on a Mac. While not quite push-a-button-and-go, it comes close.

So, you may be wondering why there's a need for a step-by-step guide to performing an upgrade install of macOS Sierra. The answer is a simple one. Readers like to know in advance what to expect from the macOS Sierra install process, and, since the name for the Mac operating system has changed, whether that also means there are any new requirements for the install.

What You Need for macOS Sierra

MacOS Sierra was announced at WWDC 2016, with a public beta release in July of 2016, and the full release on September 20, 2016. This guide support both the GM (Golden Master) and the official full released version of macOS Sierra.

macOS Sierra brings with it new minimum requirements that leave some old Mac models out in the cold.

As long as your Mac meets the minimum requirements, you're almost ready to start the upgrade install process, but first, it's time to perform a backup.

Backup, Backup, Backup

It’s not likely that anything will go wrong during the upgrade install of macOS Sierra; after all, I started this guide off by telling you how easy the install process is. But even so, there are two very good reasons to make sure you have a usable backup before proceeding:

  1. Stuff happens; it’s that simple. You can never know what will happen when you upgrade. Maybe the power will go out, maybe a drive will fail, or the download of the OS could be corrupt. Why take the chance of having your Mac restart from an aborted install and end up with just a gray or black screen staring you in the face, when having a current backup allows you to quickly recover from such catastrophes.
  2. You don’t like the new OS. It happens; perhaps you just don’t like how some new feature works; the old way was better for you. Or maybe you have an app or two that doesn't work with the new OS, and you really need to use those apps. Having a backup, or in this case, a clone, of your existing version of OS X ensures you can go back if the new OS doesn't meet your needs for whatever reason.

Upgrade or Clean Install of macOS Sierra?

This guide will show you how to perform an upgrade install, which will overwrite your current version of OS X to install the new macOS Sierra operating system. The upgrade will install new versions of system files and Apple-supplied apps and services. It will, however, leave all of your user data intact, letting you work right away with the new OS without having to import or restore data from a backup or a previous version of the OS you may have.

For most users, the upgrade install is the best choice for updating. But macOS Sierra also supports a clean install process.

The clean install erases all content from your Mac’s startup drive, including the existing OS and all of your user files. It then installs a clean copy of the macOS with no older data involved, allowing you to start over from scratch. If the clean install sounds like a better fit for your needs, take a look at:

Let’s Begin the Upgrade Install Process

The first step is the backup; make sure you have a current Time Machine or equivalent backup of all your Mac’s data.

I also recommend that you have a clone of your current Mac startup drive, so you can go back to the current version of OS X should you ever need to.

With the backup/clone out of the way, you should check your Mac’s startup drive for any problems it may have.

With the preliminaries out of the way, proceed to page 2.

How to Download macOS Sierra From the Mac App Store

Mac App Store

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macOS Sierra is available directly from the Mac App Store as a free upgrade to anyone using OS X Snow Leopard or later on their Macs. If you need a copy of OS X Snow Leopard, it's still available directly from Apple online.

Download macOS Sierra

  1. Launch the Mac App Store by clicking the App Store icon in the dock, or selecting App Store from the Apple menu.
  2. Once the Mac App Store opens, make sure the Featured tab is selected. You'll find macOS Sierra listed in the far right column. If you're looking for the download on the first day of the full release, you may have to use the search field in the Mac App store to find it.
  3. Select the macOS Sierra item, and then click the Download button.
  4. The download will begin. The download time can be long, especially if you're accessing the Mac App Store during peak traffic time, such as when macOS Sierra is first made available as a beta, or when it's officially released. Be prepared for a wait.
  5. Once macOS Sierra has completed the download, its installer will automatically launch.

Optional: You can quit the installer, and then create a bootable copy of the macOS Sierra installer that you can use on any Mac at any time without having to go through the download process.

You can proceed to page 3.

Perform the Upgrade Install of macOS Sierra

Install progress macOS Sierra

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At this point, you've created backups just in case you should need them, you've downloaded the macOS Sierra installer, and you've optionally created a bootable copy of the installer on a USB flash drive. With all that out of the way, it's time to actually install Sierra.

Start the Upgrade

  1. The macOS Sierra installer should already be open on your Mac. If you quit the installer in order to make a bootable copy, you can restart the installer by opening your /Applications folder and double-clicking the Install macOS Sierra item.
  2. The Installer window will open. To proceed with the installation, click the Continue button.
  3. The software licensing agreements will be displayed; scroll through the terms, and then click the Agree button.
  4. A drop-down sheet will be displayed, asking if you really and truly agree to the terms. Click the Agree button on the sheet.
  5. The installer will display the Mac’s startup drive as the target for the upgrade install. This is usually named Macintosh HD, although it can also have a custom name that you gave it. If this is correct, click the Install button. Otherwise, click the Show All Disks button, select the correct disk for the installation, and then click the Install button.
  6. A dialog box will open, asking for your administrator password. Provide the information, and then click the Add Helper button.
  7. The installer will start copying files to the target drive and display a progress bar. Once the files have been copied, your Mac will restart.

Don’t worry if the restart takes a while; your Mac is going through the installation process, copying some files and removing others. Eventually, a status bar will be displayed, along with a time estimate.

Go on to page 4 to find out how to use the macOS Sierra Setup Assistant.

Use the Setup Assistant to Finish the macOS Sierra Installation

macOS Sierra Setup and iCloud Storage options

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At this point, your Mac has just finished the basic installation process, copying all the needed files to your Mac, and then performing the actual install. Once the install completes, your Mac will be ready to run the setup assistant to configure the last few macOS Sierra options.

Once the installation process is complete, your Mac may present your normal login window, if you have your Mac configured to require a login. If so, go ahead and enter your login information, then continue to the macOS setup process.

If instead your Mac is set to auto log you in, then you'll jump right to the macOS Sierra setup process.

macOS Sierra Setup Process

Because this is an upgrade install, most of the setup process will automatically be performed for you, using the information from the previous version of OS X that you're upgrading from. Depending on the version of OS X or macOS beta you are upgrading from, you may see different setup items other then what are listed here. The setup process is easy enough. If you come across any issues is the process, you can usually skip over the item, and set it up at a later date.

That leaves just one or more items to be configured before you can use macOS Sierra.

  1. The setup process kicks off by displaying the Sign In with Your Apple ID window. If you would like to leave everything as it is and jump right to the desktop, you can select the option to Set Up Later. This may require you to turn on iCloud services, and then set up iCloud keychain and other services directly from the System Preferences when you decide you need them. There's no harm in using the Set Up Later option; it only means you'll manually enable services, one at a time, when you have a need for them.
  2. If you would rather have the setup assistant take care of configuring the available services that make use of your Apple ID, enter your Apple ID password, and click the Continue button.
  3. The Terms and Conditions for using macOS software, and various iCloud services, including iCloud and Game Center, will be displayed. Click the Agree button.
  4. A sheet will drop down, asking you to confirm that you do indeed agree to all of the terms and conditions. Click the Agree button.
  5. The setup assistant will configure iCloud account information, and then ask if you would like to set up iCloud Keychain. I recommend setting this up later using the process outlined in Guide to Using iCloud Keychain.
  6. The next step involves how you would like to use iCloud for storing documents and images from your Photos library:
    1. Store files from Documents and Desktop in iCloud Drive: This option will automatically upload all files from your Documents folder and the Desktop to your iCloud Drive, and then keep all of your devices synced to the data. You'll also see an estimate of the amount of space required in iCloud to perform this task. Be careful, as Apple only provides a limited amount of free storage in your iCloud Drive, though you can purchase additional storage space as needed.
    2. Store photos and videos in iCloud Photo Library: This will automatically upload all of the images and videos contained in your Photo Library to iCloud, and keep this data synced with all of your Apple devices. Just like the Documents option, you need to remember that iCloud storage space beyond the free tier will have an additional cost.
  7. Make your selections by placing check marks in the options you wish to make use of, and then click Continue.
  8. The setup assistant will complete the setup process and take you to your Mac’s desktop.

That’s it; you have successfully upgraded your Mac to macOS Sierra.


One of the new features of macOS Sierra is the inclusion of Siri the personal digital assistant commonly in use with the iPhone. Siri fro the Mac can perform many of the same tricks that iPhone users have been enjoying for years. But Siri for the Mac goes even further, you can find out more in the article: Getting Siri Working on Your Mac

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