How Do macOS Updates Work: Guide

Understanding how macOS updates work is essential for keeping your Mac running smoothly and securely.

Introduction to macOS Updates

When Apple releases an update for macOS, it typically includes improvements and new features, performance enhancements, and security fixes.

Keeping your operating system up-to-date helps ensure you have the latest functionalities and protection against vulnerabilities.

The process of updating macOS is straightforward, but there are several components involved that work together to ensure a successful update.

The Role of Software Update

Software Update is the built-in macOS feature responsible for managing updates.

It automatically checks for new updates from Apple’s servers and notifies you when one is available.

You can also manually check for updates by going to “System Preferences” and selecting “Software Update.”

Once an update is found, the Software Update utility downloads the necessary files and guides you through the installation process.

Downloading the Update

When you initiate an update, macOS first downloads the necessary files from Apple’s servers.

This can be a large download, depending on the size and scope of the update.

During this phase, you can continue using your Mac, although you might notice some slowdown due to the download.

Preparing the Update

After the download is complete, macOS begins preparing the update for installation.

This involves unpacking files and verifying their integrity to ensure that everything is in order.

In some cases, you might see a progress bar during this stage.

Installing the Update

Once the update is prepared, macOS will either prompt you to restart your computer or automatically start the installation process.

Your Mac will reboot, and the installation of the new version will begin.

During this time, your Mac will be unavailable for use as the update is installed.

Completing the Update

After the installation process is complete, your Mac will restart again.

Once it boots up, you’ll be running the updated version of macOS.

Sometimes, additional minor updates might follow to fix any issues introduced by the main update.

Types of macOS Updates

There are different types of updates that Apple releases for macOS.

Understanding these can help you know what to expect from each update.

Major Updates

Major updates are yearly releases that introduce significant new features and changes to macOS.

Examples include the transition from macOS Mojave to macOS Catalina.

Minor Updates

Minor updates are released more frequently and focus on improving existing features and fixing bugs.

These are the updates you see labeled with incremental numbers, like macOS 11.1 to macOS 11.2.

Security Updates

Security updates are critical for protecting your Mac from vulnerabilities and malware.

Apple releases these updates as needed to address newly discovered security threats.

Supplemental Updates

Supplemental updates are smaller updates that address specific issues not covered in the main updates.

They can include important fixes that improve the stability and performance of your Mac.

Enabling Automatic Updates

For convenience and to ensure your Mac stays up-to-date, you can enable automatic updates.

This option allows macOS to download and install updates in the background.

To enable this feature, go to “System Preferences,” select “Software Update,” and check the box for “Automatically keep my Mac up to date.”

Customizing Automatic Updates

Within the automatic updates settings, you have several options to fine-tune the process.

You can choose to automatically check for updates, download new updates when available, and install macOS updates.

There are also options for automating the installation of app updates from the App Store and system data files.

Backing Up Before Updating

It’s always a good idea to backup your Mac before installing any update.

This ensures that your data is safe in case something goes wrong during the update process.

You can use Time Machine, the built-in backup feature of macOS, or other backup solutions.

Using Time Machine

Time Machine automatically backs up your Mac, creating a copy of your system that you can restore if needed.

Connect an external drive to your Mac, go to “System Preferences,” select “Time Machine,” and follow the prompts to set up your backup.

Troubleshooting Update Issues

Occasionally, you might encounter issues when updating macOS.

Common problems include failed updates, system hangs, or slow performance after updating.

Common Issues and Solutions

If your update fails, your first step should be to check your internet connection and free up some disk space on your Mac.

Sometimes, simply restarting your Mac and trying the update again can resolve the issue.

If your Mac is running slowly after an update, it might be due to background processes settling down.

Give your Mac some time to complete any background tasks running after the update.

If problems persist, consider resetting the NVRAM or booting into Safe Mode to see if that resolves the issue.

For more complex problems, checking Apple’s support pages or contacting Apple Support can provide additional assistance.

Post-Update Checklist

After successfully updating macOS, it’s helpful to follow a post-update checklist to ensure everything is functioning correctly.

First, check your system’s performance and ensure that all your apps are running as expected.

Some apps may require updates to be fully compatible with the new macOS version.

Next, verify that your backups are intact and functioning properly under the new system.

Advantages of Keeping macOS Updated

Keeping macOS updated brings several advantages.

Updates often introduce new features and more stable performance.

They can make your system more efficient and enjoyable to use on a day-to-day basis.

Security updates, in particular, are vital for protecting your data against threats and ensuring a secure computing environment.

By regularly updating your macOS, you also maintain compatibility with the latest applications and services.


Understanding how macOS updates work and following best practices for updating ensures that your Mac remains secure, efficient, and up-to-date.

From downloading and preparing the update to dealing with any potential issues, knowing what to expect can make the process smoother.

Remember to always backup your system before updating and consider enabling automatic updates for a hassle-free experience.

By staying informed and proactive, you can keep your Mac running at its best and enjoy all the benefits that come with the latest software improvements.