Fix macOS “Installation failed, An error occurred while installing the selected updates” Errors

Jan 27, 2021 - 5 Comments

macOS installation failed error in Software Update

Some Mac users have run into an error when attempting to download or install system software updates that says “Installation failed, An error occurred while installing the selected updates.” This alert comes up in the Software Update system preference panel, and has been encountered in macOS Big Sur, macOS Catalina, macOS Mojave, and prior versions too.

There are a variety of reasons Mac users may see the “installation failed” error when trying to download and install a particular MacOS software update, and we’ll go through some troubleshooting steps to help resolve the issue here.

Troubleshooting macOS “Installation failed, An error occurred while installing the selected updates.” Errors

We’ll go through a variety of troubleshooting steps, as well as offer an alternate solution to download macOS installers even if the System Preference panel for Software Update is repeatedly showing failure errors.

Wait a bit

Users may encounter failures to download and install macOS updates when Apple servers are overloaded, therefore sometimes simply waiting a bit can be helpful. This is particularly relevant if the software update you are trying to install is brand new, like a major system software release (this happened with Big Sur for example).

Reboot the Mac

Sometimes simply rebooting the Mac and trying again can resolve the failed installation error.

Make sure the Mac is online and functionally connected to the internet

Some Mac users have encountered the Installation Failed error because their Mac has dropped an internet connection, or because of a DNS issue.

In either case, make sure the Mac is online, and easy way to do this is by opening Safari and going to a great website like https://osxdaily.com and make sure it loads and works as expected.

If you’re having DNS issues, you may want to check to see if custom DNS has been set on the Mac (or at the router level), or if your ISP DNS servers are offline. If those name servers are not functioning you may encounter various issues with downloading software updates, amongst other problems. Using Google DNS 8.8.8.8 is a common DNS for many users, as is OpenDNS 1.1.1.1.

Make Sure MacOS is Not Enrolled in Beta Updates

If you’re trying to download a final version of MacOS but it’s failing, you may still be enrolled in the beta program. Some users have experienced this and found that unenrolling from the beta updates resolves the Installation Failed error.

From the Software Update system preference panel, click on “Details” and choose “Restore Defaults” to unenroll from receiving Mac beta updates.

Try downloading the macOS installers directly

This is more of a workaround, as it bypasses the Software Update system preference panel on the Mac, but you can try to download the macOS installer via App Store or direct download link from Apple, downloading the full macOS installer application directly using the command line, or by using the excellent free third party app MDS (Mac Deploy Stick).

If you go with the MDS route, download and install the application (it’s free from the developer TwoCanoes and can be downloaded here), then launch the MDS app and choose “Download MacOS” from the sidebar, selecting the version of macOS system software you want to download and install.

downloading macOS installers with MDS app

Once you have the full installer of macOS, you should be able to launch it directly without experiencing the ‘installation failed’ error as you see it only in System Preferences.

For what it’s worth, this problem has been seen periodically over time with various macOS system software versions.

It looks like this in modern macOS 11 (Big Sur) and later:

macOS installation failed error in Software Update

And it looks like this in macOS 10.15 (Catalina) and earlier:

macOS Installation Failed error occurred installing selected updates

Did one of the tips above resolve the “Installation failed, An error occurred while installing the selected updates.” macOS error for you? Did you find another solution? Share your experiences in the comments!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

5 Comments

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  1. Roy says:

    OSX 11.2 update fails after the download is complete and a 15 min. step begins. Mac Mini 2020. OS X 11.1 mostly running.

  2. Clam says:

    I had this error with Big Sur, which occurred during installation after I had downloaded it. It happened with both the update via the system preferences, and the download. The solution was to turn off networking.

  3. John Gillespie says:

    I have a Mac that is still on Sierra, but I cannot get rid of a Garage Band update that fails saying I need to be on Big Sur. Why does the update system not detect and ignore that update?

  4. jay says:

    Read someplace to unplug & leave it overnight& then try.
    That worked for me.

  5. ruurd says:

    And last-but-not-least, uninstall any software that makes use of and installs kernel extensions. Examples of these are Parallels, Intel CPU gadget, and Little Snitch.

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