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How to Update System Software on Mac

How to update Mac system software

Installing and updating system software on a Mac is pretty easy and straight forward, especially on the latest and newest versions of macOS system software. If you’re new to the Mac platform or just haven’t used a more modern MacOS version (like Monterey or Big Sur), you may be unfamiliar with the process, but not to worry, you’ll be up to speed quickly and be updating your macOS system software in moments.

Before installing any system software update on a Mac, it is a good idea to backup the Mac using Time Machine or your backup method of choice. Rarely, system software updates go awry and a failure to backup could result in permanent data loss.

How to Update System Software on macOS

On all new versions of macOS, you can install system software updates by doing the following:

  1. Pull down the  Apple menu from the top left corner of the Mac
  2. Choose ‘System Preferences’ or “System Settings” (depending on version of MacOS)
  3. Select the “Software Update” preference panel
  4. Choose “Update Now” to install the available software updates for MacOS and other system software
  5. How to install system software updates on Mac

The Mac will download and install the software update. Typically a Mac reboots once or twice during a system update, so that’s normal behavior.

When the update is finished installing, the Mac will boot back up as usual, with it’s freshly installed macOS update.

How to Selectively Install System Software Updates on MacOS

To selectively install only some system software updates on macOS, for example installing a security update but skipping a major OS update, or installing a Safari update without updating the entire Mac, do the following:

  1. Pull down the  Apple menu from the top left corner of the Mac
  2. Choose ‘System Preferences’
  3. Select the “Software Update” preference panel
  4. Click on “More Info…” blue text below the list of available software updates
  5. Check and uncheck the boxes for system software that you want to install, or don’t want to install
  6. Selectively install system software updates on Mac

  7. Choose “Update Now” to install the checked software updates

This approach allows you to be more specific in what updates you want to install.

Though it’s good practice to install all updates that are available, some users may want to skip a particular update for whatever reason, or in the interest of time, and unchecking those updates allows for this to be easily done.

The methods of updating macOS system software outlined here are for modern current versions of macOS, including macOS Monterey, macOS Big Sur, macOS Catalina, macOS Mojave, whereas there was an interim series of system software versions for Mac OS X that routed system software updates through the Mac App Store. If your Mac does not have the “Software Update” preference panel, then you’d want to check the App Store “Updates” tab instead for available system software updates and install them through there.

Of course this focused on the Mac, but if you have an Apple mobile device you can learn about updating iOS or iPadOS system software on iPhone or iPad devices too.

Help, updates aren’t appearing!

Rarely, macOS system software updates do not show up, in which case try these troubleshooting steps to resolve that problem and to install your system updates.