How to update your Mac

From large MacOS upgrades like Big Sur to minor but important security or usability updates, it’s important to keep MacOS current. If you’re not quite sure how to do that, don’t fret. It’s quick and easy. Even if you have automatic updates turned on for your Mac, the manual method is just a few steps long.

If you find yourself in any of these situations, our guide will show you exactly what needs to be done to put those Mac updates into effect. Take a look.

Step 1: Prepare for an update

Updates will reboot your Mac, so prepare for a full reboot process. Finish any current tasks you’re working on, close out of browsers and apps, and make sure any documents are saved and closed before you work on the update.

You may also want to back up your data with Time Machine or something similar. Mac updates don’t usually bring bugs, but it can happen, and if you have very important, time-sensitive data on your computer, make sure you also have a way to access it if something goes wrong.

Step 2: Check your notifications

MacOS often gives alerts in the upper-right corner if there are any important updates to install. These alerts act like a little shortcut you can use to save time when starting an update, so check there first. Click the Notifications icon next to the Searchlight magnifying glass, and see if you have any notifications or alerts for updates (they don’t always show up here, but it’s a good place to start). If you see any, select them to begin the process.

Step 3: Run the Update tool

To manually look for updates, you need to find the right tool, which is waiting in System Preferences. You can access System Preferences by going to the Dock and select the Gears icon to open it, or select the Apple icon in the upper-right corner of the screen and choose System Preferences from there.

Once in, look for the tool that says Software Update. If there are important, not-yet-uploaded updates waiting, this icon will probably have a notification alert, too. Even if it doesn’t, select Software Update to head in and make sure.

Step 4: Install all available updates

Once in Software Update, if there are any updates that haven’t been applied, you will see a notification that says Updates Are Available for Your Mac with a list of the updates waiting. Select the Update Now button to get started. Your Mac will now close out of any apps that you may have left open, reboot, and apply the updates.

It’s also a good idea to select Automatically Keep My Mac Up to Date in this window. As we mentioned, this doesn’t always work well, especially if you rarely log out of your Mac, but it can often help apply updates you may not have noticed.

Aging out of updates

Notification Center in MacOS Big Sur

There’s an important caveat to Mac updates: They’re targeted at the latest versions of Mac computers and operating systems. That means they can include software changes that older Macs just weren’t made for. Rather than introduce bugs or create other problems, Apple chooses to cut off updates if your Mac is a certain age or older.

For example, the latest upgrade to Big Sur is limited to Macs that are only several years old. If you have a MacBook from before 2015 or an iMac from before 2014, then you won’t be able to download Big Sur. The same is true for smaller updates as well. That’s important to remember if you’re looking at refurbished Macs or wondering if it’s time to upgrade a current Mac.

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