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How to Update a Mac 2021

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What to Know

Update Macs running macOS Mojave (10.14) or later by selecting System Preferences > Software Update.Update Macs running macOS High Sierra (10.13) or earlier through the App Store.You can find information about the latest security updates on Apple's security update page.

This article explains how to keep your Mac computer updated from regular security patches to major new macOS versions and whether you're updating manually or automatically.

Before updating your Mac, it's a good idea to create a backup to ensure you don't lose any data—especially if you're installing a new version. You can easily do this using Apple's free Time Machine backup tool and an external hard drive.

How to Update a Mac Running macOS Mojave or Later

Apple regularly releases updates for its Mac operating system, macOS. While it can be tempting to delay or put off installing these updates altogether, keeping your Mac up-to-date is essential. Apple's software updates frequently fix security vulnerabilities, general bugs and sometimes even add new features.

If you've purchased a Mac since 2018, it most likely has macOS Mojave (10.14), Catalina (10.15), or Big Sur (11). Here's how to install an update for these versions of macOS.

If you're unsure which version of macOS your Mac uses, open the Apple menu in the top left-hand corner of the screen and click About This Mac. A window will open showing your Mac's operating system information, as well as other vital specs. You can also initiate a system software update from this screen!

Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your screen to open a drop-down menu.

Click System Preferences.

Click Software Update.

Click Update Now. If you haven't upgraded to macOS Big Sur yet, click Upgrade Now instead.

If you'd like updates to be installed automatically, check off the box next to Automatically keep my Mac up to date.

Click Advanced… to bring up automatic update controls:

Check for updates: Your Mac will automatically check for updates when available and display a notification in the top-right corner of the screen.Download new updates when available: Automatically download system updates.Install macOS updates: Install system software updates automatically.Install app updates from App Store: Automatically install updates for any apps you own.Install system data files and security updates: Software Updates will automatically install specific security updates and system files that do not require a restart.

Even with automatic downloads and installations turned on, you may still need to restart your Mac for certain updates to take effect.

How to Update a Mac Running macOS High Sierra and Earlier

Unfortunately, Macs running older versions of macOS can't download updates using the above method. Here's how to update your Mac if it's running High Sierra (10.13), Sierra (10.12), or an earlier OS.

Click the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your screen.

Select App Store…

Click Updates in the left sidebar.

If a macOS update is available, click Update. You'll also be able to download updates for Mac apps on this screen.

If your Mac computer was released in 2012 or later, it should be able to update to at least macOS Catalina. You can find a full list of Macs that support macOS Catalina.

How to Upgrade to a New Version of macOS

Apple typically puts out new versions of macOS once a year. The most recent version, Big Sur, was released in November 2020 and included a user interface design, a revamped version of Time Machine, and support for Macs with ARM-based processors.

Beginning with Mavericks (10.9) in 2013, every new version of macOS has been made available for free for all Mac owners. 

Here's how to upgrade your Mac to the latest version of macOS it will support.

Launch the App Store.

Type “macOS” into the search bar.

Find the version of macOS you'd like to download and click VIEW.

Click GET to begin downloading. You may need to enter your Apple ID password or use Touch ID to confirm.

Once the download is complete, installation should begin automatically. This can take up to a few hours to complete.