How to Update Your Mac and Keep Apps Up to Date

Key Takeaways

Keep macOS up-to-date using the in-built updater under System Settings > General > Software Update. Install new major versions of macOS to get access to new features and applications.

Keep software and Safari extensions up to date using the Mac App Store’s “Update” tab, or by launching apps and using in-built updater tools. For apps that don’t update themselves, download new versions and replace the old ones. You can also use Homebrew.

Keeping your Mac up-to-date may seem like a chore, but it’s an essential part of protecting yourself online. Apple and app developers patch security holes when they’re found—and they add helpful new features to macOS and your applications, too.

Beyond the usual security patches and app updates, Apple offers shiny new versions of macOS to Mac users every year—for free. We’ll explain how it all works. You can automate much of this process so that your Mac updates everything automatically without bothering you, too.

How to Install macOS Updates

Apple releases a new major version of macOS each year, usually around October. In between major updates, supplemental patches are deployed to fix bugs, patch security holes, and sometimes add new features and support for new products. These patches are referred to simply as updates and recorded in the version number, with 13.3 being the third major update to macOS 13.

These updates make changes to the core operating system, including first-party apps like Safari and Mail, and they may include firmware updates for hardware and peripherals. You don’t need to worry about installing the wrong thing since Apple only provides updates that are relevant to your Mac.

If you’re using macOS 13 Ventura or newer, you can update your Mac by clicking on System Settings > General > Software Update. Any pending updates will be available in this window. If nothing is available you’ll see a message saying that your Mac is fully up-to-date.

Update macOS 13 Ventura via System Settings

Updating Older Versions of macOS

If you’re using macOS 12 Monterrey or an older version of macOS, you can update your Mac by clicking on System Preferences > Software Update. Your Mac will check for any available system updates. Click “Update Now” to start the update process. Even a Mac that is not running the latest version of macOS is eligible for security updates.

Install macOS Updates

If you don’t see a “Software Update” option in the System Preferences window, you have macOS 10.13 or earlier installed. You must apply operating system updates via the Mac App Store.

Launch the App Store from the dock and click on the “Updates” tab. Once the window has refreshed, you should see any updates listed as “macOS 10.xx.x Update” (depending on your version).

Update macOS via App Store

Click “Update” next to the relevant entry, or click “Update All” at the top of the screen to update everything. You may need to restart your Mac for the update to take effect.

You can view information about the latest security updates on Apple’s security update page if you like.

Related: So Your Mac Isn’t Getting macOS Updates, Now What?

How to Automatically Install Updates

Your Mac can automatically check for, download, and install various types of updates.

On macOS 13 Ventura or later, head to System Settings > Software Update and click on the “i” button next to the “Automatic Updates” field.

Turn on automatic updates on macOS 13

You’ll see an array of options appear that you can toggle on or off, most of which are self-explanatory.

macOS 13 automatic update options

Enable “Check for updates” to have your Mac automatically check for updates and put a notification in the top-right corner of the screen if anything is found. If you disable this, you will need to check for updates in this menu manually.

Enabling “Download new updates when available” will download any available system updates and notify you when they’re ready to install. You will have to manually install these updates by clicking on the notification or visiting System Preferences > Software Update.

Choosing to “Install macOS updates” or “Install app updates from App Store” will install system and app updates automatically. You won’t need to manually approve anything, though you may be prompted to restart your machine for the updates to take effect.

“Security Responses” attempts to outsource security updates in a bid to get these critical updates installed faster. If the security update involves the core operating system, your Mac must be restarted. If it involves an app like Safari, the app must be restarted. Apple describes “system files” as anything from updated fonts to firmware updates for your power adapter.

For macOS 10.4 Mojave or later, head to System Preferences > Software Update and click on the “Advanced” button to control automatic updates. For macOS 10.3 High Sierra or earlier, you can find these options under System Preferences > App Store.

Toggle Automatic macOS Updates

Enabling automatic updates will mean that your Mac remains secure and all macOS features work as advertised. If you turn it off, you will have to install these updates manually via Software Update instead. At the very least, we recommend leaving Security Response updates on.

How to Upgrade macOS to the Next Major Version

Upgrading macOS is different from updating it because you move from one major version to the next. These updates are made available once a year and introduce more pronounced changes than regular patches. You can discover the latest version of macOS by visiting Apple’s website.

Be aware that it’s difficult to downgrade your Mac to the previous version of macOS. Make sure any software that you rely on is compatible with the latest version of macOS before you take the plunge. You may have to wipe your Mac and reinstall macOS if you need to go back. You could also fully restore your current macOS system state from a Time Machine backup—assuming you created one first.

Before installing updates for your core operating system, it’s always a good idea to have a backup to hand in case things go wrong. You can create a backup using Time Machine and a spare hard drive for free. You can also use third-party software to create a bootable backup if you want.

If a new version of macOS is available, you’ll find it listed under Software Update. On macOS 13 Ventura, you’ll find this under System Settings > General > Software Update. On macOS 12 Monterrey or earlier, you’ll find this under System Preferences > Software Update. You can also try searching the Mac App Store for the newest version.

macOS Ventura update available

Click “Upgrade Now” in Software Update to begin the download. Major operating system updates can take a while to download, after which you’ll receive a notification to let you know your Mac will restart and begin the installation process.

You can quit the installer and resume at any time by launching the “Install macOS [name]” application (where “name” is the name of the latest release). Upgrading your operating system can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours and will result in multiple restarts while the update is applied.

To install older versions of macOS, you’ll need to grab the relevant installer via an unlisted Mac App Store link or a downloader on Apple’s website.

Updating Your Mac App Store Apps

The Mac App Store makes it easy to find, install, and maintain software on your Mac. All apps featured in the App Store are approved by Apple and sandboxed by design, which means they are run in a secure environment and shouldn’t be able to damage your Mac.

Launch the App Store by clicking the icon in your dock, clicking the Apple icon on your menu bar and selecting “App Store,” or by pressing Command+Spacebar and searching for it. Head to the “Updates” tab to see a list of available updates. You can opt to update each app individually or click “Update All” instead.

Update Mac App Store apps

If you want your Mac App Store apps to update automatically, launch the App Store, then click on “App Store” in the top-left corner of the screen. Choose “Settings” and make sure “Automatic Updates” is enabled.

Mac App Store settings

Updating Apps Installed Outside of the Mac App Store

Not all apps are available on the Mac App Store. If you have to install an app manually, it will need to be updated differently. Many apps include the ability to update themselves, including browsers like Chrome and Firefox. Other apps like Adobe Creative Cloud have separate updater applications that run in the background and apply updates.

Check for Firefox updates

Most apps will automatically check for updates and notify you. You can force a check by finding the relevant menu bar item. Where this is located depends on the app you’re using, but you can check:

  • Under “App Name” in the menu bar, then “Check for Update”
  • Under “App Name” choose “About [App Name]” then “Check for Update”
  • Under “Help” in the menu bar, then “Check for Update”
  • Within the application itself. For example, in Firefox, click the menu icon then Settings > General > Check for updates.
  • Via a dedicated update application, like “Microsoft AutoUpdate” for Microsoft Office on Mac.

If an app doesn’t include the ability to update itself, you may need to update it manually. First find out what version of the app you are running by launching it, clicking “App Name” in the top-left corner of the screen, then choosing “About [App Name].”

About NetNewsWire app

Now head to the app’s homepage and check to see if there’s a newer version of the app available. If so, download it. Once complete, drag the new version into your Applications folder and replace the old .APP file. You may lose data if you do this.

Related: How to Install Applications On a Mac: Everything You Need to Know

Some apps that use .PKG installers can also be run to replace the old version of the app. For example, ExpressVPN releases new versions as manual downloads that are installed on top of the old version using a .PKG installer. User data is preserved by the installer once the app is updated.

Generally speaking, you don’t need to worry about drivers if you’re using a Mac. Apple detects your hardware and provides you with the latest updates for your particular configuration. The exception is third-party drivers and system tools.

You might have a third-party driver installed if you use a product like Microsoft NTFS for Mac by Paragon Software, which enables full write access to NTFS-formatted drives. These tools install a third-party kernel extension and an icon in System Preferences, usually at the bottom of the screen.

Modern versions of macOS block third-party kernel extensions by default as a matter of security. If you haven’t gone out of your way to enable third-party extensions via Recovery Mode, then you probably don’t need to worry about this.

If you have any such system tools or third-party drivers installed, look for the tweak under System Settings (or System Preferences on older versions of macOS). There should be an option to “Check for Updates” or “Update Now.” You will likely need to authorize any changes using your admin password, then restart your Mac for changes to take effect.

How to Update Safari Extensions

Safari Extensions now live in the Mac App Store. They are updated like any other app by opening the Mac App Store and clicking Updates, and then updating each extension individually or using the “Update All” button.

Safari Extensions in the Mac App Store

Outdated Safari extensions can put your Mac at risk. Make sure you disable any outdated extensions for which no updates exist. It’s safe to assume an extension is outdated if it is no longer being maintained—for example, if it has not received updates in over a year. You will find this information on the extension’s Mac App Store entry.

Disable an extension by unchecking the box next to it under Safari > Settings > Extensions.

Update Apps with Homebrew

Homebrew is a package distribution system for macOS that allows you to install apps via the command line (Terminal). Any apps you install via Homebrew can be updated with a single command. You’ll need to install the Homebrew version of the app for this to work.

First, you must install Homebrew on your Mac. You can then use Terminal to search for apps to install using the following command:

 brew search office 

This will search for any packages that match the search term “office.” You install any relevant casks (graphical apps) or formulae (command-line utilities) you find using the following command:

 brew install libreoffice 

You can run a single command to update apps installed via Homebrew:

 brew upgrade 
Update Homebrew apps with brew upgrade

This won’t work for apps that include their own in-built updaters, like Google Chrome.

Related: How to Install Homebrew on a Mac

Update Your Software and Stay Safe

Installing software updates is the best thing you can do to ward off newly discovered security vulnerabilities. If you rely on an app that’s no longer being actively maintained, consider searching for an alternative that won’t put you at risk.

Where possible, enable automatic updates and make sure to create regular backups of your Mac for ultimate peace of mind. Take the time to upgrade your computer once a year to the latest version, but make sure all of your software is compatible before pulling the trigger.

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