How to Update macOS Using a Simple Terminal Command

Thursday March 1, 2018 2:23 AM PST by Tim Hardwick

If you're sick of waiting for the progress bar to complete every time you reboot after a macOS software update, then you'll be pleased to learn there's another way to update your Mac that could potentially reduce your downtime.

The process involves a simple Terminal command, and allows you to continue using your Mac as the update downloads and the initial software installation takes place in the background. In our tests, we found that this method was capable of shaving off several minutes of idle time during installation restarts, but that the time-saving depends on the machine and the update in question.

Users with older Macs in particular will likely appreciate this tip, as it saves having to fire up the Mac App Store altogether, which can be slow-going and sometimes even downright unresponsive. Read on to find out how it's done.

How to Update macOS From the Command Line

Before following these steps, ensure you have a full backup of your system, which should be par for the course when performing any update. Note that the following procedure only lists stock Apple system updates (iTunes, Photos, printer drivers the like), but not updates for other Apple apps that aren't installed with macOS (Xcode, for instance), and not third-party updates from the Mac App Store.

  1. To update macOS from the command line, first launch Terminal, which can be found in the Applications/Utilities folder. This will open a Terminal window and a command prompt for you to begin typing.

  2. Input the following command and press Enter: softwareupdate -l

  3. Wait as your Mac searches Apple's servers for any macOS software updates currently available for your system. If no updates are available, you'll be returned to the command prompt.

Now let's take a look at the command's output. Available updates always appear as items in a list. In our example, only one update is available at this time, but every item follows the same format, as shown:


The asterisked line denotes the individual software update package that's available for your Mac to download. This line is also known as the identifier.


The second line offers a more detailed description of the update, including the version number (usually in brackets) and the download file size in kilobytes. [Recommended] means the update is recommended for all users, and [restart] indicates that your Mac needs to reboot for installation to complete.

To download and install a specific update in the list, use the following format, but replacing NAME with the update's identifier:

softwareupdate -i NAME

Or:

softwareupdate --install NAME

Note that if the package name you’re trying to install has spaces in it, you'll need to enclose the whole thing in single quotes. So for example:

softwareupdate --install 'macOS High Sierra 10.13.3 Supplemental Update-'

Also, be alert for spaces at the end of the package names. If present, they also need to be included within the quotes.

Moving on, to download a specific update for your system without also installing it then and there, you can use:

softwareupdate -d NAME

Updates downloaded in this way can be subsequently installed with the same -i or --install command above, or even through the Mac App Store. These updates are downloaded to a folder located in /Library/Updates, but they aren't designed to be installed by double-clicking the packages in that directory. You'll need to use the --install command or visit the Mac App Store to actually initiate the install.

Lastly, to download and install all available updates for your system, type the command:

softwareupdate -i -a

Using these commands, you'll be able to leave the update to download and continue to install in the background while you get on with other things. All being well, Terminal will eventually prompt you to restart your machine manually so that the full installation procedure can complete. (Note that the softwareupdate utility requires admin authentication for all commands except the -l or -list command. If you run softwareupdate as a normal admin user, you will be prompted for a password where required.)


As some users will no doubt be aware, there are several additional options that can be used in conjunction with the softwareupdate utility. For example, -schedule on/off enables/disables your Mac's scheduled background check for updates. More adventurous readers can use man softwareupdate and softwareupdate -h for a summary list of commands.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
27 months ago

My point, a good OS, no need for terminal. Apple makes a good OS, for most terminal rarely if ever needed. The reason I stay with MacOS.

As a software engineer I'm always amazed that there are people who are so CLI-phobic. The GUI has little or nothing to do with the OS. Neither does the terminal for that matter. They are both human user interfaces to communicate with the machine OS.

The difference is the CLI typically provides more options and is more concise in how you do things.

Given the time and resources to create a GUI there are often compromises made to get the basic functionality without providing all of the options.

macOS is a Unix based OS at it's core, just like Solaris, Linux or FreeBSD. Lots of money allowed Apple to create better than average GUI apps and interfaces. There is little magic in the Darwin OS itself.

Praising the CLI over the GUI is a matter of preference and what you need to get done.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 months ago
Apple has a pretty comprehensive set of commmand line tools that it seems like nobody ever talks about.

I found this one useful several years ago when the Mac App Store just wasn’t working for me.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 months ago
I just stick with "sudo softwareupdate -ia" for all my updates these days. That has never caught me up in any errors, and always works.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 months ago

Buy Apple Products so I do not need the terminal commands. When I feel like I am missing the good old days, fire up my RaspberryPi. :D

I used to think like this also. But these days the Apple UI is getting so bad, that I have started using the command line more and more. I have to agree with the article, the App Store app sucks. When it was just the software update app it seemed to work just fine.

But the App Store app UI is usually out of sync with what is actually happening. If you are like me, when its time to install updates, I want them installed now, not sometime in the future when the App Store app feels like. Usually, I have made extra backups and cleaned everything up, before installing. After the update I check a number of things to make sure they are not hosed.

5 years ago I installed Apple update without any additional work, the day they were released. Not any more. Apple has, by its actions, lost my trust. Today I won't install any update until after its been out for weeks, if not longer. IMO Apple's main thrust these days is publicity, not performance and reliability and I am not willing to let their lack of ability effect my income.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 months ago
Whenever I see articles regarding Terminal it reminds me of this story regarding # rm -rf *

http://www.lug.wsu.edu/node/414
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
27 months ago

NERD ALERT! ;)

Yes, and finally so!
Back to the good ol' geek UNIX fun of macOS!!
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

Apple Acquires Weather App Dark Sky

Tuesday March 31, 2020 10:22 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple has acquired weather app Dark Sky, Dark Sky's developers announced today. Dark Sky is one of the most popular weather apps on the App Store, known for its accuracy and storm warnings. Our goal has always been to provide the world with the best weather information possible, to help as many people as we can stay dry and safe, and to do so in a way that respects your privacy. There is no ...

Zoom Accused of Misleading Users With 'End-to-End Encryption' Claims Amid Other Security Issues [Updated]

Wednesday April 1, 2020 2:47 am PDT by Tim Hardwick
Zoom is facing fresh scrutiny today following a report that the videoconferencing app's encryption claims are misleading. Zoom states on its website and in its security white paper that the app supports end-to-end encryption, a term that refers to a way of protecting user content so that the company has no access to it whatsoever. However, an investigation by The Intercept reveals that...

Case for Upcoming Low-Cost iPhone Shows Up at Best Buy With Alleged April 5 Stock Date

Monday March 30, 2020 4:25 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple has a new low-cost iPhone in the works, which is supposed to be launching sometime in the first half of 2020. Given the ongoing situation in the United States and other countries, it's been unclear if the device is going to launch within the planned timeline, but there are signs that it could be coming soon. We started seeing cases for the new low-cost iPhone back in early February,...

Bloomberg: Apple's 5G iPhone Still on Schedule for Fall Launch, But Future Products Could Be Delayed

Monday March 30, 2020 2:40 am PDT by Tim Hardwick
Apple's 5G iPhone is still on track to launch within the company's typical annual fall release schedule, according to a new Bloomberg report on filed on Monday. Signs are that Apple's Chinese-centric manufacturing -- of which Hon Hai is the linchpin -- is slowly getting back on track. The next iPhones with 5G wireless capabilities remain on schedule to launch in the fall, partly because mass...

Testing Brydge's New Pro+ Keyboard With Trackpad for iPad Pro

Monday March 30, 2020 2:04 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Well ahead of when Apple introduced trackpad support in iOS 13.4, Brydge announced an iPad Pro keyboard with a built-in multi-touch trackpad. We have one of Brydge's new Pro+ keyboards on hand, and thought we'd check it out to see how it works with Apple's new 2020 iPad Pro models. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. The Brydge Pro+ keyboard is similar in design to...

Apple's Work on New Upcoming Products Progressing Normally as Employees Adjust to Telecommuting

Monday March 30, 2020 11:58 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple's development of upcoming products is progressing as usual despite the fact that Apple employees around the world are working from home, according to a new report today out from Bloomberg. Apple is still working on new versions of the HomePod, Apple TV, MacBook Pro, budget iPads, Apple Watch, iPhone, and iMac, all of which could be released "as early as later this year" and have been...

Apple Releases ProRes RAW Beta for Windows

Monday March 30, 2020 9:33 am PDT by Juli Clover
Apple today released ProRes RAW for Windows in a beta capacity (via Mark Gurman), with the software designed to allow ProRes RAW and ProRes RAW HQ video files to be watched in compatible applications on Windows machines. According to Apple, the software will let the files be played within several Adobe apps: Adobe After Effects (Beta) Adobe Media Encocder (Beta) Adobe Premiere...

Apple Configurator 2 Updated With New Features, Including Support for Restoring Firmware on 2019 Mac Pro

Tuesday March 31, 2020 5:34 am PDT by Joe Rossignol
Apple Configurator 2 has been updated to version 2.12 with several improvements, including support for restoring firmware on the 2019 Mac Pro. The release notes:• Added support for restoring firmware on the 2019 Mac Pro • Allow access to websites using TLS 1.0 and 1.1 • VPN: Configure Provider Designated Requirement for Custom SSL connection type • VPN: Configure network options for ...

Seemingly Unreleased Version of Logic Pro X With Live Loops Appears on Apple's Education Site [Updated]

Sunday March 29, 2020 7:23 am PDT by Hartley Charlton
Update: Apple has replaced the Logic Pro X image with an older version. Original story follows. A seemingly unreleased version of Logic Pro X has appeared on Apple's education site, as spotted by a Reddit user. The image from Apple's education products page shows a 16-inch MacBook Pro running Logic Pro X, but with a familiar interface that looks extremely similar to GarageBand's Live Loops ...

Apple's 2020 MacBook Air vs. 2020 iPad Pro

Wednesday April 1, 2020 2:45 pm PDT by Juli Clover
Apple in March updated both the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro, and with the iPad Pro increasingly positioned as a computer replacement, we thought we'd compare both new machines to see how they measure up and which one might be a better buy depending on user needs. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. We're comparing the base model 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the base model...