How to Update Your Mac Using Terminal

Update Mac Terminal Feature

Most of us are used to updating our Mac’s software (macOS) using the Mac App Store – the traditional way of doing it. However, there is another method to update macOS: using Terminal. Using this method to update your Mac can save time and be easier for many, especially since the Mac App Store is known to lag on older devices. Many users have also reported that updates download and install faster when installed with Terminal, so that’s another obvious advantage. Here we show you how to update your Mac using Terminal.

If you’re using multiple Macs connected to a server, you can simply run a script or remotely install an update without going through the struggle of accessing each device individually. For users running macOS Mojave or later, software updates have been moved to System Preferences, but the Terminal method is still available.

Updating Your Mac Using the Terminal

This method uses a bunch of commands to allow Terminal to search for any available updates for your particular system and install them.

Note: since updating software on any system is a core function, you’ll need your administrator password to proceed with any downloads and installations using Terminal.

1. Open Terminal on your Mac. You can do this by searching for it with Spotlight or by accessing “Applications -> Utilities -> Terminal” in Finder.

2. Type in the following command and press Enter:

sudo softwareupdate -l
Update Mac From Terminal List

This will search Apple’s servers for any available updates for your system. If there are no updates available, it’ll show “No updates available.” However, in the case there are available updates, Terminal will display the list of these updates along with the update file size.

3. To download and install a particular update, use

sudo softwareupdate -i 'NAME'

Here, replace NAME with the particular update you want to download and install. For example, if you want to install the macOS Big Sur 11.4-20F71 update, type sudo softwareupdate -i 'macOS Big Sur 11.4-20F71'.

Update Mac From Terminal Install Name

Tip: the name of the update – also known as the identifier – is the one written next to the star/bullet as highlighted below.

Update Mac From Terminal Install Name Highlighted

You need to make sure you type in the exact identifier for the update to download and install. Also be careful of any spaces / asterisks present at the end of the identifier as is the case in the update highlighted below.

If you want to install all available updates, simply use the following command instead:

sudo softwareupdate -i -a

The -a command simply instructs Terminal to install all updates. As both of these commands are sudo commands, you’ll need to enter in an administrator password when prompted for one.

Update Mac From Terminal Install All

That’s it. The update(s) you’ve selected will start to download and will automatically start installing once downloaded. Unfortunately, there is no traditional progress bar. Instead, Terminal will keep updating you with each step via text entries.

In the case that you install an update that needs your computer to restart, Terminal will let you know. Simply enter in your password, and Terminal will automatically restart your Mac.

You can use this method to download macOS updates and updates to Apple’s major apps, but unfortunately, you’re still confined to the Mac App Store or the Software Update section in System Preferences to install any other third-party app on your Mac.

Wondering what else you can do on with the command line on macOS? Learn how to scan your local network and open any folder on your Mac using Terminal.

Do you prefer using the Mac App Store or Terminal to install updates on your Mac? Let us know in the Comments section below and check out some of our other macOS content, like our guides on password protecting folders on your Mac and running Python scripts.

John Perkins
John Perkins

John is a young technical professional with a passion for educating users on the best ways to use their technology. He holds technical certifications covering topics ranging from computer hardware to cybersecurity to Linux system administration.

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