The Software Update preference pane (Monterey and earlier) and System Settings > General > Software Update (Ventura) tell you if your version of macOS is up to date and what software you can install if not. By default, Apple completely automates the installation of minor macOS, security, and other updates. (Major macOS updates, such as macOS Monterey to Ventura require immediate action.)
In Monterey and earlier, you can click the advanced button to view settings and make changes; in Ventura, click the info icon (i).
By default, macOS enables all of the following options:
- Check for updates: Each time you open Software Update, it checks for new updates; it also checks in the background and puts a red badge on System Preferences or System Settings to indicate how many there are.
- Download new updates when available: This includes all updates below. The advantage is that they are installed automatically or, if you install manually, are immediately available. Disable this if you are bandwidth constrained or pay for bandwidth and want to schedule downloads.
- Install macOS updates: This includes all “point” updates, such as the transition from 13.0.0 to 13.0.1 and from 13.0.1 to 13.1.0.
- Install app updates from the App Store: Every app you have purchased or obtained from the App Store will be updated automatically. If disabled, launch the App Store to use the Updates feature to update all refreshed apps or selected apps only.
- Install system data files and security updates (Monterey and earlier): Apple has standalone security updates as well as certain data files that are used to block newly discovered malicious apps and for related security purposes. There’s no reason to uncheck this, and doing so could put your Mac at risk. (The likelihood of a widespread attack is unlikely, but if one does happen, this option allows Apple to immunize tens of millions of computers almost instantly.)
- To install security responses and system files (Ventura): Apple has added Rapid Security Response updates to Ventura – exploit fixes that install automatically and don’t require a reboot – and relabeled this entry to include more. Likewise, with the item above, it’s almost imperative that you keep it enabled for your safety.
In most cases, you can view a list of available updates, deselect or select items from the list, select items to view their contents, and click Install Now to continue with the installation. Updates that require restarting your Mac are marked with “Restart Required” after their title in the details section, and you are warned when you click Install Now that you must let the updater restart your Mac to complete it .
When preparing to install updates that require a reboot, make sure you don’t have any unsaved files, open Terminal windows, or anything running in an app. Oftentimes this can stop or cause problems when restarting, especially a problem if you walk away hoping to return with the update complete. I always wait for my Mac to reboot before leaving.
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