The Software Update preference pane (Monterey and earlier) and System Settings > General > Software Update (Ventura) reveal whether your version of macOS is up to date and what software you can install if it’s not. By default, Apple completely automates installing minor macOS, security, and other updates. (Major macOS updates, like macOS Monterey to Ventura require direct action.)
In Monterey and earlier, you can click the Advanced button to see settings and make changes; in Ventura, click the info (i) icon.
By default, macOS enables all the following options:
Check for updates: Whenever 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 the updates listed below. The advantage is that they are installed automatically or, if you install manually, available immediately. Disable this if you’re bandwidth limited or pay for bandwidth and want to plan downloads.
Install macOS updates: This includes all “dot” updates, like moving from 13.0.0 to 13.0.1 and from 13.0.1 to 13.1.0.
Install app updates from the App Store: Any app you purchased or acquired from the App Store is automatically updated. If disabled, launch the App Store to use its Updates feature to update all refreshed apps or just selected ones.
Install system data files and security updates (Monterey and earlier): Apple has both standalone security updates and 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 it may put your Mac at risk if you do so. (The odds of a widespread attack are unlikely, but if one emerged, this option allows Apple to immunize tens of millions of computers nearly instantly.)
Install Security Responses and System files (Ventura): Apple has added Rapid Security Response updates in Ventura–exploit fixes that can be installed automatically and don’t require a reboot–and relabeled this entry to be more inclusive of them. Likewise, with the above entry, it’s nearly imperative you keep it enabled for your safety.
In most cases, you can view a list of available updates, deselect or select items in the list, select items to view their contents, and click Install Now to proceed towards installation. Updates that require restarting your Mac are noted with “Restart Required” after their title in the detail section, and you’re warned when you click Install Now that you will need to let the updater restart your Mac to complete it.
When preparing to install updates that require a restart, make sure you have no unsaved files, open Terminal windows, or anything in progress in an app. Often, this can stop or cause problems with a restart–particularly an issue if you walk away hoping to return with the update done. I always wait until my Mac restarts before leaving.
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