How to Download macOS Updates Using The Terminal

Tired of opening the Mac App Store to install macOS updates? Use the Terminal instead.

The Mac App Store is slow, especially on older Macs. Even on newer Macs, the store is kind of annoying to use for updates. That’s why we showed you how to update or install Mac App Store software from the Terminal, but sadly that method doesn’t let you update macOS itself.

Don’t worry! It turns out there’s a built-in method for downloading macOS updates from the Terminal, and it’s not that hard to use. Here’s a quick tutorial.

List and Install macOS Updates From the Terminal

Open the Terminal, which you can find using the Finder by heading to Applications > Utilities. Next, type softwareupdate -l at the prompt and hit Return. This command lists all available updates on your system.

Downloading and installing all available updates is simple: just use the command softwareupdate -i -a and you’re set.

You can use your computer while the download is happening, which is nice. Eventually you’ll be asked to restart your computer.

Do this to finish the installation. Wasn’t that easy?

A quick note: if you’d prefer to install only one of the available updates, you can: just use the command softwareupdate -i followed by the exact name of the update in single quotes. We found this method frustrating, but it’s there for you when you don’t want to install everything all at once.

Download macOS Updates From the Terminal Without Installing

There’s no way, in the Mac App Store, to download an update manually without also triggering the installation. That’s annoying, but you can work around this using the Terminal.

First, list all the available updates using softwareupdate -l, like we did above.

You can download all of these updates without installing them using the command softwareupdate -d -a.

After downloading, you can install updates from the Mac App Store, if you want: you’ll get to skip the download step. You can also use the installation terminal commands we covered in the previous section.


Of course the Terminal isn’t for everyone. If all of this sounds like way too much work, you can control when macOS updates are installed using the macOS settings.

Justin Pot is the News Editor for How-To Geek. He lives in Hillsboro, Oregon and runs the Hillsboro Signal, which offers local citizen journalism. Follow Justin on Twitter and Facebook, if you want. You don't have to.