Sierra’s limping camel: the App Store, as dysfunctional as ever

We dream of the day that the App Store app is as tiddly and functional as Apple’s retail stores. For the moment, despite that app being Apple’s shop-front on every Mac, it’s more like a cobbled-together imitation of its iTunes Store suffering from general dystopia.


Version 2.2 – that’s what you get with Sierra 10.12.1 – still seems to struggle when obtaining and installing updates, which is probably its most common and important task. The other day, it had two updates for me, but clicking on the Update All button returned the habitual 503 error shown. I think this is now more frequent than success. Retrying brought no joy, so I had to cancel, then to update each of the two apps individually, which finally worked.

It still has great problems in recognising some apps which it has itself updated. In the round of Apple Pro app updates which accompanied the 10.12.1 update, it had a hissy fit with Compressor. Although it updated my copy at the time, it has ever since then denied that has been updated, but equally refused to update it to its own satisfaction. Similar problems are extremely common, if the messages that I get are anything to go by. Few users seem to have escaped this particular dysfunction.

Shortly after the Sierra upgrade, when Apple pushed out updates to most of its app products, the App Store app revealed that it could not cope with more than seven updates being due, and refused to show the list of apps which it needed to update.

One of those, Numbers, then wrote a malformed XML record to the App Store’s list of updates, which wrongfooted the App Store app for a month, preventing it from listing recent updates. Now that record is outside the month’s span over which the app lists updates, the Updates view is finally working again. If you’re ever struck by this again, you could manually repair the file which lists installed App Store updates, as it is kept in ~/Library/Application Support/App Store as the file updatejournal.plist.

To cap it all, there are even a few users who find that the App Store app refuses to run at all for them, something which might perhaps be fixed by updating it, only their only way to update the App Store app is, of course, through the App Store app. Now that Apple does not provide standalone installers for its macOS upgrades, the App Store suffers the fundamental design flaw that it is the only app which has to update itself.

Unless you are prepared to take to Terminal, the only thing that you can do to try to coax the App Store to update an app which it is behaving badly over, is to delete the app (the one you’re trying to update), and hope that it will let you start again and install it afresh. Beyond that, you’re listening to music on the phone to Apple support.

If you’re happy to open Terminal, you can type
softwareupdate --list
to see a list of available system software updates, and then
sudo softwareupdate --install --r
to download and install recommended updates, after authenticating with your admin user password. But this applies only to system software, not to the multitude of apps which you have purchased in the App Store. There are further command options which you can list (as ever) by typing
man softwareupdate
but as far as I know, none will download and install third-party products.

The next phase of App Store chaos is due in the coming couple of weeks, when Apple rolls out macOS Sierra 10.12.2. Let’s hope that it doesn’t require a long list of additional updates to Pages, Numbers, and so on, which will only trip up the limping camel that is the App Store app. And let’s hope that App Store version 2.3 fixes some of these problems at last.