How can I bring my Mac up to date with firmware and system updates?

Many of you have been reporting that your Macs are falling behind in their firmware, macOS, and security software updates. This article is a brief guide to solutions.

Firmware updates

For many years now, Apple has only distributed firmware updates as part of macOS updates. That ensures that any firmware is matched with a compatible version of the macOS kernel and its many extensions. It also means that the only way that you can update your Mac’s firmware is to install the most recent macOS or security update that it can run. If your Mac can’t run any version of macOS after Mojave, all you can do is install the last released security update to Mojave, and that will install the most recent firmware available for it.

If your Mac is running Catalina or later, it should also have the latest firmware installed. I list those by model on these pages:

SilentKnight automatically checks firmware version against an online database that I maintain, and spares you the effort of using those lists.

If you have the latest security update installed but your firmware is older than those listed, all you can do is raise this with Apple Support. It’s not an uncommon problem with specific configurations of certain models, most notoriously iMac17,1 with Apple-fitted internal SSDs. Firmware updates can also fail when a Mac’s internal storage has been replaced, either as an upgrade or repair.

System and security updates

There are two types of problem that have occurred more frequently in recent months:

  • Some updates delivered through a local Content Caching server, particularly XProtect, have failed to install successfully.
  • Some macOS updates which should have been available weeks ago don’t appear in the Software Update pane.

Solutions to these are quite different.

If your Mac appears out of date, particularly for the most recent versions of XProtect, and it gets its updates through a Content Caching server, that’s likely to be a bug that I’ve reported to Apple. The simplest solution is normally to disable the Content Caching server in the Sharing pane, then run SilentKnight on the out-of-date Mac, and allow it to install those outstanding updates. Once it’s up to date again, you can enable the Content Caching server.

If your Mac isn’t offering more substantial macOS and security updates which it should, there are several things you can try:

  • Simply restarting your Mac can restore normal software update function, and the updates will magically appear in Software Update.
  • Starting up in Safe mode (Intel Macs with the Shift key held, Apple silicon Macs through Recovery) is intended to make updates easier to obtain and more reliable to install, and often does the trick.
  • Use SilentKnight to kick Software Update into action.


My free utility SilentKnight can be a real boon when you’re having problems with software updates. Download it from its Product Page, unZip it, and move it into your Applications folder. Open the app and the first thing it will do is check whether your system and security software is up to date, and inform you of any discrepancies. It will also look for any available updates, and list them for you.


That alone is often sufficient to make Software Update recognise there’s an update available, and to offer it. For larger updates, including macOS security updates, you should use Software Update to download and install them, not SilentKnight. However, for smaller security data updates like XProtect, SilentKnight is excellent and just as reliable.

If SilentKnight reports that it has downloaded an update such as XProtect but can’t install it, that means that you’re using a Content Caching server, and should disable it and try again.

If SilentKnight can’t find an update which it reports is needed, then you should contact Apple Support, as that’s a serious problem in macOS or Apple’s software update servers.

Further articles to help include:
Updating your Mac using softwareupdate, SilentKnight and silnite
What to do when an update won’t install correctly
SilentKnight: how to install just one update, rather than all
Using SilentKnight to download updates
SilentKnight and LockRattler: A Masterclass

Listings of security software versions: