How-To

Update apps and macOS, without ever launching the App Store


The Apple App Store may be the first place many Mac users turn for app and system updates, but there’s plenty of people who aren’t huge fans of the official App Store.

Maybe the App Store seems to be running more slowly on your machine; it’s causing your Mac to freeze, or perhaps you’re simply not a fan of its look and feel. The good news is that if you have gripes with the App Store, then you don’t have to use it!

In this article, I’ll show you how to keep your favourite applications up to date, and even how to install new versions of macOS, without ever having to launch the App Store.


Updating applications from the Terminal

As long as you originally installed the application from the App Store, you can update it from the Terminal, using the Mac App Store (‘mas’) program. The downside is that before you can install mas, you’ll need to have Homebrew setup. If you’ve never used this software package management tool before, then check out our complete guide to getting started with Homebrew.

Once you have Homebrew setup, you’re ready to install mas:

  • Launch your Mac’s Terminal (‘Applications > Utilities > Terminal.’)
  • Copy/paste the following command into the Terminal window:

brew install mas

  • Press the ‘Enter’ key on your keyboard.

Homebrew will now install mas. Once mas is setup on your machine, you’re ready to start updating your apps from the command line.

Update all your apps

To see a list of all the apps that need updating, run the following command in the Terminal window:

mas outdated

This will present you with a list of all the apps that need updating. To update everything on this list, type the following command into the Terminal window:

mas upgrade

Update a specific app

To get picky about which applications receive an update:

  • Run the ‘mas outdated’ command, as normal.
  • Check the Terminal output for the application that you want to update – it should have a number in front of it. Copy this number.
  • Type the following command into the Terminal, but don’t press the ‘Enter’ key just yet:

mas upgrade

  • Paste the number to the end of this command.
  • Now press the ‘Enter’ key on your Mac’s keyboard.

Install macOS updates from the Terminal

There’s only one thing more annoying than having to update applications via the App Store – and that’s having to update macOS via the App Store!

However, you can install system-level updates directly from the Terminal, without having to install any additional software. Even if you decided against installing Homebrew and mas, it’s still possible to update macOS without ever venturing into the App Store.

Install all available system updates

To check for available system updates:

  • Open a new Terminal window (‘Applications > Utilities > Finder.’)
  • Copy/paste the following command into the Terminal:

softwareupdate -l

After a few moments, the Terminal will return a list of all the available system updates.

To install everything on this list, run the following command:

softwareupdate -i -a

Restart your computer when prompted, and once your Mac boots up your operating system will be completely up to date.

Get selective with system updates

Alternatively, if you want to pick and choose which updates to install, then:

  • Find out what updates are available, by running the ‘softwareupdate -l’ command.
  • Check the Terminal output. Each update should have a * symbol, followed by the name of the update, for example here’s the Terminal report for an available iTunes update:

* iTunesX-12.7.4
iTunes (12.7.4), 272816K [recommended]

  • Type the following command, but don’t press the ‘Enter’ key:

softwareupdate -i

  • Paste the name of the update to the end of this command, for example:

softwareupdate -i iTunesX-12.7.4

  • Press the ‘Enter’ key, and the update will be installed.

Download without installing

Often, the most frustrating part of installing system-level updates, is that you need to step away from your Mac while the installation is actually taking place, which isn’t always possible in the middle of the working day!

If you update via the Terminal, then you can download all the available updates without installing them, using the following command:

softwareupdate -d -a

You can then install these updates at a later date, via the App Store. Although you will need to launch the App Store, this approach allows you to download all available system-level updates in the background, and then set them to install just as you’re about to step away from your Mac, for example during your lunchbreak or even overnight.

By the time you return to your Mac, all of your newly-updated software will be ready to use!

About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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