You are getting ready to update or upgrade your Mac, but that one thing at the back of your head won't let you do it—you are afraid that doing so might wipe all your precious data. The "if I update my MacBook, will I lose everything" is a legitimate concern.

However, does it work that way?

Let's dive into the specifics and see whether every macOS update results in a data wipe and, if not, why it happens. More importantly, you'll find out how to retrieve your data and minimize the risk of losing it in the first place.

Table of Content
    1. Compatibility Considerations
    2. Back Up Your Data With Time Machine
    3. Free up Storage
    4. Update Your Apps

Will Updating My Mac Delete Everything?

No, updating your Mac won't delete everything. Apple built macOS from the ground up to be a stable and user-friendly operating system. The company regularly releases new macOS updates to introduce new features and graphical interfaces, update the system apps, improve performance, and fix bugs.

One of its strongest suits is upgrading to a new version while leaving user files intact. In other words, updating macOS doesn't move or rewrite your data. So, the real question is, why does it happen? Why does updating a Mac on rare occasions result in deleting user files? Let's find out.

When Does Upgrading macOS Lead to Deleted Files?

While updating your Mac doesn't necessarily mean that you'll deal with lost data, there is still a chance that an update will delete your files. However, this outcome occurs only in four instances.

💽 Not Enough Storage SpaceEvery macOS update requires a specific amount of storage space. If your question is "If I update my Macbook, will I lose everything," the answer is probably yes if you don't have enough storage space. Insufficient space increases the risk of losing data because the update process might delete some user directories.
📉 Outdated AppsMost commonly, the update will cause compatibility issues between the outdated apps and the new macOS. If you have obsolete personal app data, it will become unavailable, or your new macOS won't be able to use it. What causes the problem here? Compatibility issues are rare in the Apple ecosystem, especially with macOS. Still, they can occur if the OS gets an update before most apps.
😱 Bugged UpdatesSometimes, bugged updates can also lead to losing your data. For instance, the update may get corrupted if you have a low bandwidth or poor internet connection. To mitigate the risk of bugged updates, ensure a fast and stable internet connection before clicking that update button.
❗ System ErrorsFinally, system errors can corrupt data and render it unusable by the new OS. System errors don't occur regularly because every update undergoes thorough testing before release. However, they do happen occasionally, especially on older Mac models. You can avoid it by waiting a few days before updating to ensure you get the latest patches and fixes.

Okay, now you understand why upgrading macOS deletes everything. Is there anything you can do? Of course, there is.

How To Recover Lost Data After Updating Your macOS

If you lose your data after Mac update, there is a chance that you didn't lose it for good. In other words, there is a way for you to recover your data. You can choose from many excellent data recovery tools with impeccable track records, like Wondershare Recoverit.

Wondershare Recoverit
  • Recovers data from 2000+ storage media, including computer/laptops, external hard drives, USB drives, SD cards, etc.
  • Manages over 500 data loss situations, such as deletion, formatting, and disk corruption.
  • The user-friendly interface allows you to recover data in just a few clicks.
recoverit boxrecoverit logo

Here is what you need to do to retrieve lost data after updating your macOS:

Step 1 Download and install Wondershare Recoverit

Head down to the official website to download and install the software. It's an incredibly lightweight app and should take only a minute before it's ready to use on your Mac.

select the drive for a scan
Step 2 Select the drive to scan

Once you launch the app, navigate to the drive you want to scan. It should be the one where your lost files were.

scan for deleted files
Step 3 Recover your data

During the scan, you can track progress in the bottom left corner and see the files Wondershare Recoverit has managed to recover. Once the scan is complete, select the files you wish to retrieve and click Recover. You can also preview them beforehand.

recover deleted files after macos updates
Free Download
Free Download

Knowing how to recover data lost after updating your macOS is as crucial as knowing how to prevent it. Let's see how you can minimize the risk of losing data when updating macOS.

How To Prepare for Mac Updates to Avoid Deleting Files

Since you now know the factors that can come into play when upgrading macOS and potentially lead to data loss, you can prepare better. Discover the best practices to get your Mac ready for updates and avoid deleting files.

Task 1: Compatibility Considerations

First, ensure your Mac supports the new macOS version. Compatibility issues don't only come from incompatible software but also hardware. Your system must be compatible with the macOS version you want to install. You can install the latest macOS version - macOS Sonoma on any of the following Mac models:

Mac TypesMac Models
MacBook Pro MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2023) MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2023) MacBook Pro (13-inch, M2, 2022) MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2021) MacBook Pro (14-inch, 2021) MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020) MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports) MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports) MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019) MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports) MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019) MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2019, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports) MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2018) MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2018, Four Thunderbolt 3 ports)
MacBook Air MacBook Air (15-inch, M2, 2023) MacBook Air (M2, 2022) MacBook Air (M1, 2020) MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2020) MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2019) MacBook Air (Retina, 13-inch, 2018)
iMac iMac (24-inch, M1, 2021) iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2020) iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, 2019) iMac (Retina 4K, 21.5-inch, 2019)
iMac Pro iMac Pro (2017)
Mac mini Mac mini (2023) Mac mini (M1, 2020) Mac mini (2018)
Mac Studio Mac Studio (2023) Mac Studio (2022)
Mac ProMac Pro (2023) Mac Pro (2019)

Dig deeper into the update's specifications to install it on your Mac without data loss.

Task 2: Back Up Your Data With Time Machine

As for built-in tools macOS offers, you should check the Time Machine app. This app lets you back up and restore your data. Here is how you can use it:

  1. Connect your USB or external hard drive.
  2. Click the Apple in your top bar and select System Preferences.
    access system preferences on mac
  3. Start Time Machine.
    start time machine on mac
  4. Select your USB or another external drive as the backup disk.
    back up drive on mac
  5. Click Use Disk to create a backup.

Task 3: Free up Storage

To successfully update your macOS, you need sufficient storage. Check the current state of your local drive and read the update requirements. See how much storage space it requires and ensure you have enough free space before updating your Mac.

Here is how to free up storage on your Mac to ensure the new macOS version has enough space to install:

  1. Go to the Apple menu > About this Mac > Storage > Manage.
  2. Select Recommendations in the left sidebar. You can see how much storage space you have available at the top.
  3. Choose the preferred method to free some space: Store in iCloud, Optimize Storage, Empty Trash Automatically, or Reduce Clutter.
    free up storage space on mac

Task 4: Update Your Apps

Software companies behind the most popular apps for macOS release necessary updates to make their apps compatible with the newest macOS versions. Therefore, update your apps to avoid compatibility issues and prevent data loss.

All of the above can be a lot of information to process. To help you out, here is a cheat sheet for updating a MacBook correctly to avoid deleting everything.


Apple ensures that macOS updates are straightforward. To answer your "if I update my MacBook, will I lose everything" question: yes, it might happen. System errors, insufficient storage space, a slow internet connection, and other factors can result in data loss after your macOS update completes.

To mitigate this risk, check whether your Mac is compatible with the new macOS, ensure you have enough storage space, and back up your Mac. If you still lose data, you can get it back. A reliable data recovery tool like Wondershare Recoverit can retrieve your files even when updating macOS deletes everything.


  • Is it risky to update my Mac?
    Updating your Mac carries minimal risk, as Apple thoroughly tests updates before releasing them. However, there is always a risk of things going sideways when updating your Mac. The upgrade can have issues due to a slow internet connection and many other reasons. It is always a good idea to back up your important data before updating.
  • What happens if you don't update your Mac for a long time?
    Updating your Mac is optional. However, Apple doesn't provide lifetime support for older macOS versions. Over time, your computer may slow down, and you will also miss out on the latest perks, performance optimizations, and features new macOS updates bring.
  • Should I back up my Mac before updating?
    Yes, you should. Backups are paramount if you want to be 100% sure that you don't lose any data during macOS updates or upgrades. Always use Time Machine to back up your Mac before installing the latest updates.
Sue Wayne
Sue Wayne Apr 15, 24
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