In Yosemite the App Store System Preferences pane has automatic updates for a few separate items:

"Install App updates" "Install OS X updates" "Install system data files and security updates"

App updates would include 3rd party software as well as Pages, Numbers, iMovie, etc.

I'm not clear on the other two. My guess is OS X updates includes things like 10.10.3, iTunes, Safari, Remote Desktop Client Update, Camera RAW, etc. My guess for system data files and security updates may include things like XProtect definitions, Security Update 2015-001, etc.

Are those assumptions correct?

Would 10.11.0 when it released be considered an "OS X update" and be automatically installed?

I've found these articles (one two) with conflicting info, but an haven't located an official knowledge base article from Apple with definitive answers.

  • When you press the question mark in the pref pane, it has definitive explanations of what the buttons do. Which specific line of text has you confused?
    – bmike
    May 27, 2015 at 19:40
  • I find those definitions too vague to be useful. Someone edited out my question if 10.11.0 would be considered an auto update so I've put that back in the question.
    – ridogi
    May 27, 2015 at 21:05

3 Answers 3


Apple documents the difference between an update and an upgrade as follows:

Updates within each named OS include security, performance and sometimes new features. They are focused on the first two.

Upgrade is from Lion to Mountain Lion or Mavericks to Yosemite. These are primarily about large feature introductions and major changes.

Sometimes a big change will arrive as an update, but in general you have to purchase (even if it's a free redemption) upgrades whereas updates can be automated with the software update app and or the software update portion of the Mac App Store.

Historically, the two were separate, but it's a bit more confusing now since everything the normal end user sees is in the App Store app.

You can see what updates are pending by running the command softwareupdate -l in terminal and it will only list system updates.

  • I think this is as accurate as we can get now with regards to 10.11.0. With Yosemite being free, this new breakdown of update categories in the pref pane, and Apple's desire to get people on the newest version I wonder if it will soon auto upgrade to a new OS. On iOS a point release already is presented similarly to a new OS version.
    – ridogi
    May 28, 2015 at 0:05

You're correct.

I have "Install App updates" and "Install system data files and security updates" checked in System Preferences and "Install OS X updates" deselected, and exactly what you describe is what I observe.

OS X Updates are user-facing updates that directly affect the user, regardless of whether the user actually uses the respective app (e.g. RAW updates).
The system/security updates are the Security Updates and File Quarantine (XProtect) definitions.

In the last 30 days according to my App Store Updates tab, the following was not auto-installed for me with "Install OS X updates" disabled:

  • Command Line Tools (OS X 10.10) 6.3
  • Digital Camera RAW Compatibility Update 6.04
  • Remote Desktop Client Update 3.8.4

OS X 10.11.0 would be considered a separate app on the App Store, so it wouldn't be automatically updated from a version prior to 10.11.0 regardless of the settings.

  • I am interested in a clear definition of "security update." For example Safari, Security Update 2015-00x, and point updates such as 10.3.x could be considered "security updates" but they seem to be part of "OS X updates." If someone has observed those getting installed or not that would be useful.
    – ridogi
    May 27, 2015 at 21:10
  • @ridogi Ah, I don't recall and wouldn't want to speculate. I've addressed your question regarding 10.11 though.
    – grg
    May 27, 2015 at 21:22
  • @ridogi - I agree. My systems seem to add iTunes via the security setting, but not Safari and the general system update (I have only that box checked for auto-download, that's how I noticed).
    – benc
    Apr 9, 2019 at 4:07

"Install system data and security updates"

  • iTunes (often)
  • System update, very rarely

(only macOS Mojave 10.14.5, Security Update 2019-003 High Sierra, Security Update 2019-003 Sierra)


  • Safari

NOTE: From a system with "Automatically check for updates" and only "Install system data and security updates"

For the last few years, running El Capitan -> Sierra, has only visibly auto-updated iTunes.

Apple provides a list of the items it does put into this channel in this article:

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