I'm currently trying to install updates for Mac OS Catalina using softwareupdate CLI tool.

I successfully upgraded a 10.15.5 installation on a VM to 10.15.6:

softwareupdate -iaR

I tried installing 10.15.3 in a separate VM and I noticed if I list the available updates, the only one being displayed is the latest:

softwareupdate -l results

Which is inconvenient since I would like to manage updates selectively.

Any way to force this to display more updates? I know creating a temporary file in /tmp/ forces the command line tools update to be displayed, for example.

I was thinking as well of just downloading the specific update dmg from Apple Downloads.

  • Welcome to Ask Different. Do you have any experi nice using command line tools? If not, no worries. I’m gu sis g you want to upgrade a 10.15.3 to 10.15.4 for some reason?
    – bmike
    Aug 3, 2020 at 9:14
  • I have some experience. The thing is you can't upgrade from 10.15.3 to 10.15.4 for example (or any other version that the latest, which in this case is 10.15.6). You are forced to upgrade to the latest version, since is the only version displayed. I was trying to upgrade some mac-minis used for bulding ios apps this in our CI/CD pipelines but it's useless for my usecase since I can't control which I want to use. I have done reverse engineering on support.apple.com/downloads and they use a JS fiel to grab the upgrades along with the download links.
    – Argish93
    Aug 3, 2020 at 13:03
  • For example: km.support.apple.com/kb/… A viable alternative is to grab these (changing offset parameter for pagination) and download the dmg for later installation in a script.
    – Argish93
    Aug 3, 2020 at 13:08
  • You surely could grab the downloads and stage them. We package all sorts of software using JAMF and I know others use open-source tools like autopkg.github.io/autopkg and munki.org/munki
    – bmike
    Aug 3, 2020 at 14:46

1 Answer 1


We script softwareupdate to pick from some or one of the advertised installs but not to pick a “n-1” patch version like you are asking.

I don’t think you can pull 10.5.5 from the command line now that 10.5.6 is out. Hopefully someone smart and clever can let me know if I’m wrong here.

I would grab the files from the download link and script them if that’s your main goal. Apple is being asked by the Macintosh admin community to allow a delay so we can pause / delay the latest for 2 weeks or 4 weeks, but that functionality isn’t shipping yet. The command line tools are a special case where you can fake things out as far as I can tell from working with Apple Engineering on this the past year or so (and talking with peers in the macadmin community).

The consensus “long term / stable solution” seems to be to get some machines in the beta program / seeding program so you can test these releases before they ship and then hop on updates on your fleet a week to three past when the general availability. Then you can just not update when a new one or blocking one arrives - as opposed to try to pick something that’s not the latest.

We like to let machines update as soon as they can and only block a new update due to known issues / inability to have a backup / restore checkpoint if we run into issues. Then once we know we’re good, we push an update to catch up the machines where people don’t self update on day 1 of an update being available.

Don’t under estimate Apple’s clear goal to get everyone to patch securely and rapidly. User experience is poor when an update breaks things, but also degrades when too many patches are in service and bugs not fixed.

  • This was my first suggestion, to use the latest version whenever possible. But seems like policy around here is to satisfy minimum requirements (whatever version xcode needs) and that's about it. I believe this is a design limitation. It's likely made on purpose that only the latest version is displayed. I can understand this on the GUI to make everyone else life easier but it's a pain that softwareupdate does this as well. Anyway, I'm writing a script to sort this out and download specific dmg from the Apple CDN.
    – Argish93
    Aug 4, 2020 at 8:57
  • Welcome to the layer cake, @Argish93
    – bmike
    Aug 4, 2020 at 9:18

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .