How to Fix the Mac Folder With a Question Mark Error | #macos | #macsecurity


Do you keep seeing a folder with a question mark as you boot up your Mac? It’s an indication that the computer is having trouble locating an operating system on the startup disk.

Sometimes, your Mac will boot into macOS soon after, and a couple of fixes can take care of the issue for good. But if you get stuck at the screen indefinitely, that requires some advanced troubleshooting. Here are all the different fixes you can use.

1. Reset Your Mac’s NVRAM

If your Mac boots into macOS despite the folder with a question mark error, it’s best to perform a quick reset of your Mac’s NVRAM (also called the PRAM).

The NVRAM consists of non-volatile memory that holds system-critical information, and resetting it usually helps resolve startup issues. However, that is only possible on Macs running Intel chipsets. Apple silicon Macs automatically reset the NVRAM without any manual intervention whenever they detect problems at boot.

But if you use an Intel Mac, here’s what you must do to manually reset the NVRAM:

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Press the Power button and immediately hold down the Cmd + Option + P + R keys.
  3. Keep holding these keys until you hear the startup chime twice. On Intel Mac models that use the Apple T2 Security Chip, wait until you see the startup Apple logo for the second time instead.

If resetting the NVRAM didn’t help, reset the SMC (System Management Controller) before moving on to the next fix.

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Related: How to Do an SMC and PRAM/NVRAM Reset on Your Mac

2. Specify the Startup Disk in the System Preferences

After resetting the NVRAM and the SMC, try specifying the correct startup disk for macOS (if you have multiple startup disks set up). Skip this fix if your Mac doesn’t ever move past the folder with a question mark screen.

To specify the startup disk:

  1. Open the Apple menu and select System Preferences.
  2. Click Startup Disk.
  3. Click the padlock and enter your Mac’s administrator password (or use Touch ID) to make changes to your startup preferences.
  4. Choose the correct startup disk.
  5. Select Restart.

3. Try a Force Shut Down

If you can’t proceed beyond the folder with a question mark screen, perform a force shutdown of your Mac and follow that with a reboot:

  1. If you’re using a MacBook, disconnect the charging cable.
  2. Press and hold your Mac’s Power button until the screen goes fully dark.
  3. If you’re using an iMac or Mac mini, remove the power cable.
  4. Wait for up to 10 seconds.
  5. If you’re using an iMac or Mac mini, reconnect the power cable.
  6. Turn on your Mac.

4. Select the Correct Disk at Startup

If a force shutdown and reboot didn’t help, try picking the correct startup disk by accessing the Startup Options screen as you boot up your Mac. The procedure is different for Intel and Apple Silicon Macs.

For Intel-based Macs, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold the Power button to shut down your Mac.
  2. Press the Power button again to boot it up and hold down the Option key immediately. Release Option once you get to the screen with the startup disks.
  3. Pick the correct startup disk and select the arrow-shaped Continue button.

For Apple silicon Macs, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold the Power button to shut down your Mac.
  2. Press and hold the Power button again. Keep holding it until you get to the Startup Options screen.
  3. Pick the correct startup disk and select Continue.

5. Run First Aid via macOS Recovery

The next fix involves checking your Mac’s internal storage for errors. To do that, you must boot your Mac into macOS Recovery. This is a special recovery environment that provides access to the Disk Utility app without having to boot into macOS. Again, the process is different depending on the chipset inside your Mac.

For Intel-based Macs, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold the Power button to shut down your Mac.
  2. Press the Power button again to boot it up and hold down the Cmd + R keys immediately.
  3. Keep holding both keys until you get to macOS Recovery.

For Apple silicon Macs, follow these steps:

  1. Press and hold the Power button to shut down your Mac.
  2. Press and hold the Power button again. Keep holding it until you get to the Startup Options screen.
  3. Select Options and click Continue.
  4. Select your Mac user account.
  5. Type in your password and press Enter. You will enter macOS Recovery momentarily.

Once You’re in macOS Recovery

Once you enter macOS Recovery, here’s what you must do:

  1. Select Disk Utility.
  2. Select the View button and pick the Show All Devices option.
  3. Start by running First Aid for each volume within a storage device.
  4. Follow that by running First Aid on each container, and then on the full storage device itself.

Once First Aid finishes checking for and repairing any disk errors, select Disk Utility > Quit Disk Utility from the menu bar. Then restart your Mac (open the Apple menu and select Restart).

6. Reinstall macOS on Your Mac

If none of the fixes above worked, you need to take the time to reinstall macOS. You’ll lose all your data doing this, but if you had Time Machine set up previously, you can recover data from your last backup.

Again, boot into macOS Recovery on your Intel or Apple silicon Mac, but this time select the Reinstall macOS option. Then, pick the startup disk you want to install the operating system onto and follow all onscreen instructions to set up macOS from scratch.

Related: How to Install macOS From USB

Once you finish reinstalling macOS, you can choose to import your data via Time Machine as you work your way through the setup screens. Or, you can use the Migration Assistant (which you can open via Launchpad > Other > Migration Assistant) to get your data back after you’ve finished setting up your Mac.

Failing All That, It’s Time to Visit Apple

If your Mac continues to get stuck at the folder with a question mark screen (or if you have trouble performing any of the fixes above), then it’s likely that you’re dealing with corrupt or defective internal storage. It’s best to book an appointment at your nearest Apple Store and get an Apple Genius to take a look at it.

How to Make an Apple Store Appointment at a Genius Bar

An Apple Store appointment helps find issues with your Apple devices and offers ways to resolve those issues.

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