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Resolving Issues with the macOS Software Update Feature

Under specific circumstances, which depend on your local network, your Internet service provider, and the country you are in, the software update feature of macOS might not always work as error-free as expected. TinkerTool System can help you to resolve two typical problems with single mouse-clicks.

What is macOS Software Update?

macOS uses two completely separate technical features to keep software products up-to-date: The operating system itself and additional components which can be seen as parts or add-ons of the operating system are updated via a function called macOS Software Update. It is based on a newsfeed-like architecture which informs macOS about available downloads. If you participate in one of the beta software programs offered by Apple, the standard feed can be redirected to a different one which contains additional beta products, not available to the general public.

For Apps that have been dowloaded from the Mac App Store, no matter if the Apps have been developed by Apple or by third-party vendors, macOS uses a different mechanism which is linked to the App Store itself. This feature is called App Updates.

Note that macOS presents both sources of updates in one single application, also called App Store, although the technologies used internally work very differently. On the update page of the App Store application, you may sometimes notice that available updates are listed in three different sections separated by divider lines, namely important security updates for the operating system (via macOS Software Update), standard updates from macOS Software Update, and App Updates.

Apple distributes new Macintosh operating systems in form of an App which is in fact the installer for that system. So an upgrade of macOS (switching from your current OS to a new generation OS with a different major version number) comes as App from the App Store, while each update of the OS (product care which only changes the minor version number) comes via the Software Update function.

Enforcing an Immediate Synchronization with the List of Available Updates

It can happen that macOS doesn’t notice the availability of an update immediately. There can be a delay of up to two weeks before an entry finally appears on your local system. In case you have learned from somewhere else, like a press article or news web site, that an update must be available which was not automatically listed by your computer yet, you can force your Mac to contact Apple, retrieving the latest list of update downloads available now. To do this, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Software Update on the pane Issues.
  2. Press the button Synchronize List.

After that, macOS will contact Apple via your Internet connection. TinkerTool System shows a small status panel, indicating live what the operating system is doing. Retrieving and evaluating the up-to-date software list may take several minutes. If new updates are available, the App Store application will automatically list them as soon as the synchronization process is completed.

Resolving Issues with the Software Update Feature of macOS
Resolving Issues with the Software Update Feature of macOS
Removing Unsuitable Update Notifications

In some special cases, the opposite of the previously mentioned issue can occur: macOS may list available software updates you are no longer interested in, so you basically have “too many” entries in the list of updates. This can happen shortly after you have changed your personal software feed, for example when you have decided to no longer participate in one of the beta programs. In that particular case, the App Store application may still list beta updates although you don’t like to see them any longer.

To clear the list of available updates in such a case, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Software Update on the pane Issues.
  2. Press the button Clear Update Catalog.

Resolving Licensing Issues with the Mac App Store

Like most other online shops for software products, the Mac App Store uses Internet technology to monitor whether a downloaded App has been correctly licensed by the person who purchased it. This can even be the case for free Apps. The App Store doesn’t use visible licensing information, like serial numbers or registration keys, however. Apps are unlocked via hidden cryptographic receipt files protected by security certificates. Each time you are launching an App, that App might validate if the receipt file is still intact and still bound to your current computer, confirming that you have permission to use the software.

The App Store issues a receipt file when you purchase an App, or transfer the App to a different computer. On the Mac side, handling and monitoring this license is managed by a component called Commerce Kit.

It can happen that the receipt file for an App becomes invalid, even if you are the legitimate owner of the App license, e.g. when Apple’s security certificates have expired. Under normal circumstances, this won’t be a problem. When launching the App, the App Store will just ask you to re-enter the Apple ID of the individual who purchased the App, together with that person’s password. The App Store will then re-issue the license, creating a new, valid receipt file.

Sometimes, this mechanism fails, however. This can be caused by technical defects in macOS or failures of the App Store. In such a case you will only receive a warning message that the App is “damaged” and needs to be downloaded from the App Store again. This basically means that you should “purchase the App again for free” and download a new copy, which causes the App Store to delete the invalid receipt file, re-issuing a new one. This way, the App Store can pretend that some App file suffered a technical problem while in fact there was an issue with App Store licensing.

Downloading an App again can be very tedious, especially if the App is large and you have a slow Internet line. In most cases, not the App, but the license file needs to be renewed only, so the long download might be unnecessary. TinkerTool System can help you in this case, forcing the App Store to re-issue the receipt file only, avoiding the download procedure.

Attention Warning: Before using this feature, first make sure that the App Store can indeed create new licenses for the affected App. Use the following checklist.

If all these conditions are fulfilled, perform the following steps to replace the bad receipt for this App, letting the App Store issue a new one:

  1. Open the tab item App Store Registration on the pane Issues.
  2. Drag the icon of the App that was indicated to be damaged from the Finder into the field Damaged App. You can also click the button […] to navigate to the App, or click on the white area to enter the UNIX path of the App.
  3. Press the button Remove Current Registration.
  4. After this step has been completed, wait a few seconds. You should receive a message from macOS requesting you to confirm with the previously used Apple ID that you are a legitimate license holder for this App.
  5. After you have entered the correct credentials, the App Store will repair the license information and automatically launch the App.

If something went wrong when entering your Apple ID, you won’t need to repeat the entire procedure to try again. Just try to launch the App once more to get a new entry panel for the Apple ID.

Resolving Issues with App Store Licenses
Resolving Issues with App Store Licenses

Resetting the App Store Commerce Subsystem for your User Account

In the past, some versions of the App Store application experienced technical defects causing the re-licensing procedure outlined in the previous paragraph to fail completely. In such a case, multiple or even all Apps purchased from the App Store unexpectedly failed, and repeated attempts to re-issue a license (even by downloading a new copy of the App) also failed. This can be caused by outdated security information from the App Store still stored in your user account.

TinkerTool System might help even in this case. The application can clean outdated App Store data from your user account, and shut the Commerce Kit services down that manage App Store licensing on your side. This can successfully reset the local App Store management and the licensing services should work correctly again. Perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item App Store Registration on the pane Issues.
  2. Press the button Reset App Store Subsystem.

We recommend to additionally restart your computer after using this procedure.

This feature won’t help if the App Store servers are currently failing on Apple’s side.

Erasing the Partitioning Info of Disks to Resolve Issues with Disk Utility

The application Disk Utility as shipped with current versions of macOS is affected by several technical defects. One of the issues can prevent the reorganization of used disks: Depending on the partitioning scheme and previous contents, Disk Utility may reject or fail to erase a disk, so you cannot use the drive for new purposes. All attempts to remove the previous file systems are unsuccessful. TinkerTool System can help in this case, clearing the partitioning info that causes problems in Disk Utility.

Attention Warning: Clearing the partitioning info means that all file systems on the drive in question become inaccessible. All data in all volumes on that disk will be lost. The disk drive will behave similar to a brand new device.

To prepare the disk for successful reuse in Disk Utility, perform the following steps:

  1. Open the tab item Disk Drives on the pane Issues.
  2. Select the disk that should be cleared with the pop-up button Disk to erase.
  3. Review the current partitioning layout of the selected disk in the overview at Affected volumes. TinkerTool System shows the layout in hierarchical order as it was detected by macOS. The application tries to indicate the names and sizes of all volumes found which helps you to identify the correct disk. Note that the overview might include invisible system partitions which might not be shown by Disk Utility.
  4. Press the button Erase Disk….
Clear disks which can no longer handled by Disk Utility
Clear disks which can no longer handled by Disk Utility

Attention Be absolutely sure that you have selected the correct disk for the clear operation before pressing the Erase button.

The disk itself is shown by its device name, often supplemented by a serial number or bus identification, which can help you to differentiate between similar disks if you have multiple drives of the same model. Volumes which are currently not mounted are inaccessible which means that TinkerTool System may not be able to indicate the volume names to which you are accustomed. Instead, the internal names of the associated partitions may be shown. If you are not completely sure about the identity of a specific disk, try to mount it in Disk Utility to see the volume names in TinkerTool System, then unmount the volumes again.

You can only select a drive for erasure when all of its volumes are inactive. If a volume is still in use, eject it in the Finder or in Disk Utility.

After TinkerTool System has successfully performed the clearing procedure, you can try to reuse the drive with Disk Utility, using its own Erase feature which should work correctly now.