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Software Update changes in the latest macOS releases

May 26 2020 by Jeff Johnson
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Today Apple released macOS Catalina 10.15.5, as well as Security Update 2020-003 for macOS Mojave and High Sierra. Apple also published support articles listing the security content and non-security content of those updates. In the latter article, at the end of "Enterprise content", there's a note about the softwareupdate command-line tool:

Major new releases of macOS are no longer hidden when using the softwareupdate(8) command with the --ignore flag
This change also affects macOS Mojave and macOS High Sierra after installing Security Update 2020-003.

I haven't tested this on macOS 10.15.5, and indeed we really can't test it until the next major version macOS 10.16 is released, but the support article seems to be only partially accurate about macOS 10.14 Mojave.

On Mojave, if you refuse to update to Catalina (for good reasons), the System Preferences app constantly shows a red "1" badge on the Dock icon — representing the Catalina update — and the Software Update preference pane shows the badge too. Until today's updates, there was a relatively easy way to make that badge disappear indefinitely. As described in this excellent blog post, here are the steps:

  1. Quit System Preferences
  2. In Terminal, $ sudo softwareupdate --ignore "macOS Catalina"
  3. In Terminal, $ defaults delete LatestMajorOSSeenByUserBundleIdentifier
  4. In Terminal, $ softwareupdate --list

After I installed Security Update 2020-003 for Mojave, however, the red badge returned, as did Catalina in the Software Update preference pane. So I found the blog post again and tried to repeat the steps. When I followed step 2, it still showed "macOS Catalina" in the ignored updates, but it also displayed a new message at the end:

Ignoring software updates is deprecated.
The ability to ignore individual updates will be removed in a future release of macOS.


As I mentioned, Apple's support article seems to be not entirely accurate. It's true that the Software Update preference pane now refuses to ignore the Catalina update on Mojave. Nonetheless, softwareupdate itself does continue to ignore it! Fortunately, then, there's still a way to make the red badges go away. We don't need no stinkin' badges!

The key is to avoid opening the Software Update preference pane. It's fine to open System Preferences though. If you happened to open the preference pane after installing the Security Update 2020-003, you can just repeat the above steps, and the badge will still go away. You may also have to disable all automatic software update checks in the preference pane; I've always done this myself, so I can't say for certain what would happen if you don't. Thereafter, you can check for software updates in Terminal using $ softwareupdate --list (or $ softwareupdate -l for short). I know this works, because the Safari 13.1.1 update showed up later, and I installed it using softwareupdate.

It may be a bummer to have to check and install everything from the command line, but it's preferable to a permanent red stain on your Dock, isn't it? The good news is that if you ever accidentally or on purpose open the Software Update preference pane and see the badge again, you can always repeat the usual steps to make it go away.

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