How to Fix Your Mac if It Has the Folder With a Question Mark

175
mac flashes folder with question mark

Macs are super reliable computers; most have no moving parts except for a fan. We can usually just turn them on, and they work with no issue, which is why so many users love using their Macs, including me.

Sometimes though, there can be a software or hardware issue. If your Mac is experiencing a folder with a question mark, this article will talk about how we can save our data and troubleshoot the issue.

What Does a Folder With a Question Mark Mean?

There are two scenarios that you could experience when it comes to the folder with a question mark appearing on your Mac.

  • The folder with a question mark appears, but then it goes away as your Mac is loading. This can sometimes happen when the startup disk is specified incorrectly. Your Mac is looking for a hard drive but not the default one that it should be using. After the first selected startup disk doesn’t load, your Mac will then search for other hard drives, and when it finds the one that contains your operating system, your computer will then boot successfully. This is what causes the error to then disappear.
  • The folder with a question mark appears and doesn’t go away. This happens when something is wrong with your startup disk. The data on the startup disk could be corrupted or there could be physical damage to it. Either way, your Mac will not boot, and you can only use it in Recovery Mode at this point.

It would be best to first try and recover the data from our Mac as the disk could fail at any moment. Having your data recovered and safe can give you that peace of mind right away.

Can I Recover Data When My Mac Is Showing the Folder With a Question Mark?

Yes! We can attempt to recover the data from the MacBook by using third-party data recovery software.

Disk Drill is a third-party data recovery app that allows you to scan your Mac and recover the data from your hard drive even if your Mac won’t boot. There are many options out there when it comes to data recovery software. I like using Disk Drill as it has proven to be the best, and I will tell you why!

  • It works with the new Apple silicon Macs and offers support for macOS version 13 Ventura.
  • The interface is easy to use which is important so that you can navigate and find your data fast. There is also a search feature where you can type in the name of a file to find it that way.
  • You can scan for lost data on your Mac for free. After seeing that your data is available for recovery, then you can choose if you would like to purchase the software or not.

Let’s look at how we can recover the data from our Mac before we try to troubleshoot the issue.

Keep in mind that Disk Drill has limited functionality in Recovery Mode, for example, the Preview feature is not supported.
  1. Press and hold the power button to power down your Mac.
  2. We now need to boot our Mac into Recovery Mode. There are two ways to do this depending on if you’re using a newer Apple silicon Mac or if you’re using an older Intel Mac.
    1. Apple silicon (newer Macs, usually less than 2 years old): Press the power button on your Mac and then continue to hold it down until you see the startup options window. Click the gear icon labeled Options, then click Continue and this will bring you into Recovery Mode.
    2. Intel processor (older Macs, usually greater than 2 years old): Press and release the power button then immediately press and hold these two keys until you see an Apple logo or other image: Command (⌘) and R. I usually have to hold these keys for a little bit of time to get into Recovery Mode.
  3. We now need to launch the Terminal so that we can use Disk Drill. Once within Recovery Mode, click on Utilities and then select Terminal.
  4. Enter this command into the Terminal window. This will download and then launch Disk Drill from within Recovery Mode: sh <(curl http://www.cleverfiles.com/bootmode/boot.xml).
  5. Press Return on your keyboard after you’ve typed in the command.
  6. Wait for Disk Drill to download and then launch. This might take a few moments.
  7. Below Data Recovery, select Storage devices and choose the disk that you would like to scan for lost data. Once you have found the disk, click Search for lost data.disk list
  8. Wait for the scan to complete.scan process
  9. Review the results and select the data that you would like to recover.scan results
  10. Choose the destination where you would like to recover the data to.recovery destination
  11. That’s it! You will now receive a recovery complete message.finally recover

Now that we have our data saved and don’t have to worry about that anymore, let’s shift toward trying to get our Mac to boot.

How to Fix Question Mark Folder on Mac

There could be many reasons why your Mac won’t boot up. Below we will walk through various methods that we can do to try and get our Mac up and running again.

The steps below will work with any Mac. This means a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, or any other model of Apple computer.

Method 1: Edit Mac Startup Disk in System Settings (If the Folder With a Question Mark Goes Away)

Here, we will show you how to change your startup disk. We recommend you use this method if your Mac shows the folder with a question mark for a moment but then boots up normally.

This will enable our Mac to boot from the correct startup disk each time instead of doing the dance of showing the error message and then booting.

  1. Launch System Settings.
  2. Go down to General and then choose Startup Disk.system settings
  3. From within System Settings, select your startup disk that has your operating system on it.startup disk selection
  4. Restart your Mac and see if the issue has been corrected.

If your Mac has a permanent folder with a question mark, you will want to start with the next method.

Method 2: Turn Your Mac off and Then Try to Boot It Again

If you turned on your Mac and you’re seeing the folder with a question mark, then there could have been something that went wrong during the start sequence.

Sometimes turning it off and then back on again can help fix issues as it allows your Mac to boot from a fresh startup.

  1. Hold down the power button until your Mac’s screen goes black.
  2. Press the power button and then release.
  3. Wait for your Mac to boot up and see if it’s operating correctly this time.

If your Mac isn’t making it past the folder with a question mark, then let’s move on to the next step.

Method 3: Reset the NVRAM/PRAM on your Mac

Your Mac uses both NVRAM/PRAM to store system settings that have to do with your startup disk, audio settings, display resolutions, and other system settings.

While most of the time these work flawlessly, if you’re experiencing issues such as the folder with a question mark, it’s worth seeing if resetting them will fix the issue.

Note: If you’re using an Apple silicon Mac, then your computer won’t use NVRAM/PRAM and you can try turning your Mac off and then back on again as a solution.

The steps below will reset both NVRAM/PRAM so you will only need to accomplish this once.

  1. Shut down your Mac by holding the power button until the screen goes black.
  2. Turn your Mac back on and then immediately press and hold OPTION+COMMAND+P+R. Hold these keys for about 20 seconds.
  3. Your Mac will then appear to restart.
  4. See if the folder with a question mark is gone and if your Mac has booted correctly.

If you’re using a newer Mac that has a T2 security chip, you can release the keys right after you see the Apple logo.

If your Mac still has a folder with a question mark, then let’s try running First Aid.

Method 4: How to Run First Aid on Your Mac in Recovery Mode

First Aid is a free utility that comes installed on your Mac and it’s provided by Apple. By using it, we can scan our Mac and find any disk errors that could be causing our Mac to display the folder with a question mark.

Let’s look at how we can use First Aid on our Mac.

  1. The first thing that we need to do is boot into Recovery Mode. There are 2 ways to do this, and they depend on if you’re using an Intel or Apple Silicon Mac.
    1. Apple silicon (newer Macs, usually less than 2 years old): Press the power button on your Mac and then continue to hold it down until you see the startup options window. Click the gear icon labeled Options, then click Continue and this will bring you into Recovery Mode.
    2. Intel processor (older Macs, usually greater than 2 years old): Press and release the power button then immediately press and hold these two keys until you see an Apple logo or other image: Command (⌘) and R. I usually hold these keys for a little bit of time to get into Recovery Mode.
  2. Now that we’re in Recovery Mode, we will see a list of options. First Aid is part of Disk Utility, so we will want to select Disk Utility. Then, click on the Continue tab in the lower right-hand corner.recovery mode
  3. Now that we’re in Disk Utility, select First Aid.disk utility
  4. A pop-up window will appear asking you if you want to run First Aid, we do so click on Run.
  5. Wait for the process to complete.
  6. You will then see a green checkmark and a message that says operation successful.complete first aid
  7. Click on Done and then go up to the Apple Logo and choose to restart your Mac.

If your Mac is now booting normally, then we’re done here! If not, let’s try reinstalling macOS.

Method 5: Reinstalling macOS on Your Mac (No Data Loss)

Reinstalling macOS while in Recovery Mode is a lot easier to do than people might think as it sounds like it might be a complicated task. This is something that we can do for free and, if done correctly by following the steps below, you shouldn’t lose any data either.

  1. First, we need to get our Mac into Recovery Mode. Follow one of the two options below, either is fine.
    1. Apple silicon (newer Macs, usually less than 2 years old): Press the power button on your Mac and then continue to hold it down until you see the startup options window. Click the gear icon labeled Options, then click Continue and this will bring you into Recovery Mode.
    2. Intel processor (older Macs, usually greater than 2 years old): Press and release the power button then immediately press and hold these two keys until you see an Apple logo or other image: Command (⌘) and R. I usually hold these keys for a little bit of time to get into Recovery Mode.
  2. Now that we’re in Recover Mode we want to select Reinstall macOS.recovery mode
  3. Click through and accept the install prompts.reinstall macos start
  4. Select the hard drive that you would like to reinstall macOS to and then click on Continue. Wait for the installation to complete. I would also recommend that you connect your Mac to power during this process.choose drive

If after the installation of macOS your Mac still won’t load, then it might be time to contact Apple support.

Method 6: Contacting Apple Support

Sometimes there are issues with something that is beyond our control, and we need to reach out to a technician for help.

Apple will be able to fix a Mac that has a blinking question mark within the startup folder if the above methods didn’t work.

I would go to Apple’s website and make an appointment or head to your local Apple store if you’re able to and see what they recommend that you do.

FAQ