How to Fix Mac Folder with Question Mark at Startup?

By Vivian | Updated to Mac Data Recovery Tips on November 30th, 2020 |

Summary: When Mac shows folder with a question mark, you can follow this guide to fix this issue. Without losing important files, you can fix the question mark folder and boot up your Mac again.

Occasionally, you'll see certain error screens when starting up your Mac. That flashing folder with a question mark on Mac is one of those Mac boot errors.

It just appears, with no warning or pop-up in advance. You can't ignore and go past the question folder icon. Many users hope to fix this issue by a restart. However, it won't work in most cases.

Fix Mac Flashing Folder with Question Mark at Startup

Then how could you get rid of the question mark folder and boot up your Mac again?

Don't worry, you'll find solutions in this post.

What does a folder with a question mark mean?

The folder with a question mark icon means Mac can't find the hard drive or the system folder. It could be caused by software or hardware errors. You may see the blinking file folder at startup on your Mac in these situations.

The flashing folder shows just at a normal startup

It could happen if you have recently boot from an external system drive. What's more, you would see the icon if you install both Windows and Mac operating systems on your Mac machine. In these cases, you see the flashing folder with question mark simply because of wrong setups. That's to say, your Mac is confused when selecting the startup volume.

The folder with question mark icon shows after you replace a new HD or SSD

You could have replaced the Mac internal hard drive recently for better performance. If you're sure that you have a macOS on the new drive, then, the flashing folder might result from faulty connections. During the replacement, the SATA connection could get loose or damaged. So, your Mac has no startup disk to select if the Macintosh HD is not mounted.

The flashing folder shows after a recent macOS software update

Sometimes, this Mac has boot problems after or during the macOS update. The system files or the macOS directory could be corrupted. As a result, your Mac has trouble loading the operating system.

The Mac shows the question mark folder with clicking or beeping noise

In some cases, your Mac won't boot past the error screen due to hard drive corruption. Or what's worse, the Mac hard drive is severely damaged or even dead.

There could be some other situations. For example, the Mac boots into a black screen. But no matter how this issue happens, you are going to fix it for sure.

How to fix the folder with a question mark on Mac?

You could see the flashing folder on MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, iMac, or Mac mini. But anyway, you can try these methods one by one.

1. Manually select the startup drive for Mac

If your Mac displays a flashing question mark at startup, you can wait for a moment and see if it can boot past the icon. If fortunately, it continues booting up, congratulations! But just in case, you can reselect a startup disk in System Preferences > Startup disk.

If you Mac can't boot past the flashing question mark, you can manually select the startup drive. You can do this by restarting your Mac while holding down the Option key.

Tips: In the case of some older Mac OS X machines, you can boot from the install DVD. It comes along with your Mac in the optical drive.

2. Reselect the startup disk in macOS Recovery Mode

When the first methods won't work, you can boot into macOS Recovery Mode. It is part of the built-in recovery system of your Mac. macOS Recovery allows you to reselect the startup drive. To do this, you can follow these steps.

  • 1. Force your Mac to shut down by pressing the power button for seconds.
  • 2. Identify if you are using an Apple Silicon M1 Mac or not, restart your Mac and immediately press one of these key combinations to boot into macOS Recovery Mode.
  • macOS Recovery mode

How to Boot into & Use M1 Mac Recovery Mode

  • 3. When you see the Apple logo, you can let the keys go.
  • Once you see the macOS Utilities window, it means you have booted into macOS Recovery Mode. Some older Macs would show Mac OS X Utilities.
  • boot into macOS Recovery mode
  • 4. Then, you can click on the Apple logo at the upper left, choose the Startup Disk option.
  • 5. Select the hard drive in which the OS is installed.

After you click on the Restart button, your Mac should then start up without the flashing question mark.

Tips: If you can't boot into macOS Recovery Mode, you can try it again over the Internet. You can replace the keys in Step 2 with Option + Command + R (or Shift+ Option + Command + R).

3. Repair the startup drive with Disk Utility

If there is no startup drive in the Startup Disk window, then you need to check the hard drive with First Aid. Probably, the startup drive is corrupted for some reason. If so, it's reasonable why the flashing folder with a question mark appears. Now, you can follow these steps to repair the startup disk with First Aid.

The worst situation is that you don't see your built-in startup disk in the Disk Utility. It indicates that there's a hardware issue. You need to check the connections of your hard drive. You can also contact the Apple authorized service for Mac repair.

Some other times, the startup drive is showing up in Disk Utility. However, Disk Utility finds issues with your startup disk that it can't repair. In this case, you need to move forward to the next part.

4. Reformat the startup drive and reinstall macOS

If Disk Utility can't repair the errors inside your startup drive, you need to reformat it. It's because the hard drive is seriously corrupted. And the quickest fix is to reformat this drive, which will assign a new file system.

However, reformatting will wipe your files off the hard drive. If you don't have a backup of your Mac, you would lose important files after reformatting.

So, to prevent data loss, here is your safe plan:

  • 1. Rescue data from the unbootable Mac. (Of course, you can ignore this step if you have a backup, or if you don't have anything important on the Mac.)
  • 2. Reformat the startup drive.

Up to now, your files would be retrieved to an external hard drive. Therefore, you are safe to reformat the startup drive as these steps.

  • 1. Boot your Mac into macOS Recovery Mode and select Disk Utility from macOS Utilities.
  • 2. Select the startup drive in Disk Utility and click on the Erase button at the top menu.
  • 3. Name it as Macintosh HD and finish the necessary information like scheme and format.
external hard drive

How to Reinstall macOS to start up the Mac?

Here is a guide to reinstall macOS to start up your MacMacBook Pro, Mac mini, MacBook Air, and iMac. Read more >>

  • .
  • All right, let's get down to fixing this issue without data loss.

    Bonus Tip: Check connections when Mac shows the flashing folder with a question mark

    Sometimes, Mac can't find the startup drive just because the connection is not firm.

    So, if you boot from an external drive, you can check these factors.

    • Make sure the hard drive is powered on, especially for some desktop drive that needs an external power source.
    • Make sure the USB port and cable is working.

    If your Mac mini, MacBook Air, or MacBook Air shows folder with a question mark, you can check the SATA connection like this.

    1. 1. Open up the cover of the Mac.
    2. 2. Find the SATA connection of your hard drive. You can remove the connection and then clipped it back firmly.
    3. Check connections when Mac shows the flashing folder with a question mark

    This works well if your Mac doesn't recognize the internal hard drive for booting up. But if it doesn't help, either the hard drive or the SATA connection is damaged. You'll ask for a repair or replacement service from Apple.


    Most of the time, errors like the circle with line through it sign at startup and the folder with a question mark on the Mac screen means a system software issue. You can simply fix this by reinstalling macOS. But it could also result from the hard drive corruption.

    In this case, you should get your important files off the Mac as soon as possible. Then you need to replace or repair the disk, in case it crashes your Mac again.

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