How to Fix Mac Flashing Folder with Question Mark at Startup?

By Vivian | Posted to Mac Data Recovery on March 19th, 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 folder icon 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 a solution in this post.

What does a flashing 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.

The flashing folder shows after a recent macOS software update

Sometimes, this Mac boot problem appears 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 flashing 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. Step 1: Force your Mac to shut down by pressing the power button for seconds.
  2. Step 2: Restart your Mac and immediately hold the Command + R key combinations.
  3. Step 3: When you see the Apple logo, you can let the keys go.
  4. 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.
  5. boot into macOS Recovery mode
  6. Step 4: Then, you can click on the Apple logo at the upper left, choose the Startup Disk option.
  7. Step 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. 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 confirm.

  1. Step 1: In macOS Recovery Mode, select Disk Utility from the macOS Utilities. It’s a built-in disk repair tool.
  2. Repair the Startup drive with Disk Utility
  3. Step 2: In the Disk Utility, select your startup drive (usually named "Macintosh HD" or "Apple SSD"). If you can see a system partition named macOS or Macintosh HD, select that instead.
  4. Step 3: Click the First Aid tab at the top of the window.
  5. Step 4: Click the Run button to verify and repair errors on your startup drive.
  6. Step 5: After repairing the startup drive, you can quit Disk Utility and go back to macOS Utilities.
  7. Step 6: Go to Apple menu > Startup Disk, and then reselect the system volume.
  8. Step 7: Restart the Mac and see if the flashing folder disappears at startup.

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 hard drive. (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.
  3. Reinstall macOS to startup the Mac.

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

Step 1: Rescue data from the unbootable hard drive

The point is that your Mac can't boot past the flashing folder now. How could you get files off the Mac?

Actually, you might want to give iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery a chance. It can help you rescue your important files from the unbootable Mac, then save them to an external hard drive.

iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery is a powerful Mac data recovery software. It can recover files when Mac mini/MacBook Pro/MacBook Air/iMac can't boot up. It can rescues data from failed internal Mac hard drive, corrupted Mac startup disk, and unmountable Macintosh HD. Moreover, iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery is also a good tool to recover lost data from corrupted, unreadable, formatted, inaccessible, and APFS encrypted external drives.

You can use iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery to get files off the unbootable Mac in two ways.

Method 1: Rescue files under Recovery Mode

This solution helps if you only have the Mac that is stuck on the folder question mark. You can simply run iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery in Recovery Mode. And then you can get files off this unbootable Mac.

Note: Before you follow the steps below, you have to make sure your Mac has an Internet connection.

1. Restart your Mac computer and press Command+ Option +R key combinations instantly.

2. Click Utilities in the top menu and select Terminal from the drop-down menu.

Terminal in recovery mode

3. Run the following command:

sh <(curl http://boot.iboysoft.com/boot.sh)

This will launch iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery through iBoysoft Server.

When iBoysoft Mac Data Recovery is launched, you can select the startup drive to recover data.

select the unbootable APFS drive

Method 2: Rescue data with an external bootable drive

Another way to recover data from unbootable Mac is to create an iBoysoft bootable recovery drive. You can use this method if you have two Mac computers or you can borrow one from your friends. A USB flash drive is needed additionally.

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

Step 3: Reinstall macOS

After reformatting, your startup drive should work normally again. To get rid of the flashing folder question mark at startup, there is one last thing you need to do. That is to reinstall macOS for your computer.

  1. 1. In Recovery Mode, go back to the macOS Utilities.
  2. 2. From the macOS Utilities menu, select Reinstall macOS.
  3. Reinstall macOS in Recovery Mode
  4. 3. Click Continue, then follow the instructions to choose your disk and start installation.

After installing the macOS, you can restart your Mac. Hopefully, the Mac will boot up without the flashing question folder.

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 hard drive is not showing up in Disk Utility. 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.

Conclusion

Most of the time, 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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Vivian

Vivian likes to share technical tips and solutions with people, especially in macOS and Windows data recovery and disk repair tricks. Being a part of @iBoysoft, she has solved many computing and technological problems for readers with ease.