How to Fix Blinking Question Mark Folder on Mac

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How to Fix Blinking Question Mark Folder on Mac

Have you ever experienced an instance where upon turning on your Mac, instead of the typical Apple logo, a flashing folder with a question mark is displayed? If you are using an older Mac model prior to 2015, you may also hear a chime before the appearance of this folder.

This issue, depicted by the flashing folder with a question mark, can occur on any Mac device, including the MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac Mini, as they all run on the same operating system, macOS.

So, how do you fix it? Let’s explore a few solutions.

Possible Reasons for a Folder on a Mac to Flash a Question Mark

The flashing question mark folder on a Mac can be caused by a number of issues, including:

  • Hard drive malfunction: If the hard drive is not working properly, the Mac may not be able to access the boot directory and display the question mark folder.
  • Broken or damaged macOS: If the operating system is not functioning correctly, it can prevent the Mac from accessing the boot directory.
  • File system damage: Any damage to the file system can also prevent the Mac from finding the boot directory.

These issues can be classified as hardware or software related, and the resolution of the problem can vary depending on the specific cause. In some cases, the solution may be straightforward and easy to implement, while in other cases, it may require more advanced troubleshooting and repair.

Ways to Fix an Apple Folder that Flashes a Question Mark at Startup

If you’re having trouble starting up your Mac and see a flashing folder with a question mark, it may indicate that macOS cannot locate the startup disk. Even if you try restarting your Mac, the question mark folder icon may persist. In this section, we will provide six methods for troubleshooting and resolving this issue.

Method #1: Check System Preferences to Reselect Mac Startup Disk

  1. Go to the Apple menu, select System Preferences, and then choose Startup Disk.
  2. Locate the icon for the Startup Disk, typically labeled as Macintosh HD, and select it.
  3. Click the Restart button to see if the flashing question mark folder persists.
mac troubleshooting question mark folder
Select the Startup Disk and refresh.


Method #2: Reset NVRAM

The non-volatile random access memory (NVRAM) is a small amount of memory on your Mac that stores certain settings that the computer uses to start up. These settings include the date and time, volume, display resolution, and other information required for your Mac to start up properly. If the Mac startup disc becomes corrupted, resetting the NVRAM can help fix the problem.

This section will guide you through the steps of resetting the NVRAM on your Mac to troubleshoot and potentially resolve issues with the startup process.

If the Mac startup disc has become corrupted, you may need to reset the NVRAM/PRAM to fix it.

Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Power off your MacBook and wait at least 20 seconds.
  2. Press the power button while holding down the Command, Option, and R keys simultaneously.
  3. Release the keys when the Apple logo appears.
  4. The NVRAM reset is complete once the Mac finishes starting up.

Method #3: Restart your Mac in Recovery Mode

If the startup disc is damaged, you may not be able to start your Mac in the usual way. Instead, you can use macOS’s Recovery Mode.

Recovery Mode is a built-in troubleshooting feature in macOS that allows you to perform various repairs and restore your Mac to its original state. It enables you to start your Mac from an external source, such as an internet or local recovery partition or disk. When your Mac is in Recovery Mode, you have access to various tools, such as Disk Utility, that can help you diagnose and fix problems with your Mac’s hard drive, including the startup disk. 

Restarting your Mac in Recovery Mode can be a useful troubleshooting step when you are unable to start your Mac normally and see a flashing folder with a question mark, as it may indicate that the startup disk is damaged or corrupted. This section will guide you through the process of restarting your Mac in Recovery Mode and using the available tools to fix the startup disk.

Depending on whether your Mac uses Apple silicon or an Intel CPU, you can access Mac Recovery mode by pressing different keys.

For Macs with Apple Silicon:

  • Press the power button until the startup options menu appears.
  • Select OptionsContinue.
  • Type in your password to proceed.
  • Start up in macOS Recovery mode.
  • If you’re able to access Recovery Mode, select Disk Utility in the Utilities window to fix the Startup disc.

For Macs with an Intel processor:

  • Press and hold the Command and R keys until the Apple logo or other options appear.
  • Type in your password to proceed.
  • Start up in macOS Recovery mode.
  • If you’re able to access Recovery Mode, select Disk Utility in the Utilities window to fix the Startup disc.

Method #4: Use Disk Utility to Fix Your Mac’s Hard Drive

Disk Utility is a built-in tool in macOS that allows you to manage and repair your Mac’s hard drive and other storage devices. It can verify and repair disk permissions, format and partition hard drives, create and restore backups, and more.

When your Mac is in Recovery Mode, you can use Disk Utility to check the integrity of the startup disk and fix any issues it finds. This can include repairing disk permissions, verifying and repairing the file system, and even reformatting the hard drive if necessary. 

By using Disk Utility, you may be able to fix the startup disk and resolve the flashing folder with a question mark issue, allowing your Mac to start up normally again. This section will guide you through the process of using Disk Utility to check and fix your Mac’s hard drive in Recovery Mode.

To use Disk Utility to fix the Mac startup disc, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the Mac and disconnect any other peripherals.
  2. In the macOS Utilities window of the Mac Recovery Mode, select Disk Utility.
  3. Run Disk Utility to check and fix the Mac startup disk.
question mark folder mac troubleshooting
Check your startup disk.


Method #5: Switch Out the Broken HDD Cable

When the HDD cable fails to send electronic signals between the logic board and the hard disc drive, you may see the “Mac flashing folder with a question mark.” This can be caused by a faulty HDD cable or a bad cable connector on the logic board.

Inspect the cable connector to ensure there isn’t any foreign object that shouldn’t be there. Verify that all the connector’s pins are clean and free of rust.

On a MacBook Pro 2012 model, the hard drive cable connects to the logic board with a flexible cable, which, over time and due to stress, could break or bend, particularly on the 13″ MacBook Pro model.

To check if this is the case, you can use a multimeter for a continuity test or look at the bent part of the wire with a microscope. If you find that this is the issue, replace the cable with a good one. Not everyone has a multimeter, so if you suspect this is the issue, you may be better off taking your system to a repair professional.

Method #6: Reinstall macOS from a USB drive

This final troubleshooting step can be taken if the Mac startup disk still doesn’t work. The solution to this problem is to reinstall macOS on the Mac, which will erase all the data on the hard drive and install a new copy of the operating system. This process can help fix the problem of the Mac folder with a question mark flashing when the computer starts up. 

However, since your Mac won’t start up normally, you’ll need to install macOS from a USB drive. You can download the installation files from another device or the Apple website and use Terminal to make a bootable USB drive. Keep in mind that you will need specific tools, such as a USB drive and a computer, to download the installation files, to complete this process. 

How to Reinstall macOS: Step-By-Step

Here’s a step-by-step process for reinstalling macOS from a USB drive on a Mac. Keep in mind that this process will erase all the data on the hard drive, so it’s important to have a backup of your data before proceeding. Follow these steps:

  1. Format the USB drive: Connect a USB drive to another Mac, open Disk Utility, and select the USB drive. Click on the Erase button and format the drive as macOS Extended (Journaled), and name it “Untitled.”
  2. Download the macOS installer: Go to the App Store on another Mac or PC and download the latest version of macOS that was installed on your Mac.
  3. Create a bootable USB drive: Open Terminal on the other Mac and type the following command: sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Big\ Sur.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia –volume /Volumes/Untitled
  4. Connect the USB drive to the Mac that you want to install macOS on and restart the Mac.
  5. Press and hold the Option key while the Mac is restarting.
  6. Select the USB drive named “Untitled” or “Install macOS Big Sur” from the Startup Manager.
  7. Follow the on-screen instructions to reinstall macOS. Be sure to select the correct startup drive.
  8. After the installation is complete, your Mac will restart, and you will be prompted to set up your Mac and restore your data.

For more information about how to fix the blinking question mark folder on your Mac take a look at the video below which offers a useful guide to several of the methods in this post as well as a couple of other options.

Apple Genius Bar or an Apple Authorized Service Provider 

If your Mac is unable to be fixed by reinstalling macOS or erasing the startup disk, the issue may be related to hardware malfunction. Schedule an appointment with an Apple Genius Bar or an Apple Authorized Service Provider to determine the problem. 

These technicians are well-trained in fixing software issues but may need to further diagnose hardware issues. The technician may need to replace the component if the problem is related to hardware, such as the SSD drive or logic board. These services can also determine if the issue is related to software or hardware and are typically cost-free.

If the official service providers cannot repair your Mac, you may try a chip-level (component-level) repairer. However, be aware that these services may not be widely available, and due to the complexity of the Mac logic board and Apple’s repair policy, not all of them will work on individual parts. It is essential to research and find a trustworthy repair shop that works on individual parts and get a quote before sending your Mac away.

How to Fix Blinking Question Mark Folder on Mac FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is a question mark folder on a Mac?

When you turn on a Mac, instead of the Apple logo, a flashing question mark appears in the middle of the screen. This problem means that the startup disk is broken and happens on all Apple Mac computers, like the MacBook, the MacBook Pro, and the MacBook Air.

After I changed the hard drive, why did I see a flashing folder with a question mark?

You’ll see this because the Mac gets the error “no startup disc.” Because of this, your Mac can’t start up the operating system from the hard drive into memory.

How to fix a Mac folder that keeps flashing a question mark without a CD?

To reinstall macOS, you don’t need a CD. You can go into Recovery Mode and reinstall macOS if you see a folder with a question mark on your Mac. All you need for these steps is a connection to the internet that works.

  1. Start your Mac up, and then go into Recovery Mode.
  2. Choose to reinstall macOS and follow the on-screen instructions.
  3. Choose the hard drive where you want to put it.
  4. Wait until everything is done.
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