How to Recover Missing Files after macOS Big Sur Update

Peter William
time November 26, 2020 Preview 34.1K
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This article will show you how to recover missing files after Mac update from Catalina to Big Sur or Mojave to Catalina, etc. There are also tips to get back lost apps or Dock, among others, after macOS upgrade.

macOS 11 Big Sur comes with new apps, new features and improved performance. You can upgrade your Mac to enjoy these benefits. However, there could be risks. There have been situations where Mac update deleted everything, or users lost photos after Big Sur or Catalina update, etc. This article mainly talks about the common ways to recover missing files after Mac update.

Note: Before you get all your lost data back, it’s recommended not to put new data to your Mac in case that the lost files would be overwritten by new data. Before upgrading to macOS Big Sur or Catalina, please be aware of possible data loss and try to minimize the possibility.

Restore lost files after Mac update from Time Machine backup

If you have complaints like “I updated my Mac and lost everything” or “Mac update deleted everything”, the best possible solution is to get things back from Time Machine backup.

Time Machine is a backup utility built-in to macOS, allowing you to back up your entire Mac. As a result, it’s possible to easily recover documents, apps, music, photos and other data missing after Mac update. Below are two facts.

  • If you have created Time Machine backup before macOS Big Sur upgrade or downgrade, you can restore lost or missing data from the backup. If not, then you can’t.
  • If the last backup was days, weeks or even months ago, then there would still be lost data despite the restoring. In such a case, this method alone won’t be enough. Professional data recovery software will do the rest.

Step 1. From the Apple menu, select System Preferences, and then choose the Time Machine icon. Select the Show Time Machine in menu bar checkbox.

Step 2. Choose Enter Time Machine rom the Time Machine menu. You'll be taken to the Time Machine window. Then you can navigate to the file or folder you'd like to restore.

Enter Time Machine

Step 3. Select a file and press Space Bar to preview the file. Find the one you need to recover and click Restore to restore the selected file, or Control-click the file for other options. Time Machine will copy that file back to its original location on your hard disk.

start restoring lost data after Mac update

Tip: You can also use the timeline on the edge of the screen to see the files in your Time Machine backup as they were at that date and time and use the onscreen up and down arrows to jump to the last time the contents of the window changed.

Retrieve lost photos or iPhoto app without any third-party app

With the Big Sur update, some people lost a part (or worse, all) of their photos. Also, users of iPhoto find that the iPhoto app itself along with the photos has gone. With both cases, it’s very likely that the photos are still there, safe and sound, and you just need to make them reappear again. If so, there is an easy fix, which doesn’t require backup or any third-party tool.

Before getting started, let’s talk a little bit about iPhoto. Despite being discontinued for years, iPhoto is still available for use after the year of 2015 when it was replaced with Photos app. It can still run on Mojave. However, with the release of macOS 10.15, it’s not usable anymore. That’s the reason why users lost the iPhoto app after upgrading to Big Sur.

The solution is easy. Switch to Photos and load your iPhoto library.

Step 1. Launch the Photos app while holding down the option key, which will bring up the Choose Library window.

Step 2. Select iPhoto Library. Click Choose Library.

the Choose Library window

The app will start preparing Library. Once the process is completed, you will be able to see the lost photos again. It’s that easy to retrieve lost photos after Mac Big Sur or Catalina update.

the Photos app is preparing library

How to recover lost files when backup is NOT available

This method is for you if you:

  • Don’t use Time Machine
  • Haven’t updated Time Machine backup for a long time
  • Unfortunately find the backup is damaged

Mac updated deleted everything, and there isn't a backup available. It’s not the end of the world! Professional data recovery software like Cisdem Data Recovery can help you recover missing files after Mac update.

Cisdem Data Recovery for Mac Main Features:

  • Recover folders, documents, photos, songs, videos, emails, archives, etc.
  • Work with lost data due to system upgrade, permanent deletion, drive formatting, etc.
  • Support files systems like HFS+, FAT16, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, APFS, etc.
  • Support Mac’s hard drive and various external storage devices
  • Allow you to quickly scan, preview and retrieve data with 3 preview modes
  • Guarantee read-only and risk free data recovery

Free Download

Step 1Get the app

Free download and install Cisdem Data Recovery on your Mac. Launch it.

Step 2Select a recovery mode

You will be presented with five solutions, as shown in the screenshot below. To get back missing files after Mac update, you can choose Basic Data Recovery or Advanced File Recovery. The latter can do the most comprehensive scan and recovery, which will take relatively longer scanning time.

select a recovery solution

Step 3Choose the hard drive to scan

This data recovery will automatically list all Mac hard drives and storage devices if connected to your Mac computer. Select the hard drive where you lost the data. Click Scan to start scanning lost data from the selected hard drive or partition. The time the scanning process takes depends on the amount of files it is scanning through.

select a drive or partition

Step 4Preview and recover lost data

After scanning, you can preview and recover the lost files. To quickly find the files you want to view or recover, you can enter the keywords to the Search Box at the top of the list. On the top right of the interface, three modes including List, Thumbnail and Preview are also provided to let you view the discovered lost files.

preview and recover

Select the files you want to recover and click Recover to get them back on your Mac. After finishing recovery, the Show in Finder button allows you quickly locate to the folder that stores all recovered files.

Pro tip

In macOS 10.13 High Sierra, a significant feature called System Integrity Protection (SIP) was introduced and enhanced, which prevents malware from modifying protected files and folders on Mac.

SIP also intervenes when third-party safe apps are trying to gain access to system disk or partition. So before you use the app to perform data recovery under macOS 11 Big Sur, you need to temporarily disable SIP.

The steps below show you how to temporarily disable System Integrity Protection.

Step 1. Reboot the Mac and hold down "Command + R" keys simultaneously after you hear the startup chime.

Step 2. When the "macOS Utilities" screen appears, click "Utilities" in the menu bar, and choose "Terminal".

Step 3. In the "Terminal" window, type in "csrutil disable" and press "Enter" then restart your Mac.

You can also use the timeline on the edge of the screen to see the files in your Time Machine backup as they were at that date and time and use the onscreen up and down arrows to jump to the last time the contents of the window changed.

Bonus tip: Get back missing apps, Album Artwork, etc. after Big Sur update

In addition to missing files after Mac update, there can also be other common issues with macOS update. Here are some quick fixes that might be helpful. You can search on Google for more information.

Issue Fix 1 Fix 2
Album Artwork disappearing Keep the Music app open and wait patiently Manually add missing covers
Dock missing Enter "defaults delete; killall Dock" in Terminal Restart your Mac. Go to System Preferences > Dock. Select and then unselect the checkbox before Automatically hide and show the Dock
Lost emails Restore from Time Machine backup Check out this guide to recovering Apple Mail files
Lost Microsoft Office apps Upgrade Office to the 64-bit version Downgrade your macOS
Lost 32-bit Adobe products Upgrade your Adobe products to 64-bit versions Downgrade your macOS

Note: With the release of Catalina, macOS ends the support for 32-bit apps.


I updated my Mac and lost everything. Mac update deleted everything. These situations are not uncommon. Hopefully this article can be of some help to you. To avoid the risk, you can also choose to partition your hard drives and install the new macOS in one of the partitions. Even though you can use powerful software like the Cisdem Data Recovery for Mac to get data back, make it a habit to back up your Mac in order to be prepared for any data loss situations.

Peter William
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Peter has always had great enthusiasm for writing, programming and web development. He likes writing about software and technology, his works are featured on some tech blogs or forums like Tom's Hardware, CNET, etc.

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Comments (2) Leave a Reply

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  • Jooye

    I found many files missing after mac os sierra upgrade, and I didn't backup them to somewhere, I tried this data recovery, it found them on my Mac hard drive, thanks a lot.

    5 years ago Reply

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  • Tonyer

    Losing data after mac os upgrade or downgrade is not very much common if the user operate correctly I think. But it is indispensable to always keep a data recovery in hands. I do have one.

    5 years ago Reply

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