As of macOS Big Sur, it appears that Apple has ended the making of standalone updater versions of macOS available to all users.
While Apple offers macOS updates via the Software Update pane in your Mac’s System preferences, it has also allowed users to download the same updates as standalone installation packages, made available via Apple’s downloads website.
However, so far Apple hasn’t released a standalone installer for macOS 11.1 or 11.0.1. The most recent downloads available from the site are standalone installers for macOS Catalina and Mojave security updates added on December 16. This was noted first by Mr. Macintosh and shared by The Eclectic Light Company.
Manual downloadable delta and combo updates for Big Sur are no longer available. I will let our resident #MacAdmins expert explain 👇
"If you have a need for individual downloads for Big Sur delta/combo updaters – please make sure that's filed in an official capacity with us" 🐸
— Mr. Macintosh (@ClassicII_MrMac) December 17, 2020
While this may not bother or affect single users much, standalone installers are traditionally used by many administrators to update multiple Mac installations by using a single download. Plus, delta and standalone usually are available in smaller file sizes, as they include only the files need for a particular update.
As noted by The Eclectic Light Company, other reasons for offering standalone installers include:
- Reinstalling Safari, which isn’t on the protected System volume, but on the Data volume and can therefore become corrupted without breaking the seal. Without an updater, the only way of reinstalling Safari is within the latest full macOS installer. That’s a download of around 13 GB and a lengthy install process, all for a browser.
- To create any release of that major version of macOS. What I normally do is save the initial .0 release of each major release of macOS. If I then need to go back to any earlier version of the major release, all I have to do is install the .0 release and apply the relevant Combo update. This is important for developers, security researchers, and for any user who might encounter problems with a particular release of macOS. Without standalone installers, they would have to download and save every single release of the major version of macOS.
- An effective panacea for some system problems. Although most of each update is installed on the protected System volume, and therefore now ‘guaranteed’ to be intact and not corrupted, there is also quite a lot of the system (in addition to Safari) which is mutable, and installed outside that protection, on the Data volume. Installing the latest Combo updater has long been an effective means of fixing some macOS problems, and there’s no evidence that has suddenly changed.
Apple has yet to confirm that it has indeed ended offering standalone update packages for macOS.