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How To Fix a Flashing Question Mark Folder on Mac



Here is a guide on how to troubleshoot when your Mac computer starts up with a flashing folder and question mark.

There is nothing worse than starting the work day by turning on your Mac, hearing the welcoming chime and then staring at the face of a flashing folder with a question mark, your desktop nowhere in site.

The first instinct is to close the computer, believe that everything is lost and the computer is no longer functioning. This may be the case, but there are multiple avenues to explore before coming to that conclusion.

There are a few ways you can test to see what is failing on the Mac before you go to get a hardware repair at an Apple Store.

How to Troubleshoot A Flashing Folder with Question Mark

Here is a guide on steps to take when you encounter a flashing folder with a question mark upon booting up.

Watch the video above to learn more about what to do with the flashing folder issue.


Attempt to Use Startup Manager

When the Mac boots up, it runs a behind the scenes application called Startup Manager. This app tells the computer to choose which disk to startup from. The flashing folder with the question mark is an indication that the designated disk is not found.

This does not immediately reflect a hard drive failure but a good first test to see if the disk is there is to start up the Mac holding the Option key.

If the Startup Manager is functioning, it will show the available boot options. Usually you will see Macintosh HD and Recovery HD if you are running any recent Mac OS software. If the hard drive is experiencing any type of failure it may not appear at all.


A failing hard drive can cause features of the boot process to be very slow or freeze all together so this is a good first step to see what you are dealing with. If no cursor appears on screen, you can force shut down the computer by holding the power button until the screen blacks out.

Use the Recovery Partition

If you were able to find any success with the Startup Manager, you may see the Recovery HD as a bootable option. This is actually a good sign as the Recovery is a very small partition of your physical hard drive and an indication that at least part of the disk is functioning.

The Recovery HD has quite a few useful tools available such as Disk Utility, Safari, A Download Link for OS X and the option to Restore from a Time Machine Backup.


Disk Utility is the best first tool to use to determine if the hard disk itself is having any problems. Running First Aid on the disk should reveal any serious issues but may be able to resolve simple file system errors so it is always worth running.

If the disk appears functional in Disk Utility, a restore or re-installation of the OS may be needed and is one of the tools available on this Recovery HD. Clicking the link will start a download of the OS from the App Store and make it available for you to attempt to install.

The Recovery HD can be a very useful tool when available so if you see it in Startup Manager, do not hesitate to use it.

Boot Using Target Disk Mode

If your computer uses Firewire or Thunderbolt, the Mac does have an ability to boot its hard drive as a target. This means it’s hard drive will appear on another computer if it is functioning and connected with a cable. If you have another Mac available, this is a great troubleshooting step.

Plugging in the appropriate cable to each computer, leave your broken mac off and have the other computer powered on and ready on the Desktop.

Starting the broken computer while holding the T key on the keyboard will display the logo of your cable on screen if the hard drive is able to be targeted.


If your hard drive appears on the other Mac, take this time to attempt to backup files if you haven’t already as the drive may be failing. Having another Mac available will make this a very easy option but you can use the second computer as a portal to an external hard drive and not worry about storage issues.

There is always the possibility that the drive has indeed failed yet hopefully you have been able to glean more information about the nature of your flashing question mark folder.

Be sure to always keep a current data backup to avoid costly data recovery in the event of a failed drive. Using Apple’s Time Machine is even a good piece of mind backup as it runs in the background and shouldn’t disturb your daily usage.



  1. GadgetGrapevine (@GadgetGrapevine)

    08/28/2016 at 8:56 am

    A hard drive cable failure also can cause this error. We also had a MacBook Air refuse to boot because of an SSD failure. There was no error message or question mark icon. Thanks for the tips. Especially the one about Time Machine backups.

  2. Keanu Watson

    01/16/2017 at 11:21 am

    Hello! This is very useful and glad I finally came across this site where it goes into full detail. I do have a question of what your thoughts are for this. A friend of mine has done the beginning steps as far holding the Shift-Command 4 and going from there but when she does that instead of going to the Start-up it’ll go to the Internet Recovery Mode. Does that mean she isn’t connected to her Wi-Fi though she says she knows she is connected to her router?

    When it pulls up the other routers they’re all locked but none of them are hers… Any suggestions or advice?

  3. Ruiari Barton

    04/15/2017 at 9:05 am

    I have a mid-2007 Apple MacBook with the same problem, how do I get it working again, can you please help me

  4. Lauren P

    07/31/2017 at 4:15 pm

    Every time this happens to me I come back to this article. Insanely helpful. Thank you for making my life easier!!!

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