Roman Kropachek Photo
Written by:

How to fix flashing folder with question mark on mac without cd

how to fix flashing folder with question mark on mac without cd

When your Mac greets you with a flashing folder icon and a question mark, it usually signifies a startup issue related to the system not finding a bootable operating system. This can be quite alarming, but fortunately, there are several methods to resolve this without the need for a CD or external bootable drive. This article delves into my personal experience with resolving this problem, offering a step-by-step guide on how to fix a flashing folder with a question mark on Mac, using built-in utilities and commands.


Common Scenarios:

Frequent Scenario: Failing Hard Drive 🛠

  • A flashing folder with a question mark is often an indication of a failing hard drive or SSD.
  • This scenario might occur when crucial system files are corrupted or inaccessible.
  • Hard drive issues can stem from physical damage, prolonged use, or abrupt system shutdowns.

Common Scenario: Corrupted File System 📂

  • The file system on the Mac could become corrupted due to unsafe ejection of external storage devices or power outages.
  • Improper updates or installation of software might also corrupt the system, leading to the error.

Usual Scenario: Deleted or Moved System Files 🚫

  • Accidentally deleted or moved system files can cause the Mac’s boot process to fail.
  • Using third-party cleaning tools without care can sometimes result in critical files being removed.

Step-by-Step Guide. How To Fix Flashing Folder With Question Mark On Mac Without Cd:

Method 1: Check Startup Disk Settings 🔄

  • Restart your Mac and immediately hold down the Option (⌥) key until you see the startup manager screen.
  • Select your **Macintosh HD** or the name of your primary startup disk and press Enter.
  • If your startup disk is not visible, there may be a more serious issue with your hard drive or SSD.

Note: If this resolves the issue, consider setting your startup disk permanently in System Preferences under ‘Startup Disk’.

Conclusion: This method can quickly redirect your Mac to the proper startup disk if it was mistakenly unselected.

Method 2: Run Disk Utility in Recovery Mode 🛠

  • Restart your Mac and immediately hold down Command (⌘) + R to enter Recovery Mode.
  • When the macOS Utilities window appears, choose Disk Utility and select your startup disk.
  • Click on **First Aid** and let Disk Utility attempt to repair any disk errors.
  • After completion, restart your Mac normally.

Note: It’s crucial to have a recent backup just in case Disk Utility finds an issue that requires erasing the disk.

Conclusion: Running First Aid can fix the majority of filesystem errors that might prevent your Mac from finding a bootable OS.

Method 3: Reinstall macOS 💻

  • Boot into Recovery Mode by restarting your Mac and holding down Command (⌘) + R.
  • Select Reinstall macOS from the utilities window and follow the on-screen instructions.
  • Choose the primary startup disk when prompted and wait for the reinstallation process to complete.

Note: Ensure you are connected to the internet as the reinstallation process may download necessary files from Apple’s servers.

Conclusion: Reinstalling macOS can refresh your system files without affecting your personal data, potentially resolving numerous startup issues.

Method 4: Reset NVRAM/PRAM 🔁

  • Turn off your Mac completely.
  • Power it on and immediately press and hold the Option (⌥) + Command (⌘) + P + R keys together.
  • Release the keys after about 20 seconds or after hearing the second startup chime.
  • Allow your Mac to boot normally and check if the issue persists.

Note: This resets your Mac’s non-volatile random-access memory (NVRAM) or parameter RAM (PRAM) which stores certain settings.

Conclusion: Resetting NVRAM/PRAM can fix issues related to startup disk selection and display resolution.

Method 5: Boot into Safe Mode 🛡

  • Turn off your Mac.
  • Restart it and immediately hold down the Shift key until you see the Apple logo and progress bar.
  • If you successfully boot into Safe Mode, restart your Mac again without holding any keys to attempt a normal boot.

Note: Booting into Safe Mode performs checks and repairs, clears caches, and may resolve the flashing folder with a question mark issue.

Conclusion: Safe Mode allows the system to perform essential maintenance, which may resolve startup problems.

Method 6: Create a New User Account 🆕

  • Access Recovery Mode by restarting your Mac and holding Command (⌘) + R.
  • Open the Utilities menu and select Terminal.
  • Type ‘resetpassword’ (without quotes) and press Return to launch the Reset Password Tool.
  • Select your primary startup disk, choose your user account, and click the option to create a new user account and home folder.
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to create a new account.

Note: The new account should have administrator privileges to ensure full access to system settings.

Conclusion: Creating a new user account might bypass issues tied to your original account’s system preferences or settings.


Precautions and Tips:

Critical Precautions 🚨

  • Always keep a current backup of your data to avoid potential loss during troubleshooting steps.
  • Be aware that reinstalling macOS might require a reliable internet connection and may take some time to complete.
  • Do not interrupt the First Aid process in Disk Utility, as this can lead to further corruption.

Mac Startup Essentials

Understanding your Mac’s boot process is crucial when troubleshooting the flashing folder with a question mark issue. The boot process involves several system checks and the loading of essential software components. Any disruption in these steps can lead to various startup issues.

Another key aspect of resolving Mac startup problems is the maintenance of a robust backup strategy. Utilizing Time Machine or cloud backup services ensures that your data remains safe and recoverable should extensive repairs become necessary.

If you find yourself dealing with startup issues frequently, it may be beneficial to become familiar with macOS Recovery and its utilities. This knowledge can expedite troubleshooting and minimize downtime.


Experiencing a flashing folder with a question mark on your Mac can be distressing, but it’s often a manageable issue with the correct approach. By following the methods detailed in this guide, you can diagnose and often rectify the problem without needing external installation media like a CD. Remember to perform regular backups to secure your data and familiarize yourself with macOS Recovery options for a quicker resolution to common Mac troubles.


The flashing folder with a question mark means your Mac can’t find the boot directory. This could be due to a corrupted or failed hard drive, or an OS issue.

Boot into Recovery Mode by holding Command + R on startup, release when you see the Apple logo, and use Disk Utility to check and repair the disk.

Yes, resetting NVRAM (nonvolatile random-access memory) might help. Restart your Mac and immediately hold down Option + Command + P + R for about 20 seconds.

Possible, but not guaranteed. Using Recovery Mode for repairs is safer, but always backup data regularly to prevent loss in such situations.

Restart your Mac and immediately hold down the Command + R keys. Release when you see the Apple logo or a spinning globe.

In MacOS Recovery, you can use Disk Utility to check for errors, reinstall the operating system, or restore from a Time Machine backup.

Choose Reinstall MacOS in the macOS Utilities window in Recovery Mode, and follow the on-screen instructions to reinstall your system.

Yes, if regular Recovery doesn’t work, use Internet Recovery by pressing Command + Option + R during startup for older Mac systems.

If Disk Utility fails, the drive may be physically damaged. Consider taking your Mac to an authorized service provider or replacing the drive.

You can reference Apple’s official support page for troubleshooting steps at Apple Support.