Repair Mac Flashing Question Mark Folder Error. (Mac Data Recovery Included)

The Web is fraught with a peculiar issue that many Mac users have reported— ‘Mac flashing a question mark folder when turned on’. Here are a few sound bites resounding the problem—

When I turned on my MacBook Pro, a flashing folder with a question mark came on the screen. That stayed there for a few seconds, but the Mac booted later on. Is there an issue with my MacBook Pro? Any suggestions…

Yesterday, after I turned on my MacBook Air, it displayed a flashing folder with a question mark. It didn’t boot so I had to force shut down. Then on, I didn’t start the MacBook. I don’t know what’s going on. Any clues on how to fix this?

Mac flashing screen data recovery
The error gives nightmares. Read further for best solution.

In this blog, we will help you resolve the problem of ‘flashing folder with a question mark sign’ on your MacBook or iMac. And while you deal with this problem, you may come across the possibilities of data loss due to corruption or inaccessible media. So, we also cover along data recovery solution for Mac hard drives.

Let’s begin with the reasons for— why your Mac is flashing a question mark folder?

Flashing folder with a question mark (?) error may occur if the Mac cannot detect its boot directory. This can happen in the following situations:

  • Mac cannot find the Startup Disk i.e. Macintosh HD
  • The macOS is corrupt

How to Repair Mac Flashing Question Mark Folder?

Following are the scenarios you would face in the ‘MacBook flashing folder question mark’ situation, along with the solutions you can use to tackle them:

Case 1: When MacBook displays the error for a few seconds but boots

Step 1: Go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Startup Disk.

Step 2: Click the icon of the Startup Disk that is generally named as Macintosh HD.

Step 3: Click Restart; your Mac won’t display flashing folder with question mark again

Case 2: When MacBook displays the error but does not boot.

A) Force Shutdown and Enter macOS Recovery Mode

Step 1: Press & hold the power button for a few seconds to force shut down the MacBook.

Step 2: Power on the Mac and immediately press & hold Command + R keys until Apple logo, spinning globe, or firmware password prompt appears.

a) When prompted, select a Wi-Fi network. You’ve entered into macOS recovery mode.

Step 3: When macOS Utilities appears, go to Apple menu > Startup Disk.

Step 4:Click the Startup Disk (Macintosh HD), and then click Restart.

If the Startup Disk icon is not visible in the Startup Disk window, then likely the Startup Disk is facing a problem. Try repairing it with First Aid, as follow:

B) Repair Startup Disk

Step 1: In the macOS recovery mode, go to macOS Utilities and click Disk Utility.

macOS utilities

Step 2: From the left pane, select the Startup Disk (Macintosh HD).

Step 3: Click the First Aid tab and then click the Repair Disk button.

start up disk is repaired with disk utility

Step 4: Exit Disk Utility once the repair process is over.

Step 5: Go to Apple menu > Startup Disk then select the Startup Disk (Macintosh HD) and Restart.

If the Startup Disk is still not visible after repair, then you would need to reinstall macOS to solve the ‘Flashing Folder with a Question Mark’ problem.

Also Read: 5 Best Ways to Recover a Failed Internal Mac Hard Drive

C) Recover Data from macOS

Step 1: Back up the MacBook data [critical step]

This is critically important because if you reinstall the OS without first backing up the data, it will result in data loss due to overwriting. So, back up the data present in the Startup Disk to another functional Mac (Target Disk Mode), as follows:

Step I. Connect the Mac that has flashing question mark to another Mac via Target Disk Mode.

Step II. Easily get the Stellar’s data recovery software from the below:


Step III. Install Stellar Data Recovery Professional for Mac on the working Mac.

Step IV. Launch the tool, and from the main interface, select Recover Data.

Step V. Select the type of data and the location of the flashing question mark drive.

Step VI. Click Scan after you turn on the Deep Scan feature for rigorous searching.

Step VII. Click Recover, and on the dialog box, specify the save location and click Save. The ‘save’ location can be the working Mac’s internal drive if it has sufficient space or else another external drive.

For quick walkthrough on how to use the software for MacBook data backup, see the following video:

Step 2: macOS Reinstallation

After the data stored on the HD – having flashing question mark folder problem – is backed up, proceed with reinstalling macOS, as follows:

  1. In the macOS Recovery mode, go to macOS Utilities and click Reinstall macOS.
  2. Click Continue then select Macintosh HD (Note: You have already done the Mac data recovery to an external storage drive.)
  3. Erase Macintosh HD and execute the on-screen steps to reinstall macOS. Once the installation is over, Mac automatically restarts and boots from the Startup Disk.
  4. In Setup Assistant, migrate your data from the source disk (i.e. external storage/HD of the functional Mac) to the internal Mac drive.

Note: When Disk Utility does not show the Startup Disk or cannot repair it, then the storage drive has hardware problems. Contact a Mac repair service provider in this scenario.


The article elaborated various methods to repair flashing question mark folder screen on Mac. The first case occurs when your Mac shows a flashing folder with a question mark for a few seconds. In this case, you reselect the Startup Disk from system preferences.

The second case happens when your Mac is stuck in the flashing folder with a question mark without booting. In this case, you need to enter the macOS recovery mode and reselect the Startup Disk. If it’s not visible, then try repairing it with Disk Utility.

If the Startup Disk repair fails, then you would need to reinstall macOS to overcome this problem. But, before that, it’s critical to back up the data stored on this hard drive, as reinstalling macOS will simply overwrite the existing data.

So, connect the affected Mac to a functional Mac via Target Disk Mode, install Stellar Data Recovery Professional software on this working Mac, and then run it on the affected hard drive to extract and backup all the data to a secure location. Once the data is backed up, reinstall the macOS on the drive to fix the flashing folder with a question mark issue on Mac.