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Flashing/Blinking Folder with Question Mark at Startup on Mac; Flashing Question Mark over Folder File Macbook

Updated on August 27, 2018

PROBLEM: Mac Won't Start Up, Folder with Flashing Question Mark Over It

You tried to startup your Mac, but it won't start-up, instead when you tried to reboot, you get a folder (file) with a flashing question mark inside which starts blinking? Maybe you hear a clicking noise? Perhaps you just completed a system update, your Mac tried to restart but then all you see is this flashing question mark?

Discover how to recover the data on your Mac hard drive (Download Now) and repair your Mac.

Flashing Question Mark with file (folder) Problem

Flashing/Blinking Question Mark on Mac at startup

The reason you are seeing the flashing question mark with folder on your Mac at start-up is because your computer cannot find the right software (file) it needs to boot or start your system. So basically, it doesn't know what to do.

If it manages to find the folder/ program it needs to start up, it will startup itself in a few minutes. If it doesn’t, then you have a problem.

This problem is a result of some sort of system corruption or possible hard drive mechanical failure or crash. Quite often, it occurs after installing the system updates or if your disk drive has become corrupt. This could be because of a virus (yes, Macs get viruses too), system driver conflict, human error or a software malfunction.

Nevertheless, if you are looking for a way to save and/or recover your files and important data on your Mac - there is hope! Hard drives crash all the time and data recovery is still possible.

flashing question mark mac
flashing question mark mac

Blinking Folder Question Mark Mac OS X

How to Retrieve Important Data Off Your Mac

It is possible to restore your data. To do that, follow these steps:

First of all, you need to determine if the flashing question mark problem is the result of physical or logical failure of your hard drive.

Physical hard drive failure means there is something wrong with you hardware (most likely you would have heard a clicking/grinding noise). (See video below for an example).

A logical failure occurs when the hard drive is healthy but you cannot boot into the operating system. (probably your situation right now with the blinking question mark).

If it's the latter, it is likely that you may still recover most of your missing data.

To begin, remove your failed/crashed hard drive and connect it to another Mac machine that is functioning properly. If you don't have another Mac yourself, find someone who does, a friend or family member for example.

If your hard drive is detected by another Mac machine, it means that you have a logical failure of your hard drive. In most cases, you can easily retrieve your data using a good Mac data recovery tool such as Stellar Data Recovery.

Download the Macintosh data recovery software. Scan your drive to find your missing files.

Now, if your hard drive is NOT detected by the other Mac computer that means that more than likely, you have experienced a physical failure of your machine. Data recovery is tough, however it is still possible. You need to contact professional data recovery specialists. This could cost a fortune however, so be prepared.

Mac Won't Boot - Clicking or Grinding Noise

If your computer will not start-up and you hear a grinding or clicking, you can be certain that your Mac has suffered a physical hard drive failure. See below for an example of what the sound is like...

The best bet is to remove the hard drive and put it into a different system to retrieve the important data from the drive with a Mac data recovery tool.

How To Remove Mac Hard Drive

If you are wondering how to remove the Mac hard drive, here are links which explain it in more detail:

Try here.

Also, the below link explains it as well:


Spinning Rainbow Wheel Mac.

Other Solutions to Flashing File with Question Mark on Mac

1. Resetting PRAM and NVRAM

Still no luck?

In some cases, this has worked:

  • Shut down the computer.
  • When you try to re-boot, Press the following keys on the keyboard simultaneously: Command, Option, P, and R.
  • Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys. You must press this key combination before the gray screen appears.
  • Hold the keys down and wait for the triple startup chimes. Hold you hear the startup sound for the second time and then release.

2. Start up from a system software CD or DVD, and repair your disk using Disk Utility:

  • Insert the Mac OS X Install or Restore disc.
  • Restart the computer, then hold the C key during startup.
  • From the Apple menu, choose Disk Utility. Do this in the first screen of the Installer. Don't click Continue.
  • Click the First Aid tab.
  • Click Repair Disk.
  • After repairing the disk, try to start from the Mac OS X hard disk.

Tip: If your hard disk is not available (mounted) when started up from CD, reset the parameter RAM (PRAM) as shown above.

blinking folder with question mark mac
blinking folder with question mark mac

Backup Your Data REMOTELY & AUTOMATICALLY. Use Offline Mac Backup!

You probably don't want to hear this now but you need to have some sort of data backup.

All computers, hard drives and processors will die some day. It's a FACT. As we put more & more memory in hard drives, we strain them even more. Eventually, they will crash or become corrupted. Its the reality of our modern-day lives dominated by technology.

But lets face it, we're all too lazy to bother with backup.

I know I AM.

And you too are probably thinking right now, "Yeah, I'll might get some sort of data backup solution later. Maybe. Let's just fix the problem right now".

My thinking is this...

You either get a backup solution which backs-up your files automatically in the background, while you work, or you will never get it done. Period.

That's why I use and highly recommend you try an online and automatic backup program such as Mozy, which works really well with Macs.

Backing up data on CDs or external hard drives can eat up a lot of time AND hard drives can crash, get stolen or whatever. Plus, you can only manage to do it every so often.

With a service such as Mozy, it is 100% automatic. You always have the most recent versions of your files in an online environment that you can access from anywhere.

Have you ever got this flashing question mark over a folder (file) when you try to boot your Mac?

Leave your comments below:

Blinking Question Mark at Startup on Mac

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    • profile image


      23 months ago

      The pressing of option when you re-turn on your computer worked for me !

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you for this article. I have tried different solution I have read about restarting a Mac Pro with a folder/flashing question mark. Nothing worked until I read your article. I have tried for 2 days and when it came back to my opening page I cried. It saved me a whole lot of money.

      THANK YOU, Thank you, Thank you.

    • Peter Oscars profile image

      Peter Oscars 

      4 years ago

      When Mac fails to locate the OS X to load it displays a flashing question mark icon indicating what to do next? I tried this on my PowerPC. Force shut down Mac and restarted by pressing power button. Just before Apple Logo I press-hold of Option ket to bring up startup manager. Once it is loaded, select preferred hard drive to boot into Mac. Also keep a data recovery software so that one can always recover hard drive if any catastrophic event arises. Download it for free -

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you. It worked

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      POINT 2 just below the video - just saved out mac! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Just want to share this story.

      I have a Mid2009 Macbook Pro (MBP) - model A1278

      - Got the questionmark sign by starting up the laptop

      - Disk Utilities didn't reconized the HDD

      - Opened the MBP, removed the HDD, put it in a External Sata drive case

      - Connected the drive via USB to the MBP

      - Disk was reconized by Disk Utilities after starting up with Mac OS Dvd

      - Repaired disk

      - Put back the disk, but still question mark sign

      - Called Icentre and they told me that the cable from the Mainboard to the HDD might be defective. The SATA driver on the mainboard hardly never fail (they told me)

      - Purchased a new HDD cable via Ebay (nr 821-0814-A)

      - Replaced the HDD cable to the original HDD and laptop restarted.

      - Due to the fault, the HDD might have damages.

      - I bought the following disk: Seagate Harddisk 2.5" 500GB, SATA300, Hybrid 4GB, ST95005620AS

      Yesterday after all software installations I got all the time the spinning colored wheel, but today my MBP is working fine and I hope it stays like this.

      Hope this info is helpful for others who have the same problem as I had.

      Most of the time you got the questionmark sign, you software is corrupted or your HDD cable is defect.

      MBP Mid2009 can go up to a max of 500Gb (is what Icentre told me and is what you can find on the internet)


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Something else to try is to boot up in safe mode. To do that, either shut down entirely or restart while holding the shift key down. Hold it until you see a progress bar or gear. It will probably take a long time and I have actually set something on the shift key because my hand got tired. Anyway, you should get to what looks like your normal start up screen, but with the words "safe boot". Log in as usual and let everything load. Then restart normally.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Yes with clicking tried all won't work

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      it didn't work on mine :( do i need to take it in apple store to have someone take a look at?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      It worked!! PR command and option!! Thank you!!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      yes),: i have it rite now gonna try this...hope it helps!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Yes I actually have it right now and don't know what to do! started freezing and making a large fan noise. Now it's just frozen with the blinking question mark folder. Do I need to buy another computer?


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