How to Uninstall & Remove Mac OS X Programs and Applications

| MGG Answers

Question:

How to Uninstall Remove Mac Apps

Matt writes: I’ve been a lifelong PC user but I recently switched to the Mac. Windows has a program manager in the Control Panel that lets me uninstall applications, but I can’t find a similar function on my Mac. What’s the best way to remove or uninstall OS X apps, ensuring that both the application binary and its accompanying support files are properly and safely removed?

Answer:

 

In general, applications in OS X are packaged into a “.app” bundle that appears to be a single file but is actually a self-contained folder. Unlike Windows, in which an application usually installs a folder that contains the executable and supporting files, most of what an OS X app needs to run is stored within the .app bundle (if you’re curious, right-click on any .app file and select “Show Package Contents” to see what’s inside).

How to Remove Uninstall Mac OS X Apps

Deleting an application bundle will remove that application’s binary and all the supporting files contained within. Many apps, however, also install additional files in the user’s Library folder, such as application preferences and caches.

To manually remove an OS X app, first make sure the app is closed and that no services associated with it are running. You can check this by looking at the processes listed in the Activity Monitor application (there’s a search filter there to narrow the list down if it’s too long). Select any associated processes and click “Quit Process” to end them.

How to Uninstall Mac Apps

Next, head to the user’s library folder (in OS X Lion and above, hold down the Option key while selecting the “Go” menu from the Finder’s menu bar and select “Library”). Here, you’ll want to check for references to the application in the Preferences, LaunchAgents, and Application Support folders. Remove any files or folders that you are certain belong to the application you’re trying to uninstall.

You may also want to check the System Library folder by navigating to the top level of your hard drive and opening the /System folder, although most applications will confine their files to the user-specific Library.

Once that’s complete, check to see if the application had a Dock icon. If so, drag it off the dock to remove it or right click on the icon and select Options > Remove from Dock.

To aid in the process of hunting down rogue application support files, use Spotlight in Finder to search, but make sure that Spotlight is configured to display system files in its search results.

Due to sandboxing requirements imposed by Apple, apps obtained from the Mac App Store are even easier to remove. Simply delete two items: the application file itself from the Applications folder and the application-specific folder in User\Library\Containers.

How to Uninstall Remove Mac AppsThere are many third-party app removal tools for OS X.

Another way to remove OS X apps is to use third-party tools. Applications like AppDelete, AppZapper, AppCleaner, and Hazel all automate the removal of an application and its supporting files, no matter where they reside on your Mac’s drive.

Take note, however, that automated tools can sometimes miss certain files or folders, and users employing these tools should always perform a manual check to ensure that all remnants of the application have indeed been removed.

Finally, some applications such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite have their own uninstaller application. Wherever possible, use the application-specific uninstaller for these applications, which can usually be located on the installation disk, installation image, or in the application’s folder. You may also be able to download certain application-specific uninstallers from a developer’s support site.

How to Uninstall Mac AppsAn application-specific uninstaller for Adobe's Creative Suite.

Regardless of which method you choose, remember that leaving behind the occasional abandoned preference file is not likely to cause harm or performance issues. In general, removing the app bundle from the Applications folder and a file or two from the user’s library folder is enough to remove the application from the drive and free up disk space.

This question was originally answered on MGG 434: The Calm Before The Storm

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7 Comments Leave Your Own

geoduck

The lack of an “Uninstall” function is one of the biggest oversights in OS-X. I have never understood why Apple does not put one in. This isn’t Windows where uninstalling requires rewriting a Registry file. Windows has had it for a long time, all the way back, I believe, to Windows95.

ctopher

oh heck just throw it away. You might leave around a preference or support file somewhere, but they tend to be small. The presence of these ancillary files will not slow your machine down or cause the OS to have fits (like a jacked-up windows registry might).

So relax and trash it and don’t think about it.

Now if you are installing running and deleting tons of programs, then OK follow along, but the beauty of the Mac is that the casual user doesn’t *have* to maintain their system. They just use it.

(This from someone who routinely scours the application support and cache folders in the Library!)

paikinho

in reference to ctopher’s comment:
This approach would be fine.
It was for me until I discovered all the ancillary library entries.
They don’t really seem to make much difference, but I have now gone with a 3rd party app to remove all of this stuff when I delete the program.

My question because I have not really looked into it is, after you have just dragged all the apps to the trash, is there a really good app that you can use down the road which will clean out all of these unnecessary files in the library and where-ever?

Over time I disposed of a lot of apps. Is there something that check whether there are preferences etc. that are orphaned?

ctopher

paikinho: I’m a nuke and repave person. If it’s been years, why not make sure you have a good backup, reformat the drive and start over? I do this ever couple of year or so, but I haven’t done it since Apple dumped bootable media.

paikinho

Good point. I am actually set to get a new iMac… maybe this month.
Usually I don’t transfer my system over… I start fresh and transfer the things I want. Most everything important is on my ReadyNAS servers anyhow.

I will just migrate my Aperture library, Mail and such. Then I can nuke and repave this machine so my wife gets something better to do facebook, web and email.

I was just thinking there might be some sort of program that might scour out orphaned things. But I haven’t looked and wouldn’t know of a really good one.
Thanks. ctopher.

iJack

”...users employing these tools should always perform a manual check to ensure that all remnants of the application have indeed been removed.”

That’s a little strong, Jim.  I don’t know of anyone coming to harm because of some plist left behind.  Do you?

Jim Tanous

Hi iJack,

Indeed, the wording may have been a bit strong, and I was less concerned with preference files harming the computer and more concerned with wasted space.

There have been several reports, such as this one from MacRumors, that these automated app removal tools sometimes miss certain files, including large files in the Application Support folder.

I’ve used several over the years and, while it certainly doesn’t happen every time, on a handful of occasions the tools have left behind some large files that I wouldn’t have known about if I didn’t double check.

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