Uninstalling Applications in Mac OS X

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Uninstalling applications in Mac OS X is very different than uninstalling in a Microsoft Windows environment because Mac OS X has nothing like the Windows Registry. While most Windows programs include an uninstaller that can be run through using the Add/Remove Programs control panel, no such feature exists in Mac OS X and so most users simply move application bundles (see below) to the Trash. However, often times there is more to uninstalling than a simple drag-and-drop to the trash. This article will guide you on how to fully uninstall applications.


Application Bundles

Control-click or RIght-click on any application to see if it is a bundle
Control-click or RIght-click on any application to see if it is a bundle

Most Mac OS X applications (anything that ends in .app), like Safari and iTunes, are bundles. The application icon you see in Finder (typically the Applications Folder) is usually a special folder itself, made to appear as a single double-clickable file. These "folders" contain all, or at least most, of the files needed to run the application, ie they are self-contained. This means that to uninstall these applications, you only have to drag them to the Trash. If you control-click (or right-click) on an Application icon, and you see "Show Package Contents", then it is a bundle.

Additional Files

Applications will leave behind preference files, and sometimes application support files, neither of which are stored in application bundles. Preference files can be safely deleted, but they usually take up negligible disk space — and, if you decide to reinstall the application again later, keeping the preference file means your settings will still be there. They are stored in the Preferences folder within your user's Library folder (~/Library/Preferences), or may also be stored in the system-wide Library located at the root of the system volume (/Library/Preferences/).

Application support files can take up anywhere from a few kilobytes to several gigabytes of space, depending on the application installed. Examples of applications that have large support files are multimedia programs such as Garageband and DVD Studio Pro. They are located in the Application Support folder within your user's Library folder, or in "/Library/Application Support/".

To remove an application's icon from the dock make sure that the program is not running at the time, then simply drag the icon off of the dock and let go. There will be a puff of smoke animation and the icon will be gone. This will only remove the dock icon/shortcut, and will not touch the application itself or any of its support files.

Using Finder to remove Application Bundles and Additional Files

Using Finder to remove applications and all preference files
Using Finder to remove applications and all preference files

Adapted from a forum post by GGJstudios

To manually remove an application and all associated files:

  • Launch Activity Monitor and change "My Processes" at the top to "All Processes", then make sure the app you want to remove is not running. If it is, quit the process before proceeding.
  • Launch Finder and search for the app name (hopefully unique, such as Skype)
  • You can narrow the search to specific folders or search your whole Mac
  • Searching "File Name" vs "Contents" usually provides better results.
  • Click the + button below the search term to add criteria
  • Click the search criteria drop-down and select "Other...", then "System files"
  • Click the "don't include" and change to "include"
  • Sort by name, kind, date, etc. to identify components of the app, such as folders, .plist files, cache files. etc.
  • Delete all files and folders related to the app.
  • Don't empty your Trash until you've determined that everything is working OK, in case you need to restore something you deleted by accident.
  • A reboot might be necessary to completely remove some apps.

Applications with Installers/Uninstallers

If you ran an installer to install an application, you may wish to try running the installation program again to see if an uninstall option is available at any point during installation (many times in a drop-down menu). Check the installation CD or disk image for the original installer file. Some vendors have included simple Perl scripts that will run in the command line to uninstall applications, and may be named "uninstaller.pl".

Third Party Uninstallers

Be aware that third party uninstallers, including those listed below, do not completely remove all files/folders associated with apps. Many will remove small files, such as .plist files, but leave behind much larger files. For more information, read this. For complete removal of all files/folders associated with uninstalled apps, use Finder and the manual method described above.

Caution is advised when using any automated method of deleting files, as such methods could result in files being deleted that you didn't want deleted. Many have reported problems caused by the use of apps like CleanMyMac and MacKeeper, so avoidance of these apps altogether may be wise.

Third party uninstallers exist which will search for these preference files for you, such as AppCleaner, AppTrap, AppZapper, CleanApp and TrashMe, but these apps will not remove all components of installed apps.

See Also

Installing Applications in Mac OS X