Here's how to uninstall or delete a software program or application from your Mac.
If you’re reading this page about how to uninstall an application from your Mac, chances are you asked a question about how to uninstall an app in Apple Mac OS X because you’re perhaps more familiar with using a PC running Microsoft Windows.
In Windows, programs must be installed with special installer wizards, and more pertinently must be removed by the same kind of mechanisms.
Sloppy housekeeping from Microsoft initially let software developers install many fragmented pieces of their program wherever they liked across the C: boot drive. Aside from the problems for system security this can create, it also makes uninstalling executable programs in Windows a chore that can only normally be undertaken by automated programs.
How to uninstall a software application from Mac OS X: Locate program in Applications folder
In OS X, things are a little different. After Apple adopted NeXT OS and launched Mac OS X in 2001, it also maintained the UNIX way of separating system files from a user’s working space.
So programs are typically stored in the /Applications directory, and a user’s preferences for how that app may be configured are stored in ~/Library/Preferences.
Additionally, there may be some necessary supporting files stored in ~/Library/Application Support and /Library/Application Support.
The apps themselves that live in the Applications folder (although they can be stored elsewhere...) are actually bundles of many files all packaged together. As far as the user is concerned, you just need to double-click on an app’s icon – or click once for a shortcut that’s held in the Dock – and the application will launch, using all the resources it needs stored in the application package and elsewhere.
Which means, to uninstall an application in OS X, you need only drag the app to the bin (‘Trash’ in Apple’s unchangeable US English). There is no explicit need to do anything else, in most circumstances anyway.
If you do not run the Mac with an administrator account, you will also be asked for an admin password in order to delete an app.
How to uninstall a software application from Mac OS X: Delete preferences
Additionally you could delete the app’s preferences from your Library folder (now hidden by default in OS X 10.6 onwards, but click on Go from the Finder’s top menu with the Option key held down to instantly reveal it). Ditto for supporting files in the Application Support directories.
How to uninstall a software application from Mac OS X: Difficult exceptions
But there are some applications which don’t play so nicely by these rules. Examples we’ve seen include Adobe and Microsoft applications for the Mac, and nagware/semi-utilities like MacKeeper.
This latter rogue application that promises to clean up your Mac and make it perform faster goes out of its way to install files in difficult-to-delete places. Moreover, in this example the supplied Uninstaller app will not necessarily remove all the unwanted crud after uninstalling the app.
You must be vigilant here for unexpected launch daemons (‘launchd’ files) that allow hidden applications to automatically launch at boot.
Experienced Mac users can use the command-line Terminal.app to seek out and remove unwanted fragments. A slightly less dangerous way is with a graphical file finder such as the marvellous Find Any File, which will find all the hidden files that Apple conceals in normal Spotlight searches. Nevertheless it must still only be used with caution as it is possible to delete essential system files. In general, be wary of deleting anything from your Mac that requires you to type in an administrator password.
How to uninstall a software application from Mac OS X: Shareware options
Finally, there are shareware utilities that promise to do all the hard work of tracking down errant app files and delete them for you.