Uninstalling Mac software applications is a bit different to the process on a Windows PC, and there are some stubborn Mac programs that even the best of us have troubling getting rid of. But there's always a solution. Here's how to uninstall or delete a software program or application from your Mac - a handy process that will help to make space on a Mac and could speed it up too.
Why macOS is different to 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 system security problems this can create, it also makes uninstalling executable programs in Windows a chore that can only normally be undertaken by automated programs.
Locate program in Applications folder
On the Mac, 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 macOS, 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 don't run the Mac with an administrator account, you will also be asked for an admin password in order to delete an app.
Additionally you could delete the app's preferences from your Library folder. The Library folder has been hidden by default since Mac OS X 10.6, but it's easy to reveal it.
In Finder, click on the Go dropdown menu in the top bar, and with the menu showing, press and hold the Option key. The Library option will appear between Home and Computer in the dropdown - click this to open the folder.
Ditto for supporting files in the Application Support directories.
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 such as MacKeeper.
This latter rogue application, which 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.
We look at these types of uninstall processes in a separate article: How to remove Mac antivirus software.
Finally, there are shareware utilities that promise to do all the hard work of tracking down errant app files and delete them for you.