Unlike in Windows where programs have their own uninstallers, removing a Mac application is usually as simple as dragging its icon from the Applications folder to the trash. But some stubborn Mac software can be tricky to delete. Here's how to uninstall Mac apps for good - a process that will help to make space on a Mac and could speed it up too.
Why deleting programmes on Mac 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.
But on a Mac things are a little different. When Apple launched Mac OS X in 2001, it 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. And that's pretty much it.
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 Trash. 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.
How to delete a Mac app using Launchpad
You can also delete an app using Launchpad, which shows all your apps in an iOS like interface.
- To open Launchpad, click on F4 (the button that shows a grid of six squares).
- Locate the app you wish to remove.
- Press the Opton/Alt key.
- Now click on Delete to confirm you want to remove the program.
How to completely remove a program from a Mac
There are a few occasions when the above may not be enough. Some apps might have a few preferences or other files scattered around your Mac. However, it can still be simple to remove these.
You may need to delete the app's preferences from your Library folder. Here's how to do that:
- First, you need to access the Library folder - this has been hidden by default since Mac OS X 10.6, but it's easy to reveal it. Open the Finder and click on the Go drop-down menu in the top bar, and with the menu showing, press and hold the Option/Alt key.
- The Library option will appear between Home and Computer in the dropdown - click this to open the folder.
- Now scroll through the list of folders looking for the one related to the application you are uninstalling.
Having completed this step, you then need to open the Application Support directories via the finder and search for a folder containing data related to the app you are deleting.
Difficult to delete Mac apps
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 marvelous 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.
You can't delete apps like Safari or Mail, or any other apps that come as part of MacOS.
Third-party Mac uninstaller apps
Finally, there are shareware utilities that promise to do all the hard work of tracking down errant app files and delete them for you.
We have a dedicated article about the Best Mac Clean-up Utilities we have found.