How To Completely Uninstall Software under Mac OS X [MacRx]

Mac Uninstall

Uninstalling software under Mac OS X is generally a straightforward procedure – just delete the program from the Applications folder. Few vendors offer uninstallers on the Mac, and generally they’re not necessary. Most programs don’t run background components or alter system settings files (like the Registry on Windows), and leaving old preferences and support files on the hard drive generally doesn’t do much harm.

But if you are trying to remove an old or corrupt component, reinstall software to change a serial number, or just free up disk space, removing all components of the old application can be important. These include the application itself, preferences and support items, and sometimes hidden files or kernel extensions. Anyone who’s had problems installing an Adobe CS application or removing Symantec AntiVirus will appreciate how hard it can be to fully remove old software.


Applications

Be default Mac OS X software is stored in the Applications folder on your hard drive. Most programs are single icons (iTunes, Firefox), while others contain one or more folders full of items (Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Office). You can also occasionally find applications on the desktop, if dragged there during installation or moved from the Applications folder.

Drag the program’s icon or folder to the Trash to begin the uninstall process. If you are not the user who originally installed the software, or your are not an admin user on your Macintosh, you will need to enter an administrator’s name and password to continue.

Note: the icon for most programs is actually a bit of an illusion. What you’re seeing on the hard drive is an application package, a folder full of items including the executable program code and supporting files. When a package is labelled with the .app extension, it appears as a single, launchable icon in the Finder. If you’re curious whats inside, right-click (or control-click) on the icon and select Show Package Contents.

Preferences and Application Support Files

There are two locations on your hard drive, both named Library, where programs store their preferences and supporting files. The first Library is at the top level of your hard drive, the second is inside your Home Folder. Removing items from both these locations is necessary to completely uninstall software.

Mac Libraries

Start with the Top Level Library on your hard drive /Library. You are looking to remove any files or folders which contain the name of the program (Acrobat, Word) or the vendor (Adobe, Microsoft) in their names. Search the following locations:

  • /Library
  • /Library/Application Support

    In these two locations you’re looking for non-Apple folders full of items: Adobe, Microsoft, etc.

  • /Library/Preferences

    Inside Preferences you may find single files, folders full of items - Adobe, Microsoft – along with .plist documents usually starting with com – com.Adobe.Acrobat.plist, com.microsoft.Word.plist

  • /Library/PreferencePanes
  • /Library/StartupItems

    Most software does not use Preference Panes or Startup Items, but some do, particularly items which control system behavior or keep background processes running

Next, remove any similarly named items you find inside the User Library inside your Home Folder ~/Library in the same set of folders:

  • ~/Library
  • ~/Library/Application Support
  • ~/Library/Preferences
  • ~/Library/PreferencePanes
  • ~/Library/StartupItems

For the vast majority of applications that’s all you need to remove. Empty the Trash to complete the process. If you get a message that an item is “in use and can’t be deleted” reboot the Mac, then try again.

Kernel Extensions and Hidden Files

If you’ve deleted everything from the Applications and Library folders and some vestiges of old software still remain, you may be dealing with a kernel extension or hidden file. These items will not be obvious to find, doing a Google search about the components for your specific software situation is highly recommended.

Software that uses background processing – anti-virus and security programs, printers, device sync software – often install one or more kernel extensions. If your old installation of Symantec Utilities keeps telling you it’s out of date six years after you’ve deleted the program, chances are there’s still an old kernel extension loading up.

Warning: kernel extensions are necessary for correct operation of your system. Do not move or delete any items unless you have the ability to redo changes made by booting from a second Macintosh or drive and restoring changes made to the first hard drive.

Kernel extensions are located in /System/Library/Extensions and end with the extension .kext. Again you are looking for items with the name of the program or vendor in the name. For example, with old copies of troublesome Symantec software you might find SymEvent.kext and SymOSXKernelUtilities.kext lurking on your system.

Drag any probable items to the desktop first to make a copy, then move the original to the trash. Don’t empty the trash yet – reboot and see if the issue is fixed. If not, restore the item and try another.

Hidden files are items whose name starts with a period (.) They don’t display in the Finder by default. Programs sometimes use hidden files for authentication purposes, many are located in your home folder. You can use Terminal (inside Applications/Utilities) to list the contents of the directory in question and delete the offending item.

The following set of commands will navigate to the home folder (~), list all contents, then delete a hidden file named .parallels_settings:

%> cd ~
%> ls -al
%> sudo rm .parallels_settings

Using sudo to do the deletion will require you to enter an admin password when prompted.

Related
  • DWP

    I find in my ~Library/Preferences 538 files that look like this “com.apple.iPod.plist.2Nq3fgh” with Zero KB file size. They mostly have “IApps or iTunes or iPod” with a few “QuickTimePlayerX” or “java.javePreferences.” Since they all have ‘Zero KB” for file size, can they be safely deleted?

  • Adam Rosen

    Yes, those can be safely deleted. If it doesn’t end in .plist but contains that in the name, it’s likely a backup or temporary file.

  • DWP

    Thank you for your reply and article.

  • Jdsonice

    Excellent article. Thank you.

  • Lawleypop

    Seems like it would just be easier to use app zapper

  • bbrewer

    Nice article, but nothing particularly new. I installed a product called ‘Mac Keeper’ which I would LOVE to get totally rid of. I don’t trust it, for one thing. It does really nothing you can’t do out of the box, and it just looks like spyware to me. No way to delete it, and these instructions don’t help, unfortunately (not a fault of the article).

    I am going to do a complete format and install. I almost never have to do that, and there are great backup utilities, but I’m not looking forward to it…

  • Andydudeman

    Complete reinstall is the best solution. My uni was suffering with a flash bug, and I thought it be able to clear the problem. In the end it just made it wor, my system came to a crawl and safari died every few minutes.

    Mac Keepere is crapware.

  • Clifford

    AppZapper is great but I find that sometimes it misses a few left over files. I’d say it catches everything about 98% of the time. I still manage to find a few empty folders or preferences from a deleted app.

  • Anthony Aaron

    As a clean-up measure — after using AppCleaner — I run EasyFind and search for the name of the item I wish to delete. I’ve been amazed at how many items it finds even after using AppCleaner or a program’s own Uninstall module.

  • catmistake

    lsbom /Library/Receipts/theApplication.pkg/Contents/Archive.bom -pf | more

    Applications that use installers should leave a nice list of all files installed. If these applications do not include an uninstaller, the above command in Terminal will reveal what those files are and their locations.

  • AriRomano

    I wonder how to remove the “microsoft entourage notes” sync option from my mobileMe sync panel after uninstalling the microsoft office 2008 trial

  • bbrewer

    Yeah, I am usually pretty careful about this stuff, but I must have slipped up here. I thought it was just a utility program. But no, it inserts itself into your system, there is NO DOCUMENTATION on what this thing actually DOES, and it is constantly coming up and ‘suggesting’ that I do certain things (often quite idiotic) and it is just spooky and totally UN-Maclike.

  • Nutz320

    Wow, this is pretty in-depth. I thought you were just going to tell us about an app like AppZapper, AppCleaner, CleanMyMac or whatever.

  • Nutz320

    Applications like this don’t find huge libraries, they only find the small .plist files that really waste tiny amounts of space.

  • eerk

    “Uninstalling software under Mac OS X is generally a straightforward procedure” … this article proves that it really isn’t.

    I expected uninstalling to become more streamlined with Apple’s new Mac App Store, but it’s still a mess. If I want to sift through system folders peering at obscure filenames, I might as well install windows.

  • Snake Poursten

    Nice one!!! really2 need this!!!!

  • Lyonado

    One word AppZapper

  • Chris

    just download AppCleaner

  • sandra

    If you’re trying to cleanly uninstall Symantec antivirus programs, I don’t recommend picking through and removing kext and hoping you get them all files. You are better off using this removal script:

    Removing Symantec programs for Macintosh by using the RemoveSymantecMacFiles removal utility – http://www.symantec.com/docs/T

    sandra

  • Anna Charles

    Why not use an application like appzapper or mackeeper ? They are very easy to utilize! You can find some reviews on my website
    How to Uninstall on Mac
    Anna.

  • skiusainc

    Thanks a ton for this information. Being a new Mac user, I wasn’t aware on how to uninstall software and this was a clear and concise guide. Cheers!

About the author

Adam RosenAdam Rosen is an IT consultant specializing in Apple Macintosh systems new and old. He lives in Boston with two cats and too many possessions. In addition to membership in the Cult of Mac, Adam has written for Low End Mac and is curator of the Vintage Mac Museum. He also enjoys a good libation.

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