Uninstalling applications

This FAQ, derived from the "Applications" chapter of our book, Troubleshooting Mac® OS X, provides general guidance on uninstalling third-party applications.

First, we recommend that you:

  1. Never install an application until you know how to uninstall it!
  2. Always consult the application's documentation for uninstall instructions. If the documentation does not include uninstall instructions, check the developer's Web site or contact the developer for such.

How one uninstalls a given application depends in large part upon how it was installed. There are two general methods for installing applications:

  • Drag-and-drop.
  • Running an installer.

Uninstalling applications installed by drag-and-drop

If you installed the application by simply dragging and dropping a folder or the application's icon into your Macintosh HD > Applications folder, the application was distributed as a bundle. A bundle contains all of the components for the application in a single folder that is represented by the application's icon.

Applications that are distributed as bundles can generally be uninstalled by dragging the application's icon to the Trash. However, one should still consult the application's documentation for uninstall instructions.

Uninstalling applications installed by running an installer

Many applications require that you run an installer to install the application. The installer is a special program that installs all of the application's components in specific areas of your Mac OS X system. Installers are used when either the application is not distributed as a bundle, or the application requires some of its components to be installed in system-related areas outside of the Macintosh HD > Applications folder.

When uninstalling such an application, it is very important to consult the application's documentation to determine how to uninstall it. Common techniques employed by developers for uninstalling applications that were installed using an installer include:

  • The application's installer includes an Uninstall option, which is often accessed by re-running the installer and selecting Uninstall from the pop-up menu where it offers options such as Easy Install or Custom Install.
  • Some applications, such as Microsoft® Office, include an uninstaller application, either on the installation disc or installed along with the application in its folder within the Macintosh HD > Applications folder.
  • Some applications create an Installation Log file listing all of the components they installed and where these were saved. However, there is no standard for where Installation Log files are saved. You may be able to use Find (Finder > Command-F) to locate Installation Log files for specific applications.

Using Find to locate and uninstall application components

In general, it is risky to use Find (Finder > Command-F) to locate an application's components and Trash them in an attempt to uninstall an application, particularly if the application was installed via an installer.

  • Searching for files matching the application's name or related information my locate many of the components, but some applications install components that are hidden, invisible, or both. Accordingly, Find may not locate all of the components.
  • Some applications install kernel extensions, which should be unloaded from the running operating system before their files are removed. Starting up in Safe Mode should prevent any application-specific kernel extensions from loading.
  • Some applications, particularly suites of applications, share code between multiple applications within the suite. Attempting to Find and remove the components for one application in a suite could render the other applications in the suite inoperable.
  • One could inadvertently remove important system-related components by accident, rendering your entire system inoperable. This is particularly a risk if you are using Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar or Mac OS X 10.3 Panther®.
  • Using Spotlight™ to search for Installation Logs or application components can be problematic. Under Mac OS X 10.4, Spotlight does not search system-related folders or other folders in which an application's installer may have saved components. While it is possible to search for System files with Spotlight under Mac OS X 10.5 and later, finding all of an applications components may be equally problematic. In any version of Mac OS X Spotlight does not have a good track record of finding either hidden or invisible files.
  • Alternatives to Find under Mac OS X include the UNIX® find command and the freeware application EasyFind from DEVONtechnologies.

Therefore, it is always best to consult the application's documentation, the developer's Web site, or the developer for uninstall instructions.

Uninstalling leftover application preferences files

After you have uninstalled an application, its preferences files may still remain on your system. This can be true even if you uninstalled the application using a developer-provided uninstaller: some uninstallers leave the associated application's preferences files in place in case you later reinstall the application.

The following information will help you to locate and trash an application's preferences files after uninstalling the given application:


An application's preferences files can be found in one or both of the following folders in the accounts of every user on your Mac who used the application:

  • Home > Library > Preferences
  • Home > Library > Preferences > ByHost

There are copies of the preferences files in these folders on every account that used the application in order to permit each user to configure the application's preferences to meet their own personal work styles.


An application's preferences files generally have file names:

  1. Beginning with: com.developer.application_name
  2. where developer is the name of the company that developed or published the application, and application_name is the name of the application.
  3. Ending with the extension .plist indicating property list.
3. Some applications have multiple preferences files. For example, there are four preferences files associated with recent versions of iTunes®.
4. Some applications create folders containing their preferences, with the name of the preferences folder including the name of the corresponding application. Such folders, if extant, will also be found in one or both of the preferences folders cited in point 1.

Did you find this FAQ helpful? You will find a wealth of additional advice for preventing or resolving Mac OS X problems in Dr. Smoke's book, Troubleshooting Mac® OS X.
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