How to fully uninstall apps (no third-party black box involved)

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Lion (10.7)' started by Roman2K~, Jan 1, 2012.

  1. Roman2K~, Jan 1, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2012

    Roman2K~ macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    Uninstalling apps is almost never as simple as moving the .app to the trash.

    More often than not, apps leave clutter / cruft / traces behind them:

    • Files, either in the user directory, and / or worse, elsewhere in the filesystem (if the administrator password was required).
    • Services handled via launchd.
    • Other things like login items and additional preference panes (user and / or system).
    To completely remove an application and its traces, follow the initial, usual steps:

    1. Quit the app.
    2. Check for leftover processes with ps or Activity Monitor.
    3. Delete the .app.
    Now begins the quest for leftovers.

    Fortunately, OS X being based on FreeBSD, there's a robust UNIX base: everything is handled as a file. Nothing fancy at its core, no magic behind the scenes, no weird uncontrollable mongrels like the Windows registry.

    Scraping off the remaining filth is just a matter of using the Terminal to print the list and manually, carefully deleting the remains individually.

    The following method involves executing command lines. They're very basic, anyone can understand and run them. If you don't feel up to the task, GGJstudios has written up a guide with the graphical, Spotlight rough equivalent, if slightly less exhaustive -- as Spotlight's index may be out of sync at the time of the removal:

    I fully agree with him on not relying on third party apps to perform the removal... allegedly. To me, they're just inefficient closed-source black boxes, thriving on people's ignorance. The manual way involves only stock commands and gives full control and supervision over every single step ;).

    Let's take App Tamer as an example.

    1) List the remains:


    Side note: According to the author, there was supposed to be a single additional file to take care of, optionally. As if keeping unused files and / or services was even an option. And no mention of the other files.

    In this command:

    • -x means not descending down mounts (via mount)
    • -not -path '/Volumes/*' means not descending down volumes (mounted via Finder)
    • 'App.*Tamer' is the variable bit. It's a regular expression the should match the app's name and / or the author's name, as it's often part of an app's filenames.
    • -i means matching is case insensitive.
    Namely, search for files related to the app, within the whole filesystem (starting at its root, '/') restricted to the root filesystems' storage device.

    2) For each file (one per line of result), inspect the path to determine if it's actually relevant to the app before deleting it. If it is, which is the case for all lines in this example:

    (Execute the above via "sudo" if the path is outside of the user's directory.)

    In these result, there's a service definition file:

    Now that's an interesting bit of unwanted parasite. It's a launchd service. The Windowsy way to get rid of it is to delete the .plist and reboot. The UNIX way is to first ensure the definition is unloaded:

    And then, delete the file. (No reboot.)

    3) After all files have been deleted, search again, just in case:

    Repeat from 2).

    4) As I don't trust searching for the app's name is enough, I follow the same procedure with the author's name. (This could have been done at the same time as the first search by extending the regular expression.)

    And sure enough:

    One last directory to clean up.

    5) Login items might have been added. They're listed in System Preferences > Users & Groups > [a user] > Login Items.

  2. GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
    In most cases, app removal software doesn't do a thorough job of finding and removing files/folders related to deleted apps. For more information, read this. If you just want to delete the app, drag the .app file to the trash. No other software needed. If you want to completely remove all associated files/folders, no removal apps will do the job.

    The most effective method for complete app removal is manual deletion:
  3. Roman2K~ thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    Thanks for the link (and all your quality posts and patience in general ;)).

    I agree that manual deletion is the only way to be thorough. That's exactly what my post describes. What you recommend in your post is using Finder / Spotlight to do the equivalent of find + grep.

    In my experience, Spotlight's results aren't always exhaustive as the index is potentially out of date: several times, I've used Spotlight to search for files that weren't indexed *yet*. So I don't trust it for app removal where thoroughness is a requirement.
  4. GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
    For those who are comfortable and experienced with Terminal, I agree. However, I find that many (most?) Mac users aren't savvy enough to use Terminal, or are intimidated by it. Finder presents a safer approach to removing apps, with no chance of them getting syntax wrong on a Terminal command and creating bigger problems.

    Whatever works for you, go for it!
  5. Roman2K~ thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    The commands mentioned above are very basic, nothing fancy at all.

    Maybe it's intimidating for those not familiar with command-line work but I think the concept is easy to grasp, and stock commands well documented and easy to use.

    At least it all came naturally to me in the beginning. The learning curve is well worth going through anyway :cool:.

    Also, I fixed 2 typos in the original post.
  6. Roman2K~ thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    Original post updated with a mention of GGJstudios' alternative method.
  7. yeah macrumors 6502a


    Jul 12, 2011
    There is an app called Clean my Mac ( and it's $15 for 6 months or $30 for life. It can FULLY erase any app on your mac. It also searches your mac for any app leftovers :D
  8. The Economist Suspended

    The Economist

    Apr 4, 2011
    I use the free app AppCleaner. It usually does a fair job at finding those extra files that applications create.

    There's no way I'm going to search for every single file through terminal when I want to delete an app. The only time I've done this is when I got rid of Office for Mac. I'll never install that nightmare on my Mac again.
  9. Roman2K~, Jan 1, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2012

    Roman2K~ thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    @yeah & The Economist
    CleanMyMac and AppCleaner are precisely the kinds of closed-source black boxes that I want to avoid.

    I don't know about you, but I wouldn't trust any of these with potentially dangerous cleaning operations, and certainly not without doing a second pass myself to double check whether they have actually done their job properly.

    Plus, it would be difficult to tell what kind of damage they may have done (not without a filesystem featuring copy-on-write snapshots like ZFS).

    With this in mind, I might as well do it all myself :).
  10. old-wiz macrumors G3

    Mar 26, 2008
    West Suburban Boston Ma
    Clean My Mac is known to render systems unbootable by removing too many files. I would never install it on any of my systems.
  11. GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
    Actually, AppCleaner doesn't do even a fair job. It leaves behind more than it deletes. Read post #2 in this thread for details.

    One app that I would not recommend, based on the number of complaints that have been posted in this forum and elsewhere, is CleanMyMac. As an example: CleanMyMac cleaned too much.
  12. robgendreau macrumors 68040

    Jul 13, 2008
    What about those invisible files? Spotlight won't find them. I've got litter that's probably license files, prefs, etc in Library, for example. Sometimes there's no way to know whence they came. I delete 'em if they're very old, and cross my fingers.

  13. GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
    That's why you don't use Spotlight, since Spotlight won't search the Library folders. Read the link I posted in the 2nd post of this thread. Note steps 4-6. That will reveal the files you're talking about. They're not "invisible" files. They're System Files. But you can also add the criteria to find invisible files, as well.
  14. yeah, Jan 2, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2012

    yeah macrumors 6502a


    Jul 12, 2011
    First of all, Clean my Mac guarantees that no system, personal, or IMPORTANT files will be erased in the process.

    Second, you probably never even tried this software, so it's not ethical to say this software is crap.

    And third, Clean my Mac is not dangerous because their development team is constantly releasing updates to improve/add features and kill bugs.


    That thread is 2 years old. Clean my Mac is an app that is developed by Mac OSX experts and software coders. Go ahead, try it. It's free and will clean out 500mb for the trail.

    BTW what "other" cleaning solutions do you recommend?
  15. GGJstudios, Jan 2, 2012
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2012

    GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
    They can guarantee all they want. Many users' actual experience has proven otherwise.
    I have tested it. Read the link in post #2 for details of my testing. And many others who have tried it have reported problems. How else would they know they had problems with it, if they haven't tried it? :rolleyes:
    This is absolutely false. Again, read the link in post #2. I tested this very function and found it lacking, as all other uninstall apps.
    That doesn't mean anything. The same is true of most software developers. They release updates to add features and kill bugs. The fact remains that this app has had a history of creating problems for its users. If their development team had done a better job before releasing the app, it might have a better reputation today.
    It began 2 years ago, but the most recent problem report in that thread was only 6 months ago. Interesting that these are some of the same arguments used by the last company rep that tried to defend the product.
    More sales pitch. I'm not buying it. If they were such "experts" the app would have a good reputation, like Onyx.
    No, don't.
    Or it could clean out your system so it won't boot!
    As already stated in this thread and many others, You really don't need "cleaner" or "maintenance" apps to keep your Mac running well, and some of these apps can do more harm than good. Most only remove files/folders or unused languages or architectures, which does nothing more than free up some drive space. It will not make your Mac run faster or more efficiently, since having stuff stored on a drive does not impact performance, unless you're running out of drive space.

    Mac OS X does a good job of taking care of itself, without the need for 3rd party software.

    Many have successfully used Monolingual to remove unwanted languages and architectures to free up drive space, but even that will not make your Mac run faster.

    Be aware that extreme caution should be exercised when using such apps, as deleting certain languages or architectures can create significant problems. At best, deleting these things may buy you 1-2GB of drive space, but will not improve your system's performance. If you're not certain about what you're doing, don't delete anything. The small drive space savings are not worth the risk of potential problems.

    While some may not have experienced problems yet with CMM, enough people have that it's wise to avoid it, especially since there are free alternatives that have better reputations, such as Onyx.
  16. Roman2K~ thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Mar 11, 2011
    Wow, GGJstudios, you put it admirably! Breaking down yeah's flaky points with objective, thorough, patiently crafted responses. So good to see people like you on these forums.
  17. Choctaw macrumors 6502


    Apr 8, 2008
    How to reinstall a deleted app ?

    If I remove a program into the trash as suggested, then remove it from trash. Later if I want it to be active again. How do I get the program back on the computer? Thanks for your advise.
  18. GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
    If, by "remove it from trash", you mean you emptied the Trash with the app in it, the only way to get it back on your computer is to download and install it again.
  19. Choctaw macrumors 6502


    Apr 8, 2008
    Can I download it from Apple off the web, for they don't hand out CD's anymore with the programs. I just feel there are many things I will never want to use and maybe it would make the systems work a bit less taxing. But what I know about all the programs you can put into a small thimble and not fill it up. Thanks for your response.
  20. GGJstudios macrumors Westmere


    May 16, 2008
    Of course it depends on the individual app. Some older apps are only distributed via DVD or CD, whereas most new apps are downloadable.

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