How to control your Mac startup programs

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There are probably quite a few apps on your Mac that operate int he background, and spin up when you start your computer up. Those are startup (or login) items, and while they’re meant for convenience, some can be unruly.

It’s easy to see how there are apps that would benefit from running at startup. Calendars should be syncing in the background, and if you have a third-party app for managing the health of your computer, it should also be proactively starting up when you boot your computer.

Here, we’ll tell you how to manage startup programs Mac computers don’t need and tell you about a few ways to manage your system better.

What are Mac startup programs?

A startup program is an app that spins up when you start your computer. Instead of finding the app and clicking on an icon to activate it, your Mac tells the app when it’s turned on, and the app activates in the background. 

Again, this is typically convenient, but some apps activate at startup when they don’t need to. 

Types of startup programs

Most startup programs need to activate when you boot your Mac up. Here are some typical types of startup programs you likely won’t need to worry about:

User login items. Some apps need to activate when you login to your Mac. This may be for background sync, or for apps that need access to other apps while they run. 

Launch agents. These are .txt files of apps that sit quietly in the background and help the app run once you start it up. 

Application login items. These help applications start when your Mac boots up. You can’t delete these, but you can manage them.

Daemons. Like launch agents, daemons are little automated bits of an app that run in the background. The difference is while launch agents interact with apps, daemons are doing things on a system level.

Monitoring apps. Some apps spin up at login to keep an eye on your Mac’s performance and health. 

How do I stop programs from opening on startup on my Mac

When you need to know how to stop programs from running at startup Mac hardware can be a bit tricky, but we’ve got yout covered. The absolute best way to make sure your Mac is running in tip-top shape is CleanMyMac X. It does a ton of work, and managing startup or login items for your Mac is one of many services it offers. While a routine, scheduled cleaning of your system is the best choice, CleanMyMac X also allows you granular control over startup or login items. 

Here’s how to change startup programs Mac doesn’t need with CleanMyMac X:

  1. Open CleanMyMac X on your Mac

  2. On the left side of the window, select “Optimization”

Note: you can choose to clean up all login items and launch agents, or choose the individual processes you want to control. Because killing all startup programs can lead to unintended issues, we will tell you how to select individual startup programs to manage.

  1. In the main window, select one of two categories: Login Items, or Launch Agents

  2. On the right side of the window, select the items you would like to disable

  3. Select “Perform” at the bottom of the window

That’s all it takes to remove startup programs Mac can live without.

clean my mac startup programs


Remove programs manually

You can change startup programs Mac computers won’t always need manually, though it takes a bit of work. Here’s how to turn off startup programs Mac won’t use in System Preferences:

  1. On your Mac menu bar, select the Apple logo on the left side
  2. Select “System Preferences”
  3. Select “Users & Groups”
  4. Choose your ID from the list

Note: if you’re the only user on your Mac, you may only have one profile, and won’t need to choose a user from a list.

  1. Select “Login Items”
  2. Under the “Hide” column, un-select any items you no longer want to run at login

It takes a bit of doing, and the list may not have all items you’re looking for. This is part of the reason we prefer CleanMyMac X for this; it’s easier to use, and can manage all login items.

login items mac


Manage startup programs on Mac from the Dock

Okay, we’ve told you how to disable login items – but what about apps that aren’t starting up at login? Can you get them to start when your Mac does?

Absolutely! This is a great option for apps that may be important to you, but aren’t spinning up at login. Chances are the apps you use most are already in your Mac’s dock, and that’s the best place to manage them as startup items. Here’s how:

  1. In your dock, right-click the app you want to open up at login
  2. Hover over “Options”
  3. Select “Open at Login”

Now, the app will spin up when you login to or start up your Mac. Keep in mind these apps won’t run in the background; instead, the app’s window will open at login. This is a great option for those with multiple profiles (one for personal and another for business, as an example) who need different apps for unique workflows. 

If you find your Mac’s dock a bit intrusive or cumbersome, you may like uBar. A dock replacement for your Mac, uBar keeps things tucked out of the way, and shows you in a much better interface which apps are active and running on your Mac. It even has multiple-monitor support and status bars for apps running processes or downloading content. 

doc replacement mac


Delay Mac startup apps

If you don’t want to disable startup items, you may instead want to know how to edit startup programs Mac doesn’t need immediately. An app named Delay Start can – well, delay the start – of apps at startup. Instead of an app activating immediately, you can set some to spin up on a delay. This is great if your Mac is booting up slowly, but you still need apps to run in the background throughout your day. 

It’s a great app to keep in mind if you have a dedicated workflow. If you were a photo editor, you may want to delay the start of your photo editing software. If the first thing you do is import images from an external drive or camera, apps spinning up may interfere with the process. Rather than risk unintended consequences like lost images or damaged files, delaying an app’s start may be the better workaround.

delay mac startups


Remove daemons and agents from startup process

You can check which daemons and agents are running on your Mac via the Finder app, but a word of caution: daemons and agents are hidden, which indicates you shouldn’t alter them unless you have a very clear understanding of the repercussions it may have. So, tread lightly.

Here’s how to remove agents and daemons via Finder:

  1. Open Finder on your Mac

  2. Select the main library on your Mac – it’s typically the username, and always has the house icon next to it

  3. Press Shift + Command + . (the period key on your Mac) to bring up hidden folders

  4. Select “Library”

  5. Select “Launch Agents” in the next column

This shows a full list of agents and daemons you can remove.

agents daemons mac


Conclusion

Managing launch services can really help make your Mac run faster, smoother, and eliminate unwanted services from spinning up. Some of the largest and most popular apps get a bad rap because they run at launch for no reason. Often, this is a means to make the app feel as though it is a critical part of your system; cloud storage services often run at startup to sync files, but the unintended consequence of them slowing your computer down may not be worth it.

Another great app to keep in mind is iStat Menus, an app that lives in your menu bar and keeps track of your CPU, memory, and GPU use. It’s one of those ‘good’ apps to run at startup because it monitors your entire system. If an app is running at startup and bogging your system down, iStat Menus will know about it. 

uBar, CleanMyMac X, and iStat Menus are all available for free as part of a seven day trial of Setapp, an incredible suite of nearly 200 productivity apps for the Mac. When the trial ends, continuous and unlimited access to the entire Setapp catalog is only $9.99 per month. Families will enjoy the $19.99 per month plan, which allows full access to Setapp on up to four unique Macs. We think you’ll love it – give Setapp a try today!

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