How-to: Launch Application on System Start in Mac OS X

Nov 29, 2006 - 34 Comments

I recently had someone complain to me that they can’t figure out how to launch an application on boot in Mac OS X, “it was so easy in OS 9, you just dropped an alias in the Startup folder and it was done.” Yes, it was very easy in Mac OS 9, and it is just as easy in Mac OS X if you know where to look. Now I know some of you are saying this is super simple stuff (it is), but to someone who hasn’t done it, it’s only simple after they’ve been shown how. So here is a super simple how-to in three steps, complete with easy to follow screenshots!

In this example, we will use Stickies (the application this individual asked about).

Step 1) Launch your System Preferences (Apple Menu -> System Preferences) and click on the “Accounts” icon:

Step 2) Now visit the “Login Items” tab, and click the “+” icon in the lower corner:

Step 3) Now you’ll see the Applications folder contents in front of you, simply scroll through and select the application you want to load on start, and click “Add”:

Done. You can remove an application from launching at login by clicking on the “-” icon. Another method is to launch an application, and right-click or control-click on it’s icon in the dock, selecting “Open at Login”:

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Posted by: OSXDaily in How to, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Charles Waddington says:

    You can also do a context click on an item in the Dock – it will give you the option to ‘Open At Login’.

  2. Pliep says:

    Mind you, launching something at SYSTEM START is somewhat different from launching something AT LOGIN.

    I was hoping to find here a hint explaining how to launch something at system startup, eg. for every user.

  3. Barry Rueger says:

    “Now I know some of you are saying this is super simple stuff (it is), but to someone who hasn’t done it, it’s only simple after they’ve been shown how.

    God I am tired of hearing that. In the year since buying a Powerbook I have run into countless situations like this where simple commonplace tasks require me to jump though obscure or arbitrary hoops.

    For a system that claims to be “intuitive” the Apple certainly has long list of things that are anything but.

    A good rule in software design – if you need to dig three levels down to find it, it ain’t “intuitive”, it’s hidden.

  4. Peter Reid says:

    Well this might be super-simple, but it has had me baffled for the past hour. Just how to get stickies to load and appear on my desktop when I startup. I remembered the startup items folder from old, but that was a red herring, I added it via login items, but it still did not appear on my desktop. Squillions of webpages later, I found this page, and now realise that I had checked the hide checkbox, never looked at it, and checked it without thinking.


    so thanks profusely a very clear and useful explanation -

  5. Kim says:

    Great tip. Took me far too long to find this tip. So thanks for this very useful tip. It’s been most helpful.

    BR, Kim

  6. Lloyd says:

    THANK YOU! If you knew how long I’ve just spent trying to find how to do this today. It might be super simple to some but I only moved to a Mac in Sept and have just come to my first app I want to load on startup. It’s a damn nightmare trying to find out how to do it from the help.


  7. Tony says:

    The author uses the term “this is super simple stuff (it is) then proceeds to answer how to start a program at logon instead of how to start a program when the “system” starts.

    I agree with Pliep and Barry Rueger, and I’ve been using a mac for about 2 yrs now.

  8. Tom Tyler says:

    I lived how I Googled “Application Launch Startup Mac How” and this was the first link. It’s exactly what I was looking for! THANK YOU! And thanks too for the comments differentiating system start vs. start at login.

  9. Fred Bltuoggs says:

    This has NOTHING to do with launching applications at STARTUP and is totally inaccurately titled.

    This relates to LOGIN items, not the same thing at all.

  10. […] under user accounts, if that’s what you’re looking for then the average user can see how to launch an application on system start in Mac OS X (which is actually upon user login) and that will likely cover their […]

  11. […] can also manage login items through the System Preferences and achieve the same […]

  12. Teru says:

    Thank you! ^_^

  13. Brogroove says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  14. Jason says:

    Thank you!

    Did a Google before this and it took me to an apple page with absolutely ridiculous instructions. This is so clean and simple.

    Thanks again.

  15. Laurie says:

    Thanks for the tip, but do you know how to startup applications at system start, before logging in? Woudl be good to include that in the article also. Thanks.

  16. navdeep sindhu says:

    i dont understand …..i used window7 plz help

  17. OZ says:

    Thank you for this super easy document. I wish to find documents like this more often.

  18. […] the app by default leads to an instantaneous fake kernel panic, so you could throw this in someones startup items and the first thing they’ll be greeted to is this […]

  19. readthestinkingpost says:

    guys, system startup is when the system starts up… not login… hello…. no one can answer this question I assume.. sometimes I think linux is easier than mac.

    • OldTimeMacisian says:

      … you are right ! it is ! defenitely ! … well, if you want to do more than installing software with the “all new” App Store … ;) … but nevertheless … OS X IS a great system …

  20. Susan Smith says:

    this was super helpful. super clear. I appreciate all the comments, and agree, to accomplish this task is ‘mac-centric’. thanks to everyone for helping me better understand my mac.

  21. […] Ever wanted to remove shadows from windows, menus, and box items in Mac OS X? You can with a free tool called ShadowKiller, and it works in Mac OS X 10.7 too. All you need to do is launch the app, the screen will flicker briefly, and all on screen windows will appear shadowless. You can get the shadows back by just relaunching the app again. If you want to have the window shadows always disabled, you’ll need to throw ShadowKiller into Login Items. […]

  22. SadDaddy says:

    HELLOOOO, can you PLEASE rename this article from “Launch apps at System Startup” to “on Login”? And can ANYONE please answer the subject question? 10 karma points to the first who does, 25 to the one who tells the world how to do it from Terminal.

    Peace out.

  23. […] simply because there are less actions for the Mac to complete before the computer is ready to use. Login Items can be helper daemons, menu bar items, or full blown apps, get rid of anything you don’t need […]

  24. […] are applications and helpers that launch immediately when a user logs in to Mac OS X. These are easily adjusted in system preferences, but you can also temporarily disable them on a per-boot and per-login […]

  25. […] the OS X installation that it’s launched from, including general system information, all login items, overly privileged processes, and a whole slew of third party system changes and augmentations, […]

  26. […] a basic yet practical use case, build an app to perform a necessary repetitive task and add it to a users Login Items or put it in the Dock or Launchpad for easy novice access. It certainly beats trying to explain to […]

  27. […] note that is also added to the active users login items so that the color icons take effect on each reboot or […]

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