How to Launch Application on System Start in Mac OS X

Nov 29, 2006 - 40 Comments

Finder Mac users may find it helpful to automatically launch an application upon system start of Mac OS X. Basically this means as soon as the Mac is done booting, the approved auto-launch apps will open themselves once the user has logged into the Mac and the Mac OS desktop has displayed. You can add as many apps as you want to the automatic launch list, but it’s best to use this feature prudently so you don’t needlessly slow down the boot time of the computer.

We will show you how to launch applications on system start of MacOS X, and also how to remove Mac apps from the automatic launch list.

You can choose any application to launch automatically on system startup of Mac OS X with this trick. Generally speaking, this is most appropriate for helper applications and small apps that are frequently used.

How to Automatically Open an Application on Startup of Mac OS X

  1. Open System Preferences from the  Apple Menu
  2. Choose “Users & Groups” (or on prior versions of Mac OS X, click on the “Accounts” icon)
  3. Now visit the “Login Items” tab
  4. Click the “+” icon in the lower corner – OR – drag and drop the Application to launch on startup into this Login Items screen
  5. Launch these applications on Startup of Mac OS X

  6. 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” to choose that app to open on startup of the Mac

Once you’ve set up your automatic apps to open on startup and login, you’re done and can close out of System Preferences. It’s that simple, those apps which are in the Login Items list will open themselves immediately upon system start.

Another method is to launch an application, and right-click or control-click on it’s icon in the Dock, selecting “Open at Login”. This will add it to the Login Items list automatically.

This can be a very convenient feature, though it can also slow down Mac startup, so be cautious of adding too many applications to this list.

You can also use this Login Items list to automatically connect to network drives on login and startup of Mac OS X using a two-step process, or an Automator mounting script.

Removing an Application from Automatic Start List of Mac OS X

Decided you don’t want an app to open itself on startup of Mac OS X? That’s ok, this is easy to undo:

  1. Back in the System Preferences for “Users & Groups”, go to Login Items again
  2. Select the app you want to stop launching at login, click on it, and then hit the Delete key, or hit the Minus [-] button to remove it form the automatic login list
  3. Close out of System Preferences of Mac OS X

Manage launching apps at startup of Mac OS X

Do note that if you uninstall a Mac application it will be removed from the startup list as well, though sometimes a helper item can lag behind.

Changes are immediate again, but ultimately take effect on next boot, login, or startup. You can remove any application from launching at login by clicking on the “-” icon. For troubleshooting purposes, or to just quickly speed up a Macs startup time, you can also temporarily disable the Mac OS X login items by holding the Shift key at the right time.

This feature is in all versions of Mac OS and Mac OS X, from MacOS Catalina, macOS Mojave, High Sierra, Sierra, El Capitan, Yosemite, Mavericks, Mountain Lion, Snow Leopard, Tiger, you name it, it’s there, and has been around since the earliest days of Mac OS X, but old habits can be tough to break. I recently had someone complain to me that they can’t figure out how to launch an application on boot in Mac OS X, they said “it was so easy in Mac OS 9, you just dropped an alias in the Startup folder and it was done.” Yes, it was very easy in Mac OS 9, but 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, but to someone who hasn’t done it or set this up before, it’s only simple after they’ve been shown how to launch apps on startup like this.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Jim says:

    Why do so many people equate “boot” with “login”? I need to start programs when the Mac boots, before any logins occur, if any do occur.

    • PH says:

      For 99% of Mac users, opening an application on system start or launching on login is what they are looking to do.

      Loading on boot is another challenge entirely, given increasing security in modern Mac operating systems. Given that Mac OS is based on Unix you’d need to use a script, kernel extensions, or something similar that is activated during the boot sequence, but those are being deprecated in modern macOS releases, making it all but impossible to load things during boot for security reasons. This is all further complicated on newer Mac hardware with T2 security chips. There is obviously no loading of GUI apps during boot.

      What is it you are trying to load exactly, why, and when?

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

  3. […] 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 […]

  4. […] 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, […]

  5. […] 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 […]

  6. […] 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 […]

  7. 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.

  8. […] 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. […]

  9. 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.

  10. 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 …

  11. […] 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 […]

  12. OZ says:

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

  13. navdeep sindhu says:

    i dont understand …..i used window7 plz help

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. Brogroove says:

    Thanks for the tips!

  17. Teru says:

    Thank you! ^_^

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

  19. […] 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 […]

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.


  24. 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

  25. 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 –

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

    • Carlos says:

      I second that.

      • macuser555 says:

        I third that. This guy is a tool!

        • Geoff says:

          4th, this post is inaccurate.

          • DerpGeoff says:

            Follow the instructions, it is explained clearly how to launch apps on login and start

          • Paul says:

            @DerpGeoff: NO! There is no explanation for launching apps (i.e. daemons) at system startup (what you refer to as ‘start’). You can’t do this using the Login Items tab of Users & Groups.

          • Erik says:

            And still mislabeled.

            While commenting here does allow commiseration, send the site an email asking them to fix it, email at bottom of page & on contact page.

          • Texas Ted says:

            Applications must run in Mac OS X and only after login occurs, it is impossible to run a Mac OS app before login has occurred.

            Other processes can be run with plist or scripts, but this is obviously over your head if you don’t understand this article or the limitations. Advanced users only, not for you.

            User Agents

            ~/Library/LaunchAgents Currently logged in user

            Global Agents

            /Library/LaunchAgents Currently logged in user

            Global Daemons

            /Library/LaunchDaemons root or the user specified with the key UserName

            System Agents

            /System/Library/LaunchAgents Currently logged in user

            System Daemons

            /System/Library/LaunchDaemons root or the user specified with the key UserName

            Startup Items /System/StartupItems/ All users on startup

    • Peter Gray says:

      This is how you launch apps at start on Mac. Period. You put them in login items, they open when the Mac user system starts. That is how it works.

      You other people complaining apparently don’t understand how computers work. To launch a process at ‘system startup’ you would need to use launchd and it would have to be a root level process run from the command line as a daemon. You can’t run a GUI application at ‘system start’ because the WindowServer process (the Mac GUI) is an application that loads at the very end of boot, at user login, and that has to load before a Mac app can load. That’s why you launch apps at login, which is user level system start, and users can’t run apps at boot level system start because there is nothing to run the apps on aside from the kernel. If you want an app to launch at login for every user, put it in in each Login Items folder.

      Not rocket science people, for those claiming to be so knowledgable you sure don’t know much about how unix works, which is what Mac OSX is.

    • Paul says:

      To have something startup at boot time, not login, you need to use launchd.

  28. 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’.

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