Track Down All Startup & Login Script and App Launches in Mac OS X

Feb 17, 2010 - 7 Comments

Finder Want to find out how to see all startup and login app launches and scripts on a Mac? This article will walk through that process. Gone are the days of Mac OS System 9 where all startup items were sitting nicely in a system folder labeled ‘Startup’, now with the Unix undercore of Mac OS X things are a bit more complicated, with some startup and login scripts and apps launching beyond the easily accessible ‘Login Items’ preference pane.

We’ll review where these startup, login, and auto-launch agents, plists, daemons, and applications may reside in Mac OS X. This can be helpful for troubleshooting, privacy, and security reasons.

Average Users: Startup & Login items in Mac OS X

For the average end user, most apps they want to configure to launch (or not) on boot are actually handled with a login event that’s easily controlled through something like the Dock with a right-click or the “Login Items” listed 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 needs.

Advanced Users: Startup & Login items, apps, and scripts in Mac OS X

This part of the article isn’t for most users! If you’re an advanced user or a systems administrator, that aforementioned preference pane is rarely the end of your hunt to track down startup and login items in Mac OS X. I recently was on a wild goose chase trying to find a rather obnoxious script a user had accidentally installed on a network machine, and knowing the proper locations made my job significantly easier, so for that reason I provide the list to you:

Applications that run on Startup:

plist items running on startup:

Applications that launch on User Login:
* First check your “Login Items” for that user account within the Account settings of System Preferences


Applications that run on a set schedule:
Check your crontab with:

crontab -l

Check Kernel Extensions:
In the command line:


Check Login and Logout Hooks
defaults read LoginHook for Login
defaults read LogoutHook for Logout

or see both with:

/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c Print

If you don’t know what you’re doing, please don’t mess around in the above directories or commands, you can easily cause more harm than good! These locations serve the core functionality of Mac OS and should only be altered by advanced Mac users and Systems Administrators.

Do you have any other tidbits or interesting info for finding startup scripts, launch apps, daemons, kernel extensions, or other automatically loading apps and scripts? Share with us in the comments!


Related articles:

Posted by: Manish Patel in Mac OS, Security, Troubleshooting


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. Eric says:

    I’m having a lovely problem with an old PPC Mac.
    Fun. Script Editor. Never used it not once in 15 years on 7+ Apple computers.

    Today when I open a dmg file into a disk image the usual launcher is gone Instead this fun white square icon is there. Command I reveals open with script editor. Fun. The. When i try to change to diskinstaller app it tells me i don’t have sufficient privileges to change this. WTF?

  2. […] startup items – read these two guides for a rundown.  (there are more than you think you have – google the items and […]

  3. Ryan says:

    You forgot one of the most important…


    Any dock item that has the “Open At Login” option set will automatically be opened. Several applications use this mechanism to launch on login rather than the methods above.

  4. tzs says:

    “crontab -l” would be better than “crontab -e” for checking your crontab. The former lists the content of your crontab. The latter attempts to edit your crontab.

  5. Nathan says:

    When I’m tracking down shady files like these, I like to hit the “/” key in the File > Open dialog in my text editor… it let’s me type in a path very similar to *nix and even features tab auto-completion!

  6. […] Track down all startup & login script and application launches in Mac OS X – OS X Daily (tags: tips troubleshooting macosx) Post a Comment […]

  7. cory says:

    This is great! Thank you. I’ve been looking for something like this.

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