What to do when an Application freezes in Mac OS X

poweroff.jpgMany of my clients tell me that when a program freezes they hold down the power button and shut down their computer. Even worse, one client told me she pulls the power cable out of the back of her computer (btw, NEVER DO THIS!).

If you don’t know what to do when an application freezes, you risk damaging your hard drive and potentially loosing ALL your data. Here are several things to try before force-shutting down:


Before we do anything, go to all your open Applications and save your work! Quit (Command+Q) any applications you’re not currently using.

Are you sure the application is frozen?

Trying quitting the application by pressing “Command+Q” or going to File: Quit or Right(ctrl)+Clicking the application in the Dock and selecting Quit.

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The Stupid Solutions

Make sure your keyboard and mouse are plugged in and working. Does the cursor move around the screen? Try hitting the Caps Lock button to see if the light works. Try alt-tab and see if the Application Switcher still works.

Make sure you don’t have “Num Lock” (F6 on laptops) enabled. Num Lock will change some letters into numbers and make certain keys inactive.

Are you still connected to your network? Did you leave your wireless or ethernet network before closing applications and ejecting networked hard drives or files? Applications (including Finder) can become unresponsive for up to 20 minutes when this happens!

This has been basically fixed in 10.5, but for anything older, this can be super annoying. Try reconnecting to your network, sometimes the applications can “resume” themselves. If the data is important, wait it out.


Wait. For at least 2 minutes before continuing. Listen to your hard drives, are they working? If so, wait till they stop. If you’re working on something important, wait as long as you can, or at least 20 minutes.

Quit other Applications

Quit all other open applications. If you’re connected to a network or the internet, eject all shared/network drives and turn off your airport card and/or disconnect the ethernet cable.

Force-Quit the Application

Picture 14.jpgPress Option+Command+Escape. This should bring up the Force Quit Applications box. If your program is truly frozen, it will say “Not Responding” next to it’s name. If it does, select your application then click “Force Quit.” If the application is still running, try again up to 5 times. If you’re sure the application is frozen, but it doesn’t say “Not Responding,” wait a few minutes and try Force Quitting again.

Alternatively, you can force quit an application by Option+Right-Clicking the application’s Dock icon and selecting “Force Quit.”

If Force-Quitting works and the application quits, you can re-open the application and get back to work. However, you may want to restart the computer for good measure before resuming your work.

Activity Monitor

If the Force Quit box doesn’t appear after pressing Option+Command+Escape, or if the application remains frozen after trying to Force Quit a few times, open “Activity Monitor” from Finder: Applications: Utilities. Be it luck or strange coincidence, Activity Monitor sometimes fixes frozen applications.

In the drop down box above “Show,” select “All Processes.” In the “Filter” box, type the name or first few letters of your frozen application. Select the application and click “Inspect.” If the application is still frozen, click “Sample” (this may take a few minutes). Close the Sample window. If the application is still frozen, click Quit, then Force-Quit.

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• If the app is still frozen, open Force Quit Applications, select Finder, and click “Relaunch.” If that doesn’t work, go back to Activity Monitor and Force Quit “Dock.”

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This is for more advanced users because it requires using the command line in Terminal. Although, there are only a few very short commands.

Open Terminal and type “killall Application” – where Application is the name of the application that is frozen. This is case sensitive, so if you want to force quit TextEdit, you can’t type “killall textedit” – you must type “killall TextEdit”.

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If you get “No matching processes belonging to you were found” even though you typed the name correctly, then type “top” and return. Wait a few minutes and expand the window to it’s maximum size. Note the PID (left column) for the frozen application. Type “q”. Type “kill PID” and return.

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Check to see if the Application is still open. If it is, go back to terminal and type “kill -9 PID”. That ought to do the job.

*An even more advanced solution is to run “kill PID” by ssh-ing into the machine remotely (good for frozen GUI).

Shut Down

Try to shut down your computer by pressing Command+Option+Ctrl+Eject or going to the Apple Menu: Shut Down. If the computer shuts down, your good. It may take up to 15-20 minutes for a computer to shut down if it’s having issues. If your data is important, WAIT.

If restarting takes more than 20 minutes, try turning off any external hard drives connected to the computer (use the drive’s power switch if available). Unplug ALL peripherals (except monitor, keyboard and Apple mouse – unplug third party “mice”), including USB devices, Firewire drives, audio interfaces, and ethernet cables.

Wait 5 more minutes.

Force-Shut Down

When nothing else works, hold the power button on your computer for around 5 seconds until the computer turns off. This always works if you hold it down long enough.

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