How to remove startup and login items on your Mac

When you turn on your Mac, various apps, add-ons, and invisible background processes start running all by themselves. This is usually what you want, but you may sometimes see items running that you don’t recall adding yourself. Where do they come from?

Because such items can increase your Mac’s startup time and may decrease its performance, you’ll want to make sure your Mac is loading only items that are useful to you. Here’s a quick primer on the various kinds of startup and login items and how to manage them.

Login items

Open System Preferences and click on Users & Groups, then click the Login Items tab. You’ll see a list of apps (and even files and folders) that open every time you log in. This list is different for each user account on your Mac.

Items usually end up on this list because apps added them to it. Most apps that do so ask you for permission first or have an “Open at login” or similar checkbox in its settings. In any case, you can add an item to the list manually by clicking the (+) button, or remove an item by selecting it and clicking the minus sign (-) button.

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Everything in the Login Items list—whether added by you or by an app—opens automatically when you log in.

StartupItems folder

Earlier versions of macOS relied on two folders—/Library/StartupItems and /System/Library/StartupItems—to hold items designated to load when you start your Mac. Apple now discourages the use of the StartupItems folders, but some old apps might still use them.

Normally your /System/Library/StartupItems folder should be empty; but if it contains something that you don’t use anymore, you can drag the unwanted item to the Trash to prevent it from loading automatically the next time you start your Mac.

Launch daemons and agents

Since OS 10.4 Tiger, Apple has given developers another mechanism for launching items automatically: launch daemons and agents that are controlled by the launchd process. This provides more flexibility for developers but it is less transparent to users.

Instead of opening apps directly, launchd loads specially-formatted .plist documents that specify what should launch and under what circumstances. Sometimes these launch items run constantly in the background, sometimes they run at scheduled intervals, and sometimes they run as needed—for example, in response to an event such as a change in a certain file or folder—and then quit.