How to prevent an app from opening at launch in macOS

How many times have you restarted your Mac just to have it hang in some sort of limbo while it launched an indefinite number of apps? Granted, you may have voluntarily set some of those apps to launch at startup, or login, but that is not always the case. In this article, I will show you what to do when apps are not giving their users enough control and freedom of choice.

Good-behaving apps

Thankfully, most apps behave as they should, that is they have a preference nested in one of their settings that looks something like this:

from the Preferences menu in the Adobe Creative Cloud app
from the Preferences menu in the Adobe Creative Cloud app

Adobe Creative Cloud is an app that I use every day for my work, so it is just natural that I have it launch at login. Disclaimer: some apps will say “at login”, some other “at startup”, it basically makes no difference as when your computer starts up you then need to log in and the app will not launch before that. Technically, “at login” is the more precise of the two.

Now, if you turn off that control, pull down your Apple menu and hit “Logout <username>” or “Restart”, this app will not launch anymore on the next login.

Poorly behaving apps

There are some apps, though, that either do not show you this option or they do not respect the user’s choice. Both are bad, and we will see one example of each.

No settings

Avid Link is possibly one of the most poorly designed apps I have ever had the honour of using, simply because it controls the validity of the license of one of my main working apps, Sibelius. Besides being beyond slow and buggy like nothing else I have seen around, it simply does not have an option to let the user choose whether the app should launch at login or not1.

These are all the preferences the user will see, among which nothing helps our cause:

Avid Link's Preference pane
Avid Link’s Preference pane

Settings do not work

The Steam app (the one for running games) does indeed have the setting we are looking for in its Preferences but, for some reason, it does not work as intended. As you can see from the following picture, the setting is unchecked, but the app is still launching in all its glory upon restart.

Steam macOS app Preferences > Interface pane
Steam macOS app Preferences > Interface pane

What can be done?

Every so often the app will install a Launch Agent (a small utility) that will appear in System Preferences > Users & Group > Login Items. If the app that is causing troubles is listed there, simply select it and press the minus button to remove it.

The two apps that we analysed today do not belong to this group and will need a somewhat more complex approach.

Show the Library

macOS’s User Library is usually a hidden folder, but to perform these actions we need to access it. There are two ways to do so, one if you need to show it only when you need it and one if you want it to always be there for you to access:

FIRST WAY

  1. Open Finder and, in the menu bar, click on Go
  2. Hold down the Option key and you will see the Library Folder show up

SECOND WAY

  1. Open Finder and, in the menu bar, click on Go, then Home (this will open your Home folder)
  2. In the menu bar, click on View, then Show View Options
  3. In the floating window that appears, be sure to check the “Show Library Folder” option at the bottom.

Find whodunit!

We now need to find the file that caused the issue. It may be located either in the User’s Library or in the System’s Library, but we needed that first step to be ready.

Let’s imagine you have Avid Link installed, so we will look for it first.

  1. Go to your Home folder, then Library > Launch Agents
  2. Sadly, while we see something concerning Steam, which we will deal about later, there is no trace of something concerning Avid Link. This means that the evil geniuses who programmed this app put its preferences into the System library, sure that the user will never fiddle with it.
  3. In your Finder’s sidebar, click on “Macintosh HD”. If you don’t see it, you can:
    1. Click on Go > Computer
    2. Click on Finder > Preferences > Sidebar and check Hard Disks.
  4. From there, click on Library, then Launch Agents
  5. Inside you will find a file called com.avid.avidlink.plist. “Plist” is an abbreviation for “Property List” and it contains many settings relative to the app. If you double-click on it, it is most probable that you will not have installed any app able to read and edit such files, so we need a further step.

How to edit a .plist file?

If you have Xcode installed, it may be possible to edit such files, as it creates them itself when compiling a new app. In my experience this gives mixed results, so I advise you to download and install either of two great apps: Atom or BBEdit.

Once you have installed them simply Ctrl-click (right click) on the .plist file and then Open With to show the menu of options you have; choose any of the apps but not Xcode (Xcode will be able to edit those but when you save your edits it will sometimes bear no result).

When you open such a file with, for example, Atom, you will see something like this (the graphical rendition may be different from mine):

Without worrying too much about what are all those lines (they are “Dictionaries” in programming languages), look for the line that reads <key>RunAtLoad</key>

Below that you will see this <true>. Simply change “true” to “false” and save the document. It may require you to authenticate with your login password, and just do so without any worry.

Now you can check that this has worked by restarting your Mac.


For the Steam file, you can locate it in the User’s Library, always in Launch Agents and it is called com.valvesoftware.steamclean.plist. Repeat the same procedure and restart your Mac. You will notice that this is not enough. Go now to System Preferences > Users & Groups (select your current user) > Login Items. Select Steam and press the minus button. Restart again and this will work!

Bottom Line

And there you have it! No program will ever plague you any longer if you do not want it to and if the developers have not given you the respect and freedom of choice you deserve!

I hope you found this article helpful, if you did, please like it and share it with your friends and peer. Don’t forget to follow me on this blog and to let me know what you think.

If you are interested in my music engraving and publications don’t forget to visit my Facebook page and the pages where I publish my scores (Gumroad, SheetMusicPlus, ScoreExchange and on Apple Books).

You can also support me by buying Paul Hudson’s Swift programming books from this Affiliate Link.

Thank you so much for reading!

Until the next one!

  1. Yes, an update is in the works but I highly doubt this will change anything concerning this article.

Published by Michele Galvagno

Professional Musical Scores Designer and Engraver Graduated Classical Musician (cello) and Teacher Tech Enthusiast and Apprentice iOS / macOS Developer Grafico di Partiture Musicali Professionista Musicista classico diplomato (violoncello) ed insegnante Appassionato di tecnologia ed apprendista Sviluppatore iOS / macOS

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