Mac Spinning Wheel

When an app is dragging its feet on your Mac, you can force quit the app and try opening it again and usually this clears the problem. On the other hand, there can sometimes be circumstances where even trying to force quit an app doesn’t seem to work. Bummer, right?

If you’re having trouble trying to force quit an app on your Mac, we’ve got some ideas you can try to kill that app and re-launch it.

Why force quit might not work in the first place

A lot of the time, this can happen when an app isn’t well built. When this happens, all kinds of havoc can be wreaked on your hardware that makes it tough for your Mac to process the tools necessary to force quit an app. Memory leaks can be a big source of these kinds of issues.

Such behavior is common in apps that haven’t been properly updated for new operating systems or are incompatible with other apps running on the system.

In other situations, you can sometimes chalk the problem up to nothing more than a temporary glitch that you’ll never see again.

Regardless of what’s causing this headache, if you’re unable to force quit an app with the Command + Option + Esc keyboard shortcut or with the Dock app icon shortcut, then you can try one of the following troubleshooting options instead:

Force quit using Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor is a great alternative method for force quitting an app. To do that, follow these steps:

1) Launch Activity Monitor and open the CPU tab.

Activity Monitor 1

2) Find the app in the list of processes that’s frozen and click on it to Select it.

Pro tip: click on the Process Name tab at the top of the app to sort the processes by alphabetical order.

3) Click on the Close button at the top left of the Activity Monitor app.

Activity Monitor 2

4) When asked if you’re sure you want to quit the app, click on the Force Quit option.

The app should now immediately close on your Mac. If not, try another method below.

Force quit an app using Terminal

Not everyone is comfortable using a command line interface, but they can be one of the most effective ways of getting things done. To force quit an app with Terminal, follow these steps:

1) Launch the Terminal app on your Mac.

2) Type in the following command, then strike the Return key on your keyboard:

ps -ax

Force Quit App With Terminal

3) Terminal will now show you a list of processes running on your Mac. Find the app that’s frozen, and take note of the PID number shown to the left of the app.

Force Quit App With Terminal PID

4) Next, type in the following command, then strike the Return key on your keyboard:

kill <enter PID number here>

Kill PID number Mac

In this case, Skype is running with the PID number 1973, so we would enter “kill 1973” into the command line and hit Return.

As soon as you strike the Return key, the app should force quit. If not, try the following command instead:

kill -9 <enter PID number here>

So once again, in this case Skype has the PID number 1973, so we would enter “kill -9 1973” into Terminal and hit Return.

The app should now force quit.

Honestly, I’ve never had an app that made it any further than this, so if you fail to force quit an app with Terminal, I think you have a bigger problem. Nevertheless, if this didn’t work for you, try the next step instead.

Hard restart your Mac

If nothing above worked, then there isn’t much you can do apart from pulling the plug and rebooting. However, you can’t just shut down your Mac like you normally would, because macOS is going to wait for the app to respond before it turns off your computer.

Instead, you will need to forcefully shut down your Mac. You can do this by pressing and holding the Power button your keyboard surface (if you have a notebook) or by unplugging your Mac from the power adapter (if you have a desktop).

Your Mac will turn off. Give it about 10 seconds to cool down from the stuck app, as the CPU is undoubtedly on fire right about now.

After you let it sit for a few seconds, go ahead and power your Mac back on again. While you’re at it, it may not even be a bad idea to reset your NVRAM while it boots back up.

Hopefully by trying the three alternative troubleshooting steps above, you’ve managed to put an end to the frozen app on your Mac. If it continues to act up, there’s not a whole lot more you can do personally. However, you can:

  • Contact the developer of the app if it’s a third-party app from the internet or Mac App Store
  • Contact Apple Support if the app is an Apple-branded app

I would hope you wouldn’t need to escalate to the solutions above, but software can be a crazy thing to try to understand sometimes, and this makes troubleshooting a pain in the Mac.

You might also be interested in:

Were you able to get your frozen apps closed by following these steps? Share in the comments below!

  • you forgot a super important option in the terminal that’s guaranteed to work almost 100% of the time

    add the flag “-9” or what is colloquially referred to as “kill 9”

    this is the barn burner that takes the process down with ultimate brute force. have you ever noticed that when you use Command + Option + Esc and it doesn’t work.. then do it a second time, the second time works like a charm? it’s my understanding that the first time you invoke that key combination a kill command is issued for that process. the second time it issuas a kill -9 for the process.

    syntax would look like this:

    kill -9 [process #]

    so if the process # was 3345, you’d type:

    kill -9 3345

    • 7000rpm

      Interesting. Very “Mac” inclined. Thank you for sharing.

  • another thing you didn’t mention is how hanging processes , even with kill -9, sometimes will not only be so stubborn that they won’t quit.. they will also make it impossible to restart your mac.

    do your best to manually save and quit out of as many things as you can, then issue this command in the terminal:

    shutdown -r now

    the “-r” flag issues a reboot instead of a shutdown

    But what to do if the mac itself is totally hung, spinning beach ball, and you can’t launch or quit anything? one critical thing I do on all my macs is enable SSH the second they are set up ( and i know all their ip addresses). Almost 100% of the time I can get into the mac on the back end from another computer in the terminal via ssh , even if the front end is totally non responsive (that’s the rock solid unix kernel). then i can issue commands from there. you can even do it from your iphone if it’s on the same network and you have a terminal app installed.

    And what if SSH is on but you don’t know the IP address? not too hard to figure it out if you know the first 3 octets of your subnet. most subnets start with 192.168.1.x (the “X” is the device number, which is different on each machine). First – go to another computer or device on the network and discover those first 3 sets of numbers. lets’s say yours is 192.168.5.x – so you’d then go into terminal and type this:

    ping – the “255” tells the ping command you want it to ping everything on your network. You can then see all the ip addresses in use. assuming you don’t have a network with hundreds of devices, you should see 3 or 4 results that repeat (or however many devices are on your network). then, one by one, attempt to ssh in until you find the right one (but remember, ssh must already be enabled on that computer previously)

    using the shutdown command is not perfect, but it’s definitely more graceful than a hard restart via the power button.

    • 7000rpm

      You sound like a college professor

  • sg1969

    Had this problem with transmission. Can’t remember if it crashed or I tried to quit it, but the app would just hang, couldn’t force quit and didn’t work from activity monitor either, in the end I just restarted the OS. Will try the terminal method if it happens again.

  • PghMike4

    If you can bring up a terminal window, then before doing a hard restart with the power button, type “sync” to the terminal window. It’ll tell OS/X to make sure all of the updated data in the computer’s memory is written to disk, which may reduce the likelihood of file system errors after the reboot.

  • 7000rpm

    Has anyone else experienced the beach ball and then the keyboard becomes in responsive but the mouse is?

    I think the last time it happened to me I was using openemu with a browser open. I closed the lid (screen on my MacBook Pro) on attempt to re log into the system, but I was stuck at the lock screen with the keyboard unresponsive. Had to hard reset in the end.

    • Bert

      It happens to me all the time. Safari is the culprit.

      • 7000rpm

        Only thing is I don’t use safari so my assumption is basically any browser can cause the issue?

  • 7000rpm

    For a late 2010 MBP, am I issuing the NVRAM command? Or the PRAM command to reset settings?

  • Jimm Freedman

    Hard Restart