MacOS applications

MacOS applications are installed a bit differently than Windows. Since they’re almost always single .app files, you can move them around your hard drive much easier. Here’s how to track down the ones you lost.

From the Applications Folder

macOS applications folder

This method is obvious—just open your Applications folder. You can usually find this in the sidebar, at the top of your hard drive, or in your Home folder (the one with your name on it). You can press the “List” button in the top bar to view everything in an easy to read list.

This won’t list every single Application on your drive though, so if you have an app you left in your Downloads folder, it won’t show up here.

RELATED: How to Launch Applications on Your Mac

Better Method: Smart Folders

macOS smart folders

Smart folders are wonderful. They’re like saved searches that you can pin to the sidebar of Finder. Here, we’ll be searching for all Applications.

Make a new smart folder from any Finder window by selecting File > New Smart Folder from the top menu bar.

macOS new smart folder

This will open what looks like a search window. You can add a new rule by clicking the + button next to “Save.” There will be a dropdown that lets you choose the rule the smart folder will search by. The default option will search by filename.

macOS smart folder options

But you’ll want to change “Name” to “Kind” and specify “Application.”

You’ll see the folder quickly fill up with Applications. If you want to save this smart folder, click “Save” in the top right corner. Put in a name and choose where to save it.

macOS save smart folder

The default location is a “Saved Searches” folder, but you can save it anywhere you’d like. Either way, it’ll be added to the sidebar for easy access.

Using System Information

macOS system information applications tab

The System Information app has a tab for showing every .app file installed on your system. Open the app by holding down the Option key and clicking on the Apple logo; the first item will be System Information.

Scroll down to Software > Applications and give it a minute to search your disk and populate the list. This list contains every .app file, even system and internal ones, so modify them at your own risk.

Command Line Options

macOS list all applications command line

If you’d like an easily modifiable list of app file paths for technical reasons, you can search your drive with a terminal command. We’ll use find, and use the -iname flag to search for files by name. The syntax for searching for .app extensions is:

sudo find / -iname *.app

Open up the Terminal app by clicking on it in the Dock, paste the above command in, and press enter. It will take a while to search, and it will output an extremely long list which includes a lot of internal and system applications. We’d recommend piping the output to a file.

sudo find / -iname *.app > filename

This searches the root directory and includes everything on your hard drive. You’ll notice a lot of repeated directories from apps inside of apps, such as Xcode’s internal applications. You can get rid of these results with sed and a bit of regex to match and remove .app files  inside of .app files:

sed -i '/\.app.*\.app/d' filename

This will remove every entry matching the pattern from the list of apps you created. This modifies the file directly, so be careful not to run it on anything else.

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Anthony Heddings is the resident cloud engineer for LifeSavvy Media, a technical writer, programmer, and an expert at Amazon's AWS platform. He's written hundreds of articles for How-To Geek and CloudSavvy IT that have been read millions of times.
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