How to Resolve Frozen or Unresponsive Applications on Your Mac

Resolve unresponsive Mac applications; from force quitting to software updates.

Nothing grinds your gears quite like a spinning beach ball cursor on your Mac, signaling a frozen or unresponsive application. It’s a sight no one likes to see, because it means the application has ceased to respond to your inputs, leaving you in a state of technological limbo.

Maybe it’s just the app that’s not responding, or perhaps it’s the entire system that’s slowed down to a crawl. In any case, it’s frustrating, annoying, and disrupts your flow of work or play.

But what causes this to happen? And more importantly, how can you fix it?

app not responding

In this post, we look into the causes and solutions for unresponsive applications on your Mac, providing you with tips to bring your system back to life.

The Causes of Unresponsive Apps in Mac

Several factors can lead to applications becoming unresponsive:

1. Insufficient System Resources

Your Mac uses RAM (Random Access Memory) and processing power (CPU) to run applications. RAM is like your computer’s short-term memory, temporarily storing data that the CPU uses to perform tasks.

When your Mac doesn’t have enough RAM or CPU power to support all the applications you’re running, some may become unresponsive. This scenario often occurs when you have multiple applications open at the same time, especially if they’re resource-intensive like video editing software or complex games.

Additionally, a single application can hog resources if it’s poorly optimized or has a memory leak, a situation where it uses more and more memory over time without releasing it back to the system.

2. Software Bugs

Software bugs or errors can also cause an application to freeze. These bugs can be coding errors or unforeseen circumstances that the developers didn’t account for during the application’s development. Sometimes, these bugs cause the application to enter a state from which it cannot recover, causing it to freeze.

Bugs can occur in any application, from the smallest utility apps to the most complex professional software suites. The likelihood of encountering a bug can increase with newly released software or versions, as developers may not have fully tested every possible scenario before release.

3. Incompatible Software

Software compatibility is crucial for smooth operations on your Mac. Each application you use is designed to work with specific versions of macOS. If the application is not compatible with your current macOS version, it may not run correctly and could freeze or become unresponsive.

This incompatibility is often seen when you update your macOS to a new version and continue using older software versions not optimized for the new system. Similarly, using very new software on an outdated macOS can also lead to problems.

4. Corrupted Files

If an application tries to open a file that is corrupted or damaged, it may freeze. A file can become corrupted for various reasons such as system crashes, power failures, or disk write errors. When an application attempts to read a corrupted file, it may not understand the file’s content, leading it to freeze or crash.

This is particularly common in applications that heavily rely on external files, such as media players, image editors, or document processing software.

Solutions for Unresponsive Apps in Mac

Here are some steps to resolve issues with unresponsive applications:

1. Force Quit the App

When an application freezes, the first and most straightforward solution is to force quit the application. This action essentially commands the operating system to immediately cease all of the app’s processes.

You can do this by pressing Command + Option + Esc on your keyboard.

option command esc

This will bring up the "Force Quit Applications" window, which you’ll see a list of all currently active applications. Simply select the unresponsive app and click "Force Quit".

force quit app

This action should terminate the frozen app, allowing you to restart it and hopefully continue with your work uninterrupted.

2. Restart Your Mac

If force quitting the application doesn’t work or if you have multiple applications that have become unresponsive, the next step is to restart your Mac. Restarting your system can resolve many issues, as it clears your system’s RAM and stops all processes. This allows your system to start afresh, free from any minor glitches that might have accumulated over time.

To restart, go to the Apple logo in the top-left corner of your screen, click "Restart…", and then confirm when prompted.

Note: Make sure save any unsaved work in other apps before restarting.

3. Update Your Software

Keeping your macOS and all your applications up-to-date is crucial for the smooth operation of your system. Software updates often contain bug fixes that can solve unresponsiveness and other issues.

To check for updates, go to the Apple menu, select “System Settings…”, then go to "General" > "Software Update". If updates are available, click “Update Now”.

macOS update

For individual applications, you can usually find an update option in the menu bar under the application name. Remember to back up your data before installing any major updates, just in case.

4. Monitor System Resources

It’s important to understand what’s happening under the hood of your Mac. If your system is running low on memory or processing power, applications may become unresponsive.

The "Activity Monitor", found in your "Utilities" folder, provides real-time information about how your system resources are being used. It shows which applications and processes are using the most memory, CPU, energy, disk, and network resources.

macOS Avtivity Monitor

If you notice an application is consistently using a large amount of resources, you may want to close it or find a more resource-efficient alternative.

Related: 100 Free Useful Mac Apps You Should Know

5. Reinstall the App

If a specific application is repeatedly unresponsive, it could be due to corrupted application files. In such cases, uninstalling and then reinstalling the application can often help. This process removes the application’s files and then reinstalls them from scratch, which can fix any issues caused by file corruption.

Most Mac applications can be uninstalled by dragging them from the “Applications” folder to the “Trash”, and then downloading and installing a new copy from the App Store or the developer’s website.

6. Contact the Software Developer

If none of the above steps work, it might be time to reach out to the developer of the unresponsive application for further assistance.

Most developers have support channels, such as email or online forums, where you can describe your issue and ask for help. They may be able to provide specific troubleshooting steps, or they might release a software patch to fix the issue if it’s a known bug.

Keep in mind that developers can’t fix issues they don’t know about, so reporting the problem can also help improve the application for other users.