How to View and Kill Processes on Your Mac

Though Mac computers are known for their speed and efficiency, there’s no doubt that sometimes, they too, can begin to slow down. While this may happen for various reasons, the most common reason is usually an application that you’re using, which has started acting up, so to speak.

If not an application, it could also be a process associated with macOS or an ancillary service. While it’s easy to kill processes in order to increase the speed of your computer, it’s imperative to first find out what exactly is causing your specific problem. Before you begin troubleshooting methods, please note, for those with little to no technical background, killing a process simply means you are sending a signal to terminate the process.

The word process is used to refer to an instance of a computer program that is currently being executed. In order to get started viewing and killing the processes which are giving you trouble, follow the guide below.

Find Out Which Processes Consume the Most Memory

The first step in this process, no pun intended, is to figure out which process running on your computer is consuming the most memory. This will give you some information that you can work with when it comes to deciding if you need to kill a certain process. Luckily, there’s an easy way to view all the active processes running on your Mac. In order to get started, follow the instructions below.

Launch Activity Monitor

1. Launch Activity Monitor. You can find this application in your Applications folder, or can open it using Spotlight, by pressing on the Magnifying Glass icon in the top right of your screen, and typing Activity Monitor in the Search text field that appears.

2. You’ll notice five tabs towards the top of the window, that has opened up. The CPU tab, which will be the currently opened tab, will show you how much processing power every process takes, with the most consuming processes listed first. Feel free to explore the information on this tab.

Click on the Memory tab

3. Click on the Memory tab in order to see the same exact list you saw on the CPU tab, except now ranked by the amount of RAM used.

For those unaware, RAM stands for random access memory. Unlike your hard drive, RAM doesn’t store information long term. Once you power off your computer, RAM doesn’t keep information stored. RAM is used when you need fast access to data for the processor in order to read and write the data, without slowing down your system.

Having a large amount of RAM, makes it easy to run multiple processes, play games, and run processor-heavy programs. If you’re still a bit confused about RAM, don’t worry. You don’t need to be an expert on the small technical details in order to kill processes that are slowing down your system. Just know that certain processes use more RAM than others, and lack of RAM, when running multiple processes, further slows down your system.

Kill Processes on Your System Using Activity Monitor

You can also use Activity Monitor in order to kill processes that are causing harm to your system. In order to get started and kill processes, using Activity Monitor, follow the instructions below.

1. Launch Activity Monitor. You can find this application in your Applications folder, or can open it using Spotlight, by pressing on the Magnifying Glass icon in the top right of your screen, and typing Activity Monitor in the Search text field that appears.

2. As stated above, you’ll have to view and filter the tasks you see. You’ll notice five tabs, as follows: CPU, Energy, Memory, Disk, and Network. When you click on any of these tabs, processes will be listed according to the percentage of the resources they’re using. As stated, above processes are organized with the most consuming process at the top of the list. If you wish to flip this order, click on the arrow next to Memory or CPU above the list of processes.

3. Processes that are causing you problems, will be highlighted. This means those processes have crashed. In order to kill such a process, click on the process, and then on the X in the Activity Monitor toolbar. Note: Even if a process isn’t highlighted, but is taking up many CPU cycles or memory, you should consider killing it.

After you’ve killed the processes causing you trouble, the processes will quit and thereby, free up the resources that were being taken up. If you killed a critical process, the process will restart. If you killed a process that was running an application, the application will remain shut down.

Kill a Background Process on Your System Using Activity Monitor

You can also use Activity Monitor in order to kill background processes. It’s quite nice that you can accomplish so much using just one application. However, you need to be careful when killing background processes. These processes usually have obscure names, which don’t describe what the process actually does.

Before killing a background process, please check online to figure out exactly what that process provides your system. If you still remain unsure, it’s best to leave that process alone. You may inadvertently cause problems on your system by killing a background process, that was necessary.

it’s important to note that generally, background processes don’t tend to use many CPU cycles, or RAM. If you find that a background process is using up a lot of RAM or CPU cycles, this means the process has likely malfunctioned. Kill it the exact same way you would a regular process, by using the X in the Activity Monitor toolbar.

Force Quit an Application that Fails to Respond

One of the worst things for an Apple user is seeing the spinning rainbow circle, which tends to appear when an application is having trouble loading. If the rainbow circle doesn’t disappear in a timely manner, it’s best to force quit the application that’s causing you problems.

There are a few methods you can carry out to force quit applications. Feel free to choose the method that is easiest for you to carry out. In order to get started and force quit applications causing you trouble, follow any one of the methods below.

Press command + alt + esc

1. Press command + alt + esc. A window will appear labeled Force Quit Applications. Click on the application which is causing you trouble, and then click on Force Quit.

2. Right click on the application icon in your Dock, for the application you would like to close. Click on the Force Quit option.

3. Launch Activity Monitor. You can find this application in your Applications folder, or can open it using Spotlight, by pressing on the Magnifying Glass icon in the top right of your screen, and typing Activity Monitor in the Search text field that appears. Locate the application that is causing you trouble, and press the X in the toolbar. Note: This method is described in detail in the above sections.

Launch Activity Monitor

4. Launch Activity Monitor. Note the entry in the PID column for the process that you would like to kill. Launch Terminal. Type kill-9, followed by the PID number you previously noted. Press return. Note: Please avoid using this method if you don’t have experience using Terminal. Terminal provides users with a UNIX-like command line utility, that can be used to access and open files. If you don’t have background in command line work, you may inadvertently delete or move your files.

As seen above, there are quite a few ways you can kill processes that are causing you trouble, and slowing down your system. Always be sure to take note, using Activity Monitor, which processes are causing your problem before killing them, in order to ensure that you kill the right process.