macOS is a reliable operating system, but from every so often it has an issue and requires first aid. In this article, I will show you how to fix common Mac problems, such as a slow system, a spinning beach ball, crashing or unresponsive applications and more.
When I left the Microsoft world behind me by switching from Windows to macOS, I’ve become more productive and have experienced fewer issues with my computers. But nothing is perfect, not even Apple and from time to time your Mac may act up, and you have to troubleshoot it.
By acting up, I mean macOS may become unresponsive or slow, or certain apps may crash. Most of those issues can be fixed fairly quickly by following the steps outlined below. Those steps are what Apple support will likely make you go through when you call or tweet them. So to save time, you can go through them yourself and if the problem still can’t be fixed, call Apple support and tell them that you’ve already performed those steps.
How to fix common Mac problems
Please note that not every problem requires you to go through all of those steps, especially the more invasive steps 8-10.
- Reboot Mac
- Reset PRAM/NVRAM (and boot into Safe Mode)
- Reset SMC
- Repair disk permissions
- Verify disk (and repair if necessary)
- Reset Safari and clear caches
- Delete Caches folders
- Update to the latest version of macOS
- Create a new user account
- Reinstall macOS
Depending on the issue you are facing, a reboot is often the simplest fix. That is particularly the case when an individual application is misbehaving. Macs typically reboot quickly, so that’s the first step I recommend doing.
Reset PRAM and NVRAM
What are PRAM and NVRAM? From apple.com:
Your Mac stores certain settings in a special memory area even if it is turned off (unless there is a battery issue as described below). On Intel-based Macs, this is stored in memory known as NVRAM; on PowerPC-based Macs, this is stored in memory known as PRAM.
To reset PRAM and NVRAM perform the following steps:
- Turn off your computer.
- Turn on the computer.
- Press and hold the Command-Option-P-R keys before you hear the startup sound.
- Hold the keys down until the computer restarts, and you hear the startup sound for the second time.
- Release the keys.
Related Apple support article: How to reset NVRAM on your Mac (link)
Boot into Safe Mode
Reset the System Management Controller (SMC)
Resetting the SMC requires different steps, depending on if you are on a desktop (i.e. iMac or Mac Mini) or MacBook. Below are the steps for both platforms:
How to reset the SMC on a desktop
- Power down your Mac.
- Unplug the power cord.
- Wait for 15 seconds.
- Plug the power cord back in.
- Wait five seconds, then press the power button to turn on your Mac.
How to reset the SMC on a MacBook with a non-removable battery
- Power down your MacBook.
- Unplug the MagSafe or USB-C power adapter from the MacBook.
- Using the built-in keyboard, press Shift-Control-Option on the left side of the keyboard, then press the power button at the same time. Hold these keys and the power button for 10 seconds.*
- Release all keys.
- Reconnect the power adapter.
- Press the power button again to turn on your Mac.
*If you have a 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch ID, the Touch ID button is also the power button.
Related Apple support article: Reset the System Management Controller (SMC) on your Mac (link)
Repair disk permissions
Repairing disk permissions became obsolete with OS X El Capitan, which protects file system permissions automatically. If you still use OS X Yosemite or older, please continue reading.
Repairing disk permissions is something you should be doing from time to time, even if you’re not experiencing any issues with your Mac. To do so, open Disk Utility (depending on the version of OS X you’ll find it in Launchpad, or you can always press Command + Space and type Disk Utility to launch it via Spotlight), select your primary hard drive (i.e. Macintosh HD) and click on “Repair Disk Permissions.”
Verify and repair disk
You can verify the integrity of your disk and its file system in Disk Utility. In newer versions of macOS, Apple calls that feature “First Aid”.
In most cases, it should not find anything wrong, but if it does, you have to repair it. To do so, you have to boot into the so-called Recovery Mode. To boot into the Recovery Mode, reboot your Mac and hold down the Command + R keys until the Apple logo appears. Once in the recovery console go into Disk Utility, select the primary hard drive of your computer and click on Repair Disk or First Aid, depending on your version of macOS/OS X.
Reset Safari and clear caches
Note: The option to reset Safari doesn’t exist anymore on newer versions of macOS.
To reset Safari and clear all its caches, start Safari and click on Safari (upper left corner of your screen) and select “Reset Safari…“. I’m using Safari 6, so on an older version, you may have to go to Preferences to delete all caches.
Depending on if you have a separate password manager (like 1Password), you may want to uncheck “Remove saved names and passwords” or make a backup copy of your passwords before clearing everything out.
On newer versions of macOS, you can still delete all Safari caches, by going to Safari > Clear History. Alternatively, you can remove website data from individual web pages via Safari > Preferences > Privacy > Manage Website Data.
Delete cache folders
Your Mac and most applications make heavy use of caching, but sometimes that cache can become corrupted and cause all kinds of weird issues. To clear your caches open Finder, press Command + Shift + g and type in ~/Library/Caches. Alternatively, you can just navigate to your home folder (~) and then into the Library sub-folder. Starting with OS X 10.7 (Lion) Apple decided however to hide the Library folder, so the keyboard shortcut (Command + Shift + g), which corresponds to the following Finder menu: Go > Go to Folder… maybe the quicker route.
Inside of Library, you’ll see a Caches folder. Step into that folder and drag its contents to the trash (Command + Shift + Delete). Make sure you don’t delete the contents of the Library folder but only the content of the Caches folder.
Repeat the same steps with the following Caches folders:
Update to the latest version of macOS
With every new release of macOS, Apple fixes bugs and issues. If you experience problems with an older version of OS X or macOS, chances are, Apple may have fixed the problem in a newer release. As a result, it is worth to consider upgrading to the latest version via the App Store. If you are brave, you can also sign up for Apple’s Beta Software Program.
Create a new user account
In rare cases, problems are associated with your user profile, and the best fix is to create a new user account. This is obviously an invasive step as you may lose settings and preferences. So I consider this almost the last resort. It is worth noting, however, that I often use this technique to confirm if a problem is related to my user account or not. If it is not, there is no need to go through the hassle of setting up a new user.
To create a new user account, open System Preferences and go to Users & Groups. Then click on the lock icon at the bottom of the screen and then on the plus sign. Follow the steps on the screen to create your new account.
Reinstalling macOS is probably the most invasive, but sometimes the only solution. Before you consider reinstalling macOS, make sure you have multiple backups of your data. Also, make a note of important configuration settings so that you can restore them after the reinstall. In some cases, it is possible to restore your user profile from a Time Machine backup, but in other cases, it is better not to do that. The decision depends on whether or not you think your user settings cause the issue or not. To ease the pain, I have documented the steps I usually follow when I reinstall macOS.
The quickest way to reinstall macOS is to boot into Recovery Mode, erase the primary hard drive and then reinstall from Recovery Console. Before you erase your hard drive, I would recommend reinstalling macOS without erasing the disk. So you reinstall macOS over the existing installation. You can do that as well from within the Recovery Console.
Mac First Aid – How to fix common Mac problems
If all those steps did not help to resolve your problem, you have to call Apple Support or make an appointment at the Genius Bar at your local Apple Store.
I’d love to hear your opinion, so leave me a comment and let me know if those steps did or didn’t help to resolve your issue!