How to see what is running on your Mac

Most of us run lots of applications at the same time when we’re using our Mac, and keeping track of them is fairly straightforward. Yet, applications aren’t the only ones running on your Mac. At any time, next to apps, there're background processes, menu bar items, launch agents, and other tasks functioning behind the scene.

So how do you check everything that’s running on your Mac? Keep reading and you’ll find out how to do that in this article.

What is running on my Mac?

Now you're aware that opened apps aren’t the only ones running on your Mac. Besides the applications you launched, there are agents for items in your menu bar, background notification tasks, drivers for hardware, and other system tasks to keep your Mac running smoothly.

How to see what is running on your Mac

Let’s deal with the simplest question first: how do you see all the applications running on your Mac? There are several ways to do it.

Check the Dock

If your Dock is in view, look at the right-hand side after the vertical line separator. You will see apps marked with a dot underneath. Those are the applications that are currently running. If the Dock is not in view, move your mouse to the bottom of the screen, or wherever you keep the Dock until it slides out.

Tip:

There is one easy way to quickly identify launch agents running on your Mac and quit them if they are causing problems. CleanMyMac X’s Optimization module scans your Mac and lists all the launch agents currently running. You may not even be aware of some that are on your Mac! Once it has done that, you can disable any you don’t want by selecting them and pressing a button. You can download CleanMyMac X for free here.

CleanMyMac X - Launch Agents


Use the App Switcher to show open apps

The App Switcher is one of the most under-used and useful features in macOS.

Hold down the Command key and press Tab. You will see a row of application icons appear in the middle of the screen. These are the apps that are currently running. Press Tab repeatedly to move from one to the next.

Use the force quit window

This one is a bit extreme. Normally, you’d only see the force quit window if you need to force quit an app. But, for the sake of completeness, we’re including it here. If you invoke force quit, either by pressing Command + Option + Escape or by choosing Force Quit from the Apple menu, you will see a window with all the currently running apps in it. You can then choose which to force quit.

Check Activity Monitor

All the above methods will display currently running applications, but they won’t show you any of the background tasks or processes, launch agents, or daemons that are running. The easiest way to see those is to use Activity Monitor.

  1. Open a Finder window and navigate to Applications>Utilities.
  2. Double-click Activity Monitor.
  3. In the main window, you will see a list of processes with strange names. This is everything running on your Mac right now.
  4. If you click on a column header, you can order processes according to the CPU cycles, RAM, or other resources they are using.

You can also use Activity Monitor to get an overview of the total number of CPU cycles in use, or RAM that’s occupied, or network activity at any given time. And if you need to quit a process that has hung or is using too many CPU cycles, you can use the Quit Process button in the toolbar.

Or use Terminal

This is one for Mac users who prefer to accomplish things using a command line and who are comfortable using Terminal. If that’s you, you can view all running processes using the ‘top’ and ‘ps’ like this:

  1. Launch Terminal.
  2. Type top to see all currently running processes.
  3. To sort the processes by CPU usage, type ‘top -o cpu’
  4. To sort them by the memory they’re using, type ‘top- o size’

Using the ‘top’ command updates the list of processes as they change. The ‘ps’ command, on the other hand, takes a snapshot of running processes.

  1. Type ‘ps’ to see all terminal processes running in your user account.
  2. To see all processes, type ‘ps aux’

How to tell if apps have hung and close them

One reason you may want to find out which applications and processes are running on your Mac is to identify those that have hung or are consuming lots of resources. You can do that in Activity Monitor, but let’s face it, it’s not the friendliest of interfaces. CleanMyMac X’s Optimization module clearly displays apps that have hung or are using lots of resources, allowing you to quit them easily.

CleanMyMac X - hung applications

How to quit all apps on your Mac

There is no single keyboard shortcut you can use that will quit all running apps simultaneously – which is perhaps a good thing, you wouldn’t want to invoke it by accident. However, there are a couple of quick ways you can do it.

App Switcher

  1. Press Command+Tab to show the App Switcher.
  2. Press Command+Q repeatedly.

Force Quit

  1. Press Command+Option+Esc to invoke Force Quit.
  2. Press Command+A to select all apps.
  3. Press Return.

There are lots of different ways to see all the apps and processes running on your Mac. If it’s just apps you’re interested in, the App Switcher is our favorite method. If you want to see all the running processes on your Mac, Activity Monitor is your top pick.

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