How to Launch Applications on a Mac

macOS offers several options for opening programs

To launch an application in macOS, simply double-click the application's icon. The tricky part is finding it. macOS helps put apps within easy virtual reach in several ways.

From the Dock

The long ribbon of icons at the bottom of the Mac's screen is called the Dock. Clicking apps in the Dock is the primary method of launching them. The Dock also shows the status of applications—for example, whether they're running or needing your attention. Dock icons can also display application-specific information, such as how many unread email messages you have in Apple Mail, graphs showing memory resource usage (Activity Monitor), or the current date (Calendar).

Apple populates the Dock with a few applications by default. These typically include Finder, Mail, Safari (the default web browser), Contacts, Calendar, Photos, and System Preferences.

The Mac Launchpad is open with app icons displayed over a gradient background.

You can add an application to the Dock by dragging its icon in the Finder to the dock. The surrounding Dock icons will move out of the way to make room. Once an application icon displays in the Dock, you can launch the application by clicking the icon.

Likewise, you can remove an app from the Dock by dragging its icon from the Dock onto the Desktop, where it will disappear in a puff of smoke.

Removing an app from the Dock doesn't uninstall the app.

Here's how:

  1. Control+click or right-click the icon of the application you wish to remove from the Dock.

  2. From the pop-up menu, select Options > Remove from Dock.

    Remove from Dock option in macOX Dock
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From the Recent Items List

Open the Apple menu (the Apple icon in the top left corner of the display) and select Recent Items. You'll then see all recently used applications, documents, and servers. Select the item you wish to access from the list.

This is not a list of frequently used items, but recently used items—a subtle but important distinction.

Recent Items Apple menu item
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Using the Launchpad

Launchpad is similar to Windows' Start Menu and the application launcher used in iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad. Clicking the Launchpad in the Dock (typically, the second icon from the left, unless you've tinkered with the Dock), displays an overlay of large icons for all the applications installed on your Mac. You can drag them around, put them in folders, or otherwise rearrange them however you like. Clicking on an application icon launches the associated program.

Launchpad app on macOS, highlightint Launchpad app Dock icon
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Can't find Launchpad in the Dock? Simply drag it there from the Applications folder.

From the Applications Folder

The simplest, most direct way to launch an app is to open the Applications folder and click on the application you want. To find it, open the Finder from the Dock (it's usually the first icon from the left).

Another way to open the Finder: Click on a blank area of the desktop.

From the Finder's Go menu, select Applications and then the app you want to open.

Applications submenu in Go menu, also showing the Applications Finder window
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Using Spotlight

macOS lets you search for an application by name and then launch the program using Spotlight, a built-in search system that is accessible from multiple locations.

The easiest way to access Spotlight is from the menu bar—the strip that runs along the top of your display. Click the small magnifying glass icon, and the Spotlight search field will display. Enter the full or partial name of the target application, and Spotlight will display what it finds as you enter the text. To launch an application from the resulting drop-down list, double-click it.

Spotlight in macOS

Bonus: How to Keep an App's Icon in the Dock

If you launch an application that isn't in the Dock—say, from the Applications folder or the Recent Items list—macOS will add the application's icon to the Dock. This is only temporary, though, and the icon will disappear from the Dock when you quit the application. If you want to keep the application's icon in the Dock, that's easy to do:

  1. While the application is running, control+click or right-click its icon in the Dock.

  2. From the pop-up menu, select Options > Keep in Dock.

    Keep in Dock option for macOS
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