Force Quit a Mac App Instantly with One Keyboard Shortcut

This article shows how to Force Quit the front-most Mac application immediately with a single keyboard shortcut. This little-known keyboard shortcut is the easiest, fastest and best way to force a Mac application to quit. Yes – it works on Lion.

This shortcut works for Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. The shortcut also works for Mac OS X 10.7 Lion – I’ve tested it! This key combination does not work for Mac OSX 10.4 and earlier, which probably explains why it’s not well known.

What is Force Quit?

The normal ways to quit a Mac application are to choose Quit from the menu named for the application (e.g. Word, Chrome, VLC, Mail) or to press the keyboard shortcut to Quit, which is Command-Q. Force Quit is a Mac feature to force a Mac program to exit when it won’t respond to these normal ways to quit.

Why is Force Quit Useful?

Force quitting a hung application is useful to restart the app in order to be able to use it again. For example, if Mac Mail locks up while retrieving mail, you can terminate it, and start it again.

Force quit is even more useful when a frozen app stops access to the Finder and other applications, so that you can’t use your Mac. In the situation, that Mac seems frozen. Force quitting the hung app can be necessary to be able to use your Mac again.

An unresponsive app can prevent access to the Apple manu, so that knowing the keyboard shortcut to force quit an app is sometimes the only way to be regain control of your Mac.

Warnings for Force Quit

If you force quit an application, you will probably lose any changes you’ve made in that app that you haven’t saved. (With Microsoft Office, you might get an autosave.) Try quitting with the Command-Q key combination first.

What is the Key Combination to Force Quit a Mac App?

This keyboard shortcut will kill the front-most Mac app, which is usually the app you want to stop. If you want to stop an application which is not at the front, see Force Any Mac App to Quit using Only Keyboard Shortcuts.

The keyboard shortcut to force quit the front-most Mac app is to press and hold Command-Option-Shift-Escape until the app exits. There is around a three second delay until the Mac kills the app, to prevent this feature being applied accidentally.

How to Use the Force Quit Keyboard Shortcut, Step by Step

If you’re unused to complex key combinations, here’s how to do it in steps:

  1. Hold down the Command key.
  2. Add holding the Option key with another finger on the same hand.
  3. Add holding the Shift key with another finger on the same hand.
  4. With these keys held down with one hand, use your other hand hold the Escape (Esc) key until the foreground app exits. This should take about three seconds.
  5. Release all the keys.

Information sourced from http://support.apple.com/kb/ht3411.

Questions, comments or feedback? Please leave a comment below.

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25 Responses to Force Quit a Mac App Instantly with One Keyboard Shortcut

  1. Bill Tantau says:

    doesn’t work on my snow leopard – foreground app is the only one up. I just have the twirling rainbow. No chioce but to unpower??

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      The “twirling rainbow” that never stops is otherwise known as “the spinning wheel of death” or “the beachball of death“.

      When you write the “foreground app is the only one app”, I’m taking this to mean you have one app running (and its window is in front), plus the Finder – total two apps.

      In this case, I recommend first trying pressing Command-Tab to check whether you can switch to another application, on the off chance the beachball is benign.

      The next port of call is to try the ordinary Force Quit keyboard shortcut (click this link). Unlike the kill-the-foreground-app-in-one-keyboard-shortcut, this shortcut puts up a window so you can choose the app to kill. At least you can see if Force Quit is working at all.

      If no window comes up, there are a few last ditch options with a very remote chance of jolting the Mac out of its coma: unplugging devices plugged into your Mac (e.g. USB sound interfaces, printers), closing the lid to go into suspend and then opening it a few seconds later. Don’t unplug storage devices or the network as you could lose (more) data this way. These suggestions are the last ditch efforts of a desperate man or woman. I’ve never known these to work, but in theory they could. I wouldn’t bother trying these unless you have some unsaved work that you desperately want to get to, to save it.

      If none of these work, the only option left I’m aware off is to cycle power on your Mac. To do this, hold the power key for three seconds, and the Mac will die. Then press the power key as normal to restart the Mac.

      If a MacBook (vanilla, Pro or Air) is unresponsive after coming back from suspend, for example you get the spinning beachball of death and it never stops, and this happens repeatedly, it can help to reset its parameter ram (PRAM) or upgrade it’s EFI (sorry to go techie on you). If this is happening to you, comment, and I’ll explain this and post the instructions.

  2. Simple Beep says:

    Brilliant! I would never have thought to hold down those keys rather than just pressing them. This is so much easier and faster than using the Force Quit window, since hung applications are rarely in the background. Seriously, more people should know about this tip.

  3. Gary says:

    Perfect, I had tried everything – thanks

  4. LH says:

    Had to look this up on my trusty toshiba since my macbook air won’t perform….very helpful though and it worked instantly!

  5. Amy says:

    What do you do if none of those things work? My iMac recently has been freezing up and giving me the spinning wheel and I can’t click on anything and no keyboard shortcuts seem to work, even holding them down. I’ve just been killing the power restarting, but I know that’s terrible for it and it doesn’t help anything except give me a little more time before it freezes again. It has also been messing up the screen picture often. Does this sound like a virus? If so, what do you recommend? I’ve had to restart the computer multiple times a day just to keep working, which is a huge pain while I try to work on my photography business. Thanks.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Amy,

      Thanks for your question. This may well be the first question I’ve had from Hawaii! :-) I’m sorry to hear your being troubled by the spinning beachball of death.

      I suspect you’ve got an intermittent hardware problem. For example, it could be a faulty video card or failing hard disk. There are other possibilities, such as your software’s gotten corrupted.

      I’d suggest as a first step make sure your work is backed up. If your hard disk does fail or if your Mac stops working all together, you’ll need a backup of your work. Having a backup also gives you the possibility to keep working on another computer if you decide to put your Mac in for service. I suggest using TimeMachine an a external hard drive to backup your iMac.

      To try find the likely cause of your spinning wheel of death, could you please answer a few questions:

      1. Is there any pattern to when the spinning wheel happens? For example, does it happen in the same application? (e.g. Photoshop) Does it happen when you perform a particular action? (e.g. Opening a large image from a DVD-R.) Does it happen at regular intervals? (e.g. 90 minutes after I restart.)
      2. Have you noticed any unusual noise from the Mac?
      3. You mentioned the screen image gets messed up often. Can you describe how this looks? For example, do parts of the image get shifted around, or is there a pattern of lines. Does it happen before the spinning beach ball of death, at the same time or when you kill the power?
      4. What method are you using to cut the power to the iMac?
      5. How old is your iMac?
      6. What version of Mac OS X are you running? (e.g. 10.4 Tiger, 10.5 Leopard, 10.6 Snow Leopard, 10.7 Lion). What processor and memory does your iMac have? You’ll find this information by going to the Apple menu and choosing About This Mac.

      -Taz.

  6. Mal says:

    A very well written article that solved a perplexing problem… Thank you immensely!

  7. yossef aelony says:

    glad to know I’m not the only one, BUT none of this works on my july 2011 macbook pro with Lion. All of it works on my 2005 Powerbook G4.

    It’s embarrassing how many problems arise with Lion such that I use my old full-up Powerbook instead of the new computer. Have been to one on one or mac genius 7 times for problems. in july/august, noone knew what to do. in Sept-November they are knowledgeable & fix problems only to have a new problem within a week or 2. Now I have the spinning wheel of death for 3 days & everything is frozen & closing & rebooting does not change anything. At the time of freezing at first my cursor would trace a path of grey squares everywhere it went, an intermittent problem in the past, but now the grey squares are gone, but nothing responds to my cursor/clicks/short cuts & wheel spins on!

  8. matt says:

    VERY GOOD AND USEFUL WEBSITE

  9. conor says:

    thanks – i’ve been stuck with office reminders not quitting along with office database problem. Couldn’t do anything on database verification with reminders open- great, thanks again!
    Conor

  10. papacharly says:

    hi
    i can’t use the keyboard shortcuts for force quit (command-option-escape or command-option-shift-escape) , is working from dock with mouse and also from apple bar
    can anybody help me ???
    sometimes is useful to press 3 keys than make a tour with mouse to dock or to apple bar

  11. handsonmac says:

    Hi,

    I’m trying to figure an issue that a arisen on my cust. new iMac 27 i7, came w/ Lion 10.7

    I migrated data from her 10.5.8 macbook to the new iMac, then updated her iMac fully to 10.7.2 w/ the combo updater, check programs, installed MS office ’11 and all worked out OK. a day later cost say her arrow becomes a grey box and wherever she moves the cursor it paints over her screen. ( I asked her to shoot a video of this and it looks as if you picked the paintbrush tool in Photoshop and traced over a photo). I think the system has a corrupt graphics card or logic board. There’s no 3rd part software i can see causing this..

    yossef aelony you mentioned you experienced something like this”…my cursor would trace a path of grey squares everywhere it went…”

    did you get this resolved, if so how?

    • rebecca says:

      @hansonmac did you ever figure out the issue witht eh mouse cursor painting a gray box on the screen of the new iMac 27in? I just received my new IMac 27″ and it does the same thing….

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you. Worked right away. I’m gonna write it on a postit taped to the back of my keyboard.

  13. Dirk says:

    “For example, if Mac Mail locks up while retrieving mail, you can terminate it, and start it again.”

    That’s funny. I think you mean “when” Mac Mail locks up, no?

  14. Ubuntu user says:

    oh so macs just … dont work. god i hate osx.

  15. Susan Neely says:

    I cannot turn my mac air back on after I force quit. Can you help.

  16. Seth says:

    I accidentally used the same hand during the final step. Now my whole computer is messed up!

  17. maria says:

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!! I´ve been dealing with this problem for a while now, and this worked! thank you!

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