I make no bones about it, Mac OS X is a fantastic operating system. I use it all day, everyday, for everything from basic word processing and email to image editing and design work. Luckily OS X is typically as solid as a rock. But when things go wrong you need to know how to get things back together.
The following is a list of techniques that I use when repairing OS X if something does break. I’ve started off with the most elementary of fixes … remember there’s no point making a mountain out of a molehill.
Close down all your running applications, then logout and login again. Sometimes that’s all it takes.
- Restart In Single User Mode
Close down all your applications and then restart while holding Command-S. Once you hear the familiar chime you’ll enter single user mode. Don’t worry about all that code, just let it scroll on. Once it stops, you’ll find yourself with a prompt. Now type in “fsck -f” without the quotation marks. This will run a thorough system check. If it reports any errors, orphaned nodes and such then type the comand in again. Repeat the process until you have no problems. Once finished just type ” reboot” without the quotation marks to boot back into OS X as usual.
- Repair Permissions
There is some discussion with regards repairing permissions and if they actually do anything worthwhile in OS X, but still it’s worth a shot. Go to Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility and then verify and repair your permissions. Fortunately for us Apple have made speed improvements to this process, remember when it took an age for this to complete? I used to start it and then go for dinner!
- Run Maintenance Scripts
There are a few maintenance scripts, or ‘cron jobs’, built into OS X, but they only run automatically during the night if your system is left on. The easiest way to run them (Daily / Weekly / Monthly) is to download an application such as Onyx or MacJanitor.
- Clear Caches
Still got the problem, consider flushing the system / browser caches. It’s debatable whether this will really help or not, but I always like to deal with any issues knowing that I’ve cleaned out something! Again, the easiest way to do this is to use Onyx.
- Check For Corrupted Fonts
Sometimes fonts go bad and start to cause issues, I’m not sure how a font can become corrupted but suffice to say it does happen … and it does impact upon system performance. The easiest way to check your fonts is with Apple’s Font Book software, included with OS X 10.4+. Open Font Book and hit Command-A to select all the fonts in the list. Then click File and choose Validate Fonts to run the check. Any fonts with an X to the side are corrupt and should be removed. Just select the corrupted font’s checkbox and click Remove Checked.
- Check Preferences
Your application preferences are stored in ~User/Library/Preferences or ~Library/Preferences. Once there you’ll find a lot of files that look like com.apple.itunes.plist. These files are named using the reverse URL of the company, apple.com, then the application name, then the .plist extension. Find the preference file for the application that you are experiencing problems with and delete it. Don’t worry, the application will generate another preference file once you open it next time. Alternatively, use a small script called Preferential Treatment to check and backup your preferences.
- Have A Look In Application Suport
A lot of popular applications store extra files in ~User/Library/Application Support/ that can become corrupt over time. It’s a good idea to clear out any folders or files left behide by applications you are no longer using or are experiencing problems with.
- Stop Any Startup Applications
Some applications (like Skype or MSN Messenger) will startup when you login. Try disabling them from your Accounts panel in System Preferences.
- Run Disk Utility From Your Installation Disk
If none of the above work, then try running Disk Utility from the installation disk. Insert your OS X installation CD and then restart while holding down C. Your computer will now startup using the disk. Select Disk Utility from the Installer menu and then repair permissions.
- Reset PRAM and NVRAM
Restart your computer while holding down Command-Option-P-R. This will reset your PRAM and NVRAM, and may help resolve the situation.
- Try Applejack
Applejack is a free, open source application running in single user mode that does not require a user interface. This small application allows you to repair your startup disk, repair permissions, validate the system’s preference files, and get rid of possibly corrupted cache files. Download and install the application, it’s would also be a good idea to print out the Readme before using Applejack.
- Update Your Software
Still got problems? Fire up Software Update and get your system up to date. This is especially a good idea when you are running an older version of OS X 10.4.
- Trash The Faulty Application
If none of these solutions helped and you are having a problem with one particular application, then it may be time to trash that application and all associated files. The easiest way to do this is with Spotlight.
- Press Comman-Option-Space to open the Spotlight window.
- Enter the name of your application.
- Spotlight will find and list all the files and folders for that term.
- Check through them to make sure they are specific to the application you wish to delete.
- Drag them to the trash and delete.
Once you have deleted the application you can download the latest stable version and install it again.
- Get DiskWarrior
Consider purchasing a copy of the highly acclaimed Diskwarrior. This application has the ability to get fully stuck in to OS X and repair things properly. It costs money, but then if you want to save yourself the bother of an Archive and Install then it would be money well spent. Aside from that, it’ll always be there for the next time.
- Try Tech Tool Pro
Coming in at $98, Tech Tool Pro can perform all sorts of repairs to your system, including defragmenting your HD, backups, recovering lost files etc. But with a pretty hefty price tag you I would be more inclined to leave this as the last option.
- Seek Advice
There are lots of helpful Mac users, you are part of a wider community so ask for some help. Head on over to MacOSXHints, MacFixIt or the Apple Discussions Forums for advice from people who really know what they’re talking about. When posting your thread make sure and provide as much information about the problem as possible, and be friendly!
- An Appointment With The Apple Genius
If none of these work, then it’s time to take it to your local Apple Store and an appointment with your friendly Apple Genius. He’ll probably just go through everything above, find that the problem is persistent and recommend taking the computer in.
- Fresh Install / Archive and Install
Your alternative to this (cost-inducing) scenario is to bite the bullet, whip out your trusty OS X installation CD and go for a fresh install or an Archive and Install. There are benefits of a fresh installation, everything is new etc. There are also major drawbacks, especially when that involves backing up a few gigs of data. If you wanted to avoid the fresh install then try the Archive and Install first, although I would still recommend you backup your data beforehand.
So there you have it. A guide to fixing OS X for the moderate user. If you have any suggestions, please drop a comment.