methodology for determining app crash (MacOS)
December 11, 2017 8:57 AM   Subscribe

Just moved up to Sierra, and having an app crash repeatedly at launch... Without getting into which app is the problem, my question is broader: what would be your generic approach to app crash diagnostics? I feel like I should have a routine to follow, but don't (shame on me). My first guess, for a user-specific problem: temporarily relocate Preference file or folder found in ~Library. After that (assuming doesn't resolve issue), what should I try?
posted by disnchntd to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In no particular order:
  • Refresh the application preferences, as you say.
  • Make sure all available system and application updates are installed.
  • Check for updates for any third-party peripheral devices.
  • Try safe boot (hold down Shift while starting up). This will blow away caches. On the next (normal) boot they will be rebuilt. It also disables unnecessary kernel extensions and fonts. So, if the issue went away on safe boot, it was caused by one of those things. If the issue doesn't come back on the next regular boot, it was probably a corrupt cache. If it does come back, it's probably a corrupt font or buggy kernel extension or other system add-on.
  • Run Disk First Aid to check for and repair directory corruption. This can cause many weird problems.
  • Run Apple Diagnostics or Apple Hardware Test.
  • Reinstall the application.
  • Reinstall the OS.

posted by kindall at 9:11 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

When an app experiences problems after a system update, first step is to see if there is a newer version of the app.
If there is no new version or that doesn't fix the crash, your idea of moving the prefs file is good.
If that doesn't work, I'd contact the developer.

Source: I write Mac apps.
posted by w0mbat at 9:48 AM on December 11, 2017

If it's a simple app to download and install, don't rule out simply deleting it and dragging a fresh copy into your Applications folder. Though file corruption is rare, it does happen, especially with applications that may update themselves automatically, and swapping it out for a fresh copy provides a very simple and quick way to to test that.

You can also rule out the user-space being the problem by using a temporary user account. If the crash still occurs, the problem will be either application itself, or files in Macintosh HD/Library/

If it stops crashing under a test account, then your problem almost certainly does lie in the ~/Library/ folder, as you surmised. Contrary to expectations though if you're an old school Mac user, issues are very rarely any more (though still occasionally!) the preference file itself. More commonly, a problem file will lie either in:
~/Library/Application Support/
or more commonly now in more modern versions of the OS,
The Containers folder is a somewhat more recent addition to OS X, and is a newer layer of application sandboxing security.

If the issue is isolated outside the User space, and it persists with a reinstallation of the application, then you'd need to look in Macintosh HD/Library/ most likely. On very rare occasions, the System folder can be involved—most often in my experience when either a wompy kernel extension has been installed by an application vendor in the case of highly complex applications, or if webkit's involved and damaged, though both of these are extremely rare. But hear hoofbeats, expect horses, not zebras, as they say, and head to the Library folder instead.

In Macintosh HD/Library/, the same search as in the home folder applies, minus the Containers folder as it is not present at the top level of the HD since its purpose is to provide a place for application files only accessible to the user space. Application Support and Caches are the two most usual places to look in the top level Library. Beyond that, and you start getting into a hairier troubleshooting arena.

Good luck! I spent the past fifteen years as an Apple tech, and persistent application crashes sometimes get really annoying to track down. It's worse now that operation systems are basically bulletproof—all those old troubleshooting skills like split-half searches, or knowing what strange folders in which to look for likely culprits, atrophy through disuse.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 9:55 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

My first step is to run EtreCheck. It's free and gives good insight into your operating environment.
posted by the matching mole at 12:45 PM on December 11, 2017

Try opening the console app in your Applications > Utilities folder. There's loads of gobbledegook in there but if you keep your eye on it whilst launching the app will tell you exactly why the app crashed. Post the crash in here if it doesn't mean anything?
posted by derbs at 3:56 PM on December 11, 2017

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