How to Add Startup Items to Your Mac

Automatically launch applications or items when you boot your Mac

Startup items are applications, documents, shared volumes, or other items you want to start up or open automatically when you log in to your Mac.

A common use for startup items is to launch an application that you always use when you sit down at your Mac. You may, for example, launch Apple Mail, Safari, or Messages every time you use your computer. Instead of launching these items manually, you can designate them as startup items and let your Mac do the work for you.

Information in this article applies to Macs running OS X Lion (10.7) through macOS Catalina (10.15).

Add Startup Items to Your Mac in System Preferences

There are a couple of ways to add startup items to your Mac—either in System Preferences or from the Dock. You have a more extensive range of options when you add startup items in the Mac System Preferences. Here's how:

  1. Log in to your Mac with the account you use with a startup item.

  2. Select System Preferences from the Apple menu or click the System Preferences icon in the Dock to open the System Preferences window.

  3. Click the User & Groups icon (or Accounts in older versions of OS X).

    Mac System Preferences screen
  4. Click the appropriate username in the list of accounts.

    Users & Groups preferences

  5. Select the Login Items tab.

    Login items screen in Mac system preferences
  6. Click the + (plus) button below the Login Items window to open a standard Finder browsing screen. Go to the item you want to add and click it to select it. Then, click the Add button.

    Finder window for Login items

The item you select is added to the Login Items list. The next time you start your Mac or log in to your user account, the items in the list start up automatically.

Drag-and-Drop Method for Adding Startup or Login Items

Like most Mac applications, the Login Items list supports drag and drop. You can click and hold an item, and then drag it to the list. This alternate method of adding an item is useful for adding shared volumes, servers, and other computer resources that may not be easy to find in a Finder window.

When you have finished adding items, close the System Preferences window. The next time you boot or log in to your Mac, the items in the list start up automatically.

Add Startup Items from the Dock

An even quicker way to add startup items is available if the application or item is already located on the Dock. You can use Dock menus to add the item to the startup items list without ever opening System Preferences.

  1. Right-click the app's Dock icon.

  2. Select Options from the pop-up menu.

  3. Choose Open at Login from the submenu.

    Mac Dock showing Open at Login option

Find out more about what's hidden in the Dock in Use Dock Menus to Manage Mac Applications and Stacks.

Hide Startup Items

You may notice that each item in the Login Items list includes a check box labeled Hide. Placing a check mark in the Hide box causes the app to start up but not display any window that is usually associated with the app.

Hiding an app is useful when you need to have it running but don't need to see the app window. For example, a user may want the Activity Monitor app to start automatically but doesn't need the window open. The app's Dock icon shows at a glance when CPU loads become excessive. The window can always be opened when needed by clicking its Dock icon.

Startup Items Already Present

You may notice when you access your account's Login Items list that there are already a few entries present. Some applications that you install add themselves, a helper app, or both, to the list of items to start automatically when you log in.

Most of the time, apps ask your permission or provide a check box in the app's preferences or a menu item to set the app to start automatically at login.

Don't Get Carried Away With Startup Items

Startup items can make using your Mac easier and your everyday workflow a snap, but adding startup items just because you can may lead to unexpected consequences where performance is concerned.

You need to return to System Preferences or the Dock to remove startup items. Mac Performance Tips: Remove Login Items You Don't Need explains why you should remove items you no longer need or use.