A few newbie Mac OS X questions:

  1. Despite the fact that most applications can be installed by dragging them to the Applications directory, some software still requires the creation of a separate program folder. Where should I put this folder? Does it matter?

  2. Is the Applications directory special somehow, or is it just a convenient folder with a custom icon?

  3. If I move one of these program folders later on, will the program still work? Will shortcuts to files in the folder break? Is there something similar to a registry in Mac OS X?

1 Answer 1


I am not sure what you mean by #1. Could you elaborate? Perhaps list a few applications like this?

As far as #2, it's just a folder with a special icon and a special name. If you create a folder "Applications" in your home directory it will get the same icon. But applications can reside anywhere. (Except in the Trash)

As for #3, there is no registry in OS X. It depends on the program, but generally moving applications around is perfectly OK. Again more specifics would help here.

As an example, take Apple's Remote Desktop program. This should be installed by an installer bundle (a "package file") because the program consists of more than just what's in the Application Bundle itself. There is software which needs to be installed under /Library/ (and possibly /System/Library, I an mot sure). However if you just copy the Remote Desktop.app application bundle to a new computer, on first launch it will find the files are missing from their other locations and will copy them from within itself.

For another example, take the visrualization software VMWare Fusion. I haevn't tried their newest version, but version 2.0 can not just be copied from one system to another. being virtualization software, it requires kernel expensions to be installed under /System/Library, as well as special device nodes created under /dev and background processes to be running. This is all set up by the VMware install package and that is the only way to install it. Once installed the VMWre Fusion.app application bundle can be placed in any folder on that mac -- but not copied to a new mac.

Oh and as one final point. There is no "registry" on OS X. System settings are stored in the NetInfo database which is vaguely similar, but vastly different. Application settings are generally stored in XML files called "plists" (short for property lists). The following will be interesting reading:

EDIT: You gave Starcraft as an example. Often games will store the Application bundle and the data rogether in one folder, so you'd have a "Starcraft" folder containing a "Data" folder and "Starcraft.app". In a case like this the application generally will work as long as the "Data" folder is kept at the same relative location. That is, is you move the whole "Starcraft" folder, you're fine, but if you just move the "Starcraft.App" file, you're in trouble. You might want to look into symlinks -- those can be useful if you're mving things around.

  • 2
    To sum things up, the vast majority of Applications can be moved around without a problem, even the Dock icons will still link correctly. But there a few exceptions as mentioned above and they usually let you know. Basically, if they don't give you an installer (.pkg) file, then you're probably fine to put it anywhere.
    – donut
    Apr 21, 2010 at 2:23
  • LOL, yes, that's a much more concise answer :-)
    – Josh
    Apr 21, 2010 at 2:50
  • Thank you! An example for #1 would be something like Starcraft, which creates a directory with all the data files, etc. There is no "Starcraft.app".
    – Archagon
    Apr 21, 2010 at 3:24
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    NetInfo was replaced in Mac OS X v10.5 -- the replacement doesn't really have a name, but it's variously called dslocal, /Local/Default, or the local default node. Whatever you call it, it's basically a bunch of .plist files under /var/db/dslocal/nodes/Default. And it's still vastly different from the registry. Apr 21, 2010 at 5:26
  • @archagon: I added a bit about games like Starcraft. I don't have Starcraft myself but I have Warcraft 3, Rise of Nations, Age of Empires and a number of other games which work similarly.
    – Josh
    Apr 21, 2010 at 13:09

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