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When an application is not responding I force Quit and Restart it.

But, is there a way in which I can save my data before quitting? Is there anything I can do to confirm that the application is really dead?

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3 Answers

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It depends on why the application is "Not Responding".

An application in this state is not replying to UI events sent by the system. So nothing you do in the UI is getting through, which limits your options.

I know of three scenarios in which a "Not Responding" (aka "hung") application can be resurrected, with the possibility to recover your data.

  • The most common cause of an application hang is heavy disk contention. This usually resolves itself if you wait long enough, but it can take minutes in extreme situations. Quitting all other applications, especially those using a lot of memory, can speed up this recovery.

  • Less common is an application which hangs because of a problem with a disk. This is actually not so rare if you are accessing a network mounted disk, but it can also happen with any external hard-drive. In the case of network disk, you can try to unmount it, or change your network location to disable networking as a way to forcibly unmount it. In the case of a physical disk, try unplugging it (obviously as a last resort). Once the disk device is forcibly removed from the system, the application may be able to resume operation... or it may crash.

  • Much more rare is an application which spawns a sub-process and then hangs because that process does something unexpected. For example, I have seen Safari hang due to problems QuickTime and WebKit sub-processes. Finding and killing the right sub-process may free up the main application. But you need to be fairly comfortable with the terminal, the "ps" command, and tracking down parent process ids.

Figuring out exactly why an application is hung involves a lot of poking around at the unix level to see what the process state is. Tools like "ps", "top", and "lsof" can be helpful. But hopefully the tips above can get you pointed in the right direction.

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Unfortunately when an application is not responding, it is generally not possible to rescue any of the data. The exception to this would be applications that save a recovery file at regular intervals e.g. Microsoft Office suite of applications.

Your options are either to wait and hope that the application responds or the Force Quit.

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You can quit a non-responding app via the Activity Monitor, which will also confirm that it is gone by not showing it in the list of active processes.

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