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As I've now got a few different Macs in the household, it's become painfully apparent just how much hassle it can be making sure that everything is sync'd properly across multiple systems. Music and other downloaded files as well as documents and photos are easy enough, but when it comes to making sure that installed apps are sync'd, I'm not so sure that it's that easy.

It may be, and I may just be paranoid, but I'd like a second opinion:

Is there anything special about the "Applications" folder that apps have their install path defaulted to, or can apps be installed into a folder (say a Google Drive folder) and sync'd across multiple systems?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted
+50

From some experimentation here (not official documentation, so interpret accordingly), it appears that

  1. You can run most applications successfully from any folder, but

  2. Yes, there are some special properties of the /Applications folder.

I include the caveat "most" in point #1 because any application could be written to contain a script that (unwisely) had a hard path coded in it to /Applications/App name.app/Contents/whatever, in which case it would break if run from somewhere other than the /Applications folder. Bad design, but certainly someone could write that way. From experimenting, I did not come across any applications that I use that didn't work when from from various folders in my ~ directory, but others report that such applications exist, and include MAMP.

However, I have found that Applications downloaded and run from various points in ~ do not show up in Launchpad. In contrast, as soon as an app is placed in /Applications, it shows up in Launchpad, and remains there correctly pointing to its current location even if you subsequently move it back to a location in your home directory. I have not been able to determine whether Applications need to be in an officially supported /Applications or ~/Applications directory to properly register Services with the operating system.

So my tentative answer here is yes, you can run applications from outside ~/Applications, but there is at least a little that is special about that particular folder.

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Outstanding, thank you! You'll get zhe bounty in 19 hours and counting. Again, thank you very much. –  Terrance Shaw Sep 12 '12 at 5:18
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There are actually some applications that require that path. MAMP is the first one that comes to my mind, but I have seen some others that complain about not finding some resource if you place them in the Utilities folder, for example. –  MattiSG Sep 12 '12 at 6:44
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@daniel is correct in his summary. Apple has precise design guidelines that insist 3PP Apps must be able to run from any location. Furthermore, they should not assume that the user home folder is even on the same volume as the Application. Of course some applications choose to ignore these requirements. By convention, Applications should be stored in /Applications for a user to find them and click on them to open when the application belongs to the computer. If the application belongs to the user only, then it should be placed in ~/Applications by convention but not by some strict check. –  bmike Sep 12 '12 at 15:07

If a bundled application is moved somewhere else, another version is copied to the default location when OS X is upgraded.

I don't know if it was something specific to my installation, but Activity Monitor crashed on launch on 10.6 if it was moved out of /Applications/Utilities/.

defaults -app only works with applications in /Applications/ and ~/Applications/.

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Excellent points about apps that are part of the system where updates (especially delta patches) expect them to be in a specific location. Third party apps like ones downloaded from the App store have a much higher expectation of being portable and not fixed in one specific hard coded path. –  bmike Sep 12 '12 at 15:10

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