macOS is regularly popping up a "Force Quit Applications" dialog:

Your system has run out of application memory.

Your system has run out of application memory.

To avoid problems with your computer, quit any applications you are not using.

How is that possible if there are only a few open apps?


8 Answers 8


In my experience, this occurs when my main system hard drive is running low on free space. Operating Systems use the hard drive for extra memory storage, called "virtual memory". (I've definitely always wished that the OS could just reserve enough space for itself, but it just can't predict how many applications we'll be running).

On top of that, it's worth noting that regular web use now requires far more memory than it did in the past. In activity monitor, you'll notice that every single tab & window (every open web page) is it's own process, taking up a significant chunk of memory. On top of that, account for all the ads, movies, flash, scripts, plugins and 360 videos etc. that we expect to run smoothly. New OS's and new web pages just use a lot of memory to provide us with the services we expect to "just work" (eg. syncing across devices, notifications, automatic updating etc. etc.).

In short, in my experience there usually isn't a single process that's suddenly taking up a huge amount of memory (although a leaky program could indeed be a culprit - Sketchup 2016 does this to me, for example). More commonly, it's the additional functionality we expect of many programs/web plugins.

I believe restarting the computer always alleviates this problem for a short while - primarily by unloading all the webpages and apps we had launched over time. But if our expectation of the computer and hardware constraints stay the same (and we run the same number of processes without changing anything else), eventually we'll run into the problem again.

Two solutions that work for me:

1) Open fewer tabs/pages and fewer programs at one time. Close some web-pages/programs before opening the hefty apps, such as MS Office, Parallels, 3D CAD, Adobe programs etc.

2) Free up more space on the system hard drive (eg. move all your music and photos to another drive), to allow the system to handle your typical virtual memory needs. For me, this means my 1TB OS drive needs >20% free space (200GB)! Your requirements may be different. If you're on an older Apple laptop or iMac or Mini, the OWC Data-Doubler is a really fantastic way to accomplish this.

Method (1) is my temporary fix, so that when I eventually enact method (2) I will have restored the snappy performance I expect while running many heavy-duty programs simultaneously.

  • 1
    For example, Google Chrome is one of your open apps, and you may have 30 tabs/pages open in Chrome, each of which takes up a huge amount of memory. On my computer, a single GMail tab takes up 4Gigs of memory (and I have 3 of these open for varius accounts)!
    – Demis
    Jan 27, 2017 at 20:28

Could be a Google Chrome application memory leak as I had the same issue with it. Run Task Manager (in More Tools menu or got to chrome://system/) and check memory used by opened tabs and kill them. If won't help, Force Quitting the affected application should solve the problem.

Alternatively check your memory pressure (memory_pressure command) and double check your free space so there is enough storage for swap files. Also try running sudo purge from the Terminal.


More likely it is a problem with the OS itself. I just received this message when I had just a few programs open and memory pressure was "green" in Activity Monitor - but my uptime is 106 days. As everyone know - no computer/OS can run forever without a restart although 106 days is not a high number if you compare with mainframes, but for a personal system it is pretty good (albeit my second Mac's uptime is 168 days as we speak - with no signs of running out of memory). Restart is probably the best suggestion until Apple fixes this.

  • Why did someone vote down my comment above?
    – d-b
    Dec 31, 2015 at 14:07
  • I actually find that, with enough free space on the Drive available, I don't have to shut down pretty much ever. The longest I'd gone was at least 6 months (before a system update) – it seems the OS is really good at cleaning up memory and keeping things stable. But even then, restarting made no noticeable difference to system performance.
    – Demis
    Jul 10, 2016 at 17:30

It's possible there is some odd request for memory that the virtual memory system cannot oblige. The best bet is to restart the Mac and then run Activity Monitor to show the memory pressure and then observe those memory details when/if you reach that memory state again.

It's likely something caused by a buggy program leaking memory - so you could look into updating any programs that are running when this last happened to ensure it's not something that a bug fix can remedy.


The very same issue happened to me a couple days ago.

I follow these instructions to reset my Mac's NVRAM and PRAM. The memory consumption went from 4.5 GB down to 2.8 GB when it started up.

  1. Turn off your Mac.

  2. Turn it back on again and press & hold Command+Option+P+R (all at the same time) before the gray screen appears.

  3. Hold the keys until you hear your Mac start up for the second time (let it beeps twice).

I had to repeat the process, one time right after the other, and now my memory issues have been solved.

  • 2
    I was skeptical of this comment. I mean, why wouldn't ram reset on shutdown? No power, no ram right? And why would you need to press convoluted combination of buttons. But a quick googling shows that this technique is confirmed by Apple support.apple.com/en-us/HT204063. The contents of that page is basically the same as this answer, although it suggests that a Mac will have either PRAM (older macs), or NVRAM (newer macs).
    – frederickf
    Oct 3, 2017 at 17:03
  • 4
    Resetting the NVRAM/PRAM is not what worked, rebooting is what worked.
    – MikeP
    Dec 10, 2018 at 16:51
  • @frederickf, the contents of How to reset NVRAM on your Mac as of September 27 2017, would not seem to suggest that resetting nvram would typically lower RAM usage.
    – MiB
    Sep 1, 2022 at 9:10

If you're seeing this message but the listed applications don't seem to explain the supposed excessive memory consumption, check whether non-application processes might be behind it. They'll be listed in the Memory tab of Activity Monitor, but won't appear in that dialog.

I was being barraged by this dialog with neither the listed applications nor free disk space explaining the supposed problem. Turns out I had a few UNIX processes using unusually large amounts of memory. The amounts they were using still don't explain the dialog's claim, and memory pressure was still in the green, but as soon as I quit them (didn't even have to force-quit) the dialogs stopped and haven't recurred since.

WARNING: It's a good idea to do a little online research into what any unknown processes are and do before forcibly quitting them, as some may have significant bad effects on the system if killed. Depending on the process, it may be preferable to restart the system either in lieu of, or immediately after, force-quitting it.


There may be multiple causes of this error message because I get the error message regularly and have 300GB free on a 500GB SSD. 32GB RAM and the message has popped up with only about 24GB of physical RAM used.

It's always been when I had a crap ton of Safari tabs open. I suspect a memory management issue with Safari. Maybe some websites trigger it but Safari should be resilient enough to recover.

Additionally, Safari all too often throws the "force reload" option at me because web pages have stopped responding. It's just not ready for prime time. Someone needs to tamp down the bozo eruption in the Safari team...

  • 2
    I doubt this is because Safari isn't managing it's memory well (unless you find that Chrome handles the same crap-ton much better). If you look at Activity Monitor, you'll see that each web page requires a lot of memory - especially if they're web-apps (such as Gmail - 4GB of mem for me) or have flash/movie ads (such as every blog/news site).
    – Demis
    May 30, 2017 at 18:46

After 7 years, this question is still valid and users are facing the same issue on macOS Monterey.

There are many reasons why you are seeing this error and troubleshooting it no so easy. To find the real cause of these issues, you need to do the following:

  1. Restart your Mac (Old school method)
  2. Reset NVRAM and PRAM
  3. Update to latest macOS
  4. Remove unwanted browser extensions
  5. Close all inactive browser tabs
  6. Switch to Microsft Edge if you are using Google Chrome
  7. Use Activity Monitor to find out apps using the heavy resource.
  8. Force quite unresponsive Apps
  9. Make sure frequently used apps are up-to-date
  10. Delete unused apps
  11. Add more RAM
  12. Switch to SSD (if you are using HDD)
  13. Clear "Other" storage to free up the space.

You can find detailed information for each troubleshooting step at "A Detailed Guide to Fix “Your system has run out of application memory” Error"

  • 1
    The second link is broken.
    – nohillside
    Dec 16, 2021 at 8:18
  • @nohillside Thank you. Fixed the broken link Dec 16, 2021 at 8:20
  • 1
    14. Use a browser plug-in which releases memory from tabs you're not using. (Next time you switch to those tabs, it'll need to reload them, but in the meantime they take very little memory.) For example, for Chrome there's Auto Tab Discard.
    – gidds
    Dec 16, 2021 at 13:47

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