On my network when a user is auto-logged-out, this feature seems to just activate fast-user-switching, Is that what it is supposed to do?

I am talking about the setting, as seen below in El Capitain, from System Preferences, and you can also access this setting with profiles/mdm for example from the Profile Manager (formerly Workgroup Manager). I have this disabled in both the local system and the profiles assigned to both the devices and user-groups.

I've also seen the same proposed issue in Yosemite. This is annoying because when users don't logout, the system seems to go back to the login screen without clearing the RAM, possibly also locking files that are in use, etc.; creating a truly slow, buggy machine.


1 Answer 1


Activating fast-user-switching is indeed what it is meant to do. It does not log the user out, so to speak, but it does prevent account access without the user's password.

We must first understand that logging out involves quitting everything that a user has open, and locking only secures the account in its current state. This does introduce some form of overhead as logging out requires all applications to be quit.

There's also the slight issue of a user's unsaved files being lost if the entire account is logged out instead of locked.

Side note, you can achieve the same login window through checking "System Preferences > Security and Privacy > General > Require password (x) minutes after sleep or screen saver begins".

Alternatively (although not advisable), running

exec /System/Library/CoreServices/loginwindow.app/Contents/MacOS/loginwindow

will bring up the same lock screen.

  • Thanks, that sounds like a really authoritative answer! Can you explain how/why it does not actually log the user out (or site a link on the developer site for example). For me though, it sounds like I should just not use that option, and make sure iet is not in any of our profile configurations; my users are supposed to log out and when not doing so, they know all their data may be lost when the next person comes. ...looking into it a bit further, and likely will accept the answer. Apr 29, 2016 at 11:16
  • @forgotstackxpassword You're welcome. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any links, so here's my best explanation: a log out requires all applications that the user has opened to be closed, while a lock acts as a password-protected screen saver. The primary difference between the lock and log out is that the user's account state is preserved even as other users can sign in and out of the computer. Think of locking as suspending/pausing a user's account, while logging out as stopping the account. In both cases, the computer can be used by other users...(continued below) Apr 29, 2016 at 14:03
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    @forgotstackxpassword (continued from above)...except that the computer may not allow a shutdown if a user has locked his account, as that user is still logged in. This might be a source of a user losing data if the computer is forced to shutdown, and probably not recommended if you have more than one person using the computer. To answer your question, not logging the user out is probably intended as a pausing feature, so that the user can walk away and pick up right where they left off when they return while allowing other users to continue using the computer in their absence. Apr 29, 2016 at 14:05
  • @perhapsmaybeharry the problem you are describing is exactly my burden, every 30 damn minutes, since I got my new MacBook (Mojave). If I leave Spotify playing music in the background, after 30mins, the system will close everything (from filled up form inputs in the browser, to software code I write for work, terminal sessions, etc... working-wise, a real disaster!). Whatever I try, the "Log out after 30 minutes of inactivity" will always reselect itself when closing/reopening System Preferences. And it doesn't event let me change the time to anything different than 30 minutes! Oct 31, 2019 at 15:49

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