I bought a 32GB MacBook Pro because I teach a software boot camp and need to run several memory intensive apps (video conferencing, ide, chat, browser w/ many tabs, etc...) and my 8GB MBA couldn't keep up.

I soon found that certain apps will use all available space which doesn't solve my problem. I still run into memory issues because certain apps are memory hogs.

Is there some way to specify memory limits on specific apps in MacOS?

  • Can you detail on which specific apps you're talking about? - And how have you assessed that they're memory hogs?
    – jksoegaard
    Dec 1, 2019 at 15:51
  • Edit in a screenshot of activity monitor showing your memory allocations. Bad software always consumes all available resources. Hopefully you don’t find you had enough ram at 8 GB but let’s dive into your specifics...
    – bmike
    Dec 1, 2019 at 17:48
  • Yes, more specifics are needed.
    – benwiggy
    Dec 2, 2019 at 10:50
  • 1
    I purposely didn't mention the specific apps because I didn't want to get into a discussion of which browser was best or most memory efficient. @jksoegaard is giving the type of answer I am looking for.
    – Greg Smith
    Dec 3, 2019 at 14:57

1 Answer 1


Even though you can limit memory for specific apps on macOS, you will not achieve the result you're looking for:

The problem is that when you limit the amount of memory an application can have, this means in practical sense that programs are going to crash when they reach that limit.

So you essentially have the option of having crashing programs or pausing them when they reach the limit. Pausing them is something you have to implement a program to do yourself (not very complex, but you would need some scripting experience or programming experience).

In simple terms, memory limits are not going to help you any more than simply quitting one or two of those hogs when you need to do something else.

UPDATE: In the comments you wrote that you wouldn't mind crashing applications, and that you are an accomplished software engineer, so you would be able to do scripting/programming yourself.

In that case you can implement a memory limit in a variety of ways:

Simplest version

The simplest would be to create a small script that periodically runs ps x -o rss -p $PID | tail -n1 to observe the memory usage of the indicated process ID. This grabs the resident set size, but you might for some odd reason want to use vsz instead of rss to get the vsize instead.

If the observed memory usage is above a threshold you specify, you can then terminate the process. The best way to do this would be to run a command like kill -15 $PID and then after a time run kill -9 $PID. The first is SIGTERM, which tells the process to start closing down by itself. The latter is SIGKILL, which kills the process if it refuses to close down by itself.

Advanced version

A slightly more advanced version is to create a small wrapper program that calls setrlimit() to set a limit on the process, such as for example RLIMIT_DATA (maximum data segment size) or RLIMIT_RSS (maximum resident set size). Afterwards it needs to call execl() or similar to start the application for which you want to limit memory usage.

Note that there's also a possibility of using ulimit instead of rlimit, however my experience is that these limits are not observed on current macOS.

  • 1
    Great general advice. OP might need a follow on question with specifics.
    – bmike
    Dec 1, 2019 at 17:49
  • Actually, crashing would be acceptable in this case. Can you point me to how I can memory-limit specific apps? I'm an accomplished software engineer so scripting is not a problem.
    – Greg Smith
    Dec 2, 2019 at 5:02
  • Just out of curiosity, can you help me understand why this limitation exists? Like, if the same app would use less RAM on a different machine that has less RAM available to begin with, and it would just be slower, why wouldn’t it be somehow possible to just make the app “think” it has a smaller amount of RAM available than the true amount? Oct 10 at 18:17
  • @ConorHenry But that is not how almost all apps work. Apps generally (on any main stream operating system) use the memory they use - independent of how much memory is available. There are a few exceptions, but they are few and far apart - and generally include their own way of limiting memory usage. An example would be hypervisors like VMware Fusion or Parallela Desktop - they have different memory suggestions depending on total RAM, but the user has full say in how much is allocated. Another example would be some types of Java virtual machines that have similar functionality and offer limits.
    – jksoegaard
    Oct 11 at 5:11

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