On Linux, I often use the free command to see the current amount of free and used memory in the system. For example:

$ free
             total       used       free     shared    buffers     cached
Mem:       7264256    1010952    6253304          0     371892     189088
-/+ buffers/cache:     449972    6814284
Swap:      8126456         28    8126428

It does not seem to exist when I enter free in Mac OS X's Terminal. Is there an alternative?


22 Answers 22


As @khedron says, you can see this info in Activity Monitor.

If you want it on the command line, here is a Python script that I wrote (or perhaps modified from someone else's, I can't remember, it's quite old now) to show you the Wired, Active, Inactive and Free memory amounts:


import subprocess
import re

# Get process info
ps = subprocess.Popen(['ps', '-caxm', '-orss,comm'], stdout=subprocess.PIPE).communicate()[0].decode()
vm = subprocess.Popen(['vm_stat'], stdout=subprocess.PIPE).communicate()[0].decode()

# Iterate processes
processLines = ps.split('\n')
sep = re.compile('[\s]+')
rssTotal = 0 # kB
for row in range(1,len(processLines)):
    rowText = processLines[row].strip()
    rowElements = sep.split(rowText)
        rss = float(rowElements[0]) * 1024
        rss = 0 # ignore...
    rssTotal += rss

# Process vm_stat
vmLines = vm.split('\n')
sep = re.compile(':[\s]+')
vmStats = {}
for row in range(1,len(vmLines)-2):
    rowText = vmLines[row].strip()
    rowElements = sep.split(rowText)
    vmStats[(rowElements[0])] = int(rowElements[1].strip('\.')) * 4096

print('Wired Memory:\t\t%d MB' % (vmStats["Pages wired down"]/1024/1024))
print('Active Memory:\t\t%d MB' % (vmStats["Pages active"]/1024/1024))
print('Inactive Memory:\t%d MB' % (vmStats["Pages inactive"]/1024/1024))
print('Free Memory:\t\t%d MB' % (vmStats["Pages free"]/1024/1024))
print('Real Mem Total (ps):\t%.3f MB' % (rssTotal/1024/1024))

As you can see, you can just call vm_stat from the command line, though it counts in 4kB pages, hence the script to convert to MB.

The script also counts up the "real memory" usage of all running processes for comparison (this won't match any specific value(s) from overall memory stats, because memory is a complex beast).

Here's an example of the output of the script on my system:

[user@host:~] % memReport.py
Wired Memory:           1381 MB
Active Memory:          3053 MB
Inactive Memory:        727 MB
Free Memory:            1619 MB
Real Mem Total (ps):    3402.828 MB

(very slightly adjusted to match the tab sizing on StackExchange ;)

  • 10
    It boggles the mind that one has to write a script to get this basic info on a mac
    – meyerson
    Commented Sep 25, 2016 at 21:20
  • @meyerson, I think that's a bit overstated, you don't have to write a script to get this info, this script is merely collating an interesting set of information together in a human readable format vaguely similar to the linux-specific 'free' command. 'vm_stat' already gives you the basic info, as does 'top'. Commented Sep 27, 2016 at 4:43
  • 19
    just my 2 cents: ps -caxm -orss= | awk '{ sum += $1 } END { print "Resident Set Size: " sum/1024 " MiB" }'
    – vault
    Commented Oct 2, 2016 at 1:21
  • 2
    what is wired memory ? Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 10:39
  • @Ciastopiekarz apple.stackexchange.com/q/31801/1587 Commented Jul 24, 2017 at 1:52

The command you need is vm_stat - similar to the traditional Unix tool vmstat but with a few MACH-specific differences. The man page is well written.

  • 5
    What are 'pages'? Commented Nov 27, 2013 at 19:13
  • 10
    @zhermes - The smallest unit of memory usable by the system... in the case of x86 and PPC Macs, this is 4k. Pages free are the number of 4k units of memory free. Commented Dec 1, 2013 at 2:22
  • 2
    Pages are also 4K in iOS.
    – smci
    Commented Mar 10, 2014 at 5:35
  • 6
    But we need bytes, MB, GB, TB... this command doesn't seem useful.
    – rjurney
    Commented Oct 28, 2019 at 19:04
  • 2
    I think it's actually 16kB on Apple Silicon
    – ericcurtin
    Commented Aug 22, 2022 at 16:16

It seems the reason it's slow is because top -l 1 always delays by one second after completing, the standard delay between refreshes. Adding -s 0 to the command makes it complete instantly:

top -l 1 -s 0 | grep PhysMem

Also, for clarity, I like showing each mem-component on its line, so I added 9 spaces for alignment with 'PhysMem: ' in the sed replacement string:

top -l 1 -s 0 | grep PhysMem | sed 's/, /\n         /g'
  • 1
    It's dog slow, it's much better to utilize vm_stat.
    – mgol
    Commented Apr 14, 2013 at 21:51
  • 3
    Yes, querying top is significantly slower that calling vm_stat but the top extract is much less verbose and the unit is megabyte and not pages. To be even less verbose the line breaks can be removed and awk can be replaced by grep resulting in top -l 1 | grep ^PhysMem. Commented May 12, 2013 at 16:39
  • 4
    All things considered, this is the best answer. Doesn't give results in unhelpful page units/ require some sort of hacky postprocessing to make said units interpretable.
    – ijoseph
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 23:16

Here's a simple one-liner to make the whole vm_stat output more human friendly:

$ vm_stat | perl -ne '/page size of (\d+)/ and $size=$1; /Pages\s+([^:]+)[^\d]+(\d+)/ and printf("%-16s % 16.2f Mi\n", "$1:", $2 * $size / 1048576);'
free:                     2330.23 Mi
active:                   2948.07 Mi
inactive:                 1462.97 Mi
speculative:               599.45 Mi
wired down:                840.46 Mi
copy-on-write:           43684.84 Mi
zero filled:            385865.48 Mi
reactivated:               608.14 Mi

In case you're only really interested in swap usage (what would be the last line of output from free):

$ sysctl vm.swapusage
vm.swapusage: total = 64.00M  used = 0.00M  free = 64.00M  (encrypted)

You can try the memory_pressure command. See the output of my system (i5, 4 GB RAM)

The system has 2147483648 (524288 pages with a page size of 4096).

Pages free: 90009 
Pages purgeable: 139593 
Pages purged: 7496548 

Swap I/O:
Swapins: 470466 
Swapouts: 530913 

Page Q counts:
Pages active: 407739 
Pages inactive: 148277 
Pages speculative: 16200 
Pages throttled: 0 
Pages wired down: 263064 

Compressor Stats:
Pages used by compressor: 122815 
Pages decompressed: 7327420 
Pages compressed: 17625795 

File I/O:
Pageins: 1538997 
Pageouts: 86692 

System-wide memory free percentage: 63%
  • This is almost exactly what I wanted: a way to see the memory pressure on the system. It's not as easy/simple to see as the pressure graph that shows on Activity Monitor, but it's the best I could find on Terminal so far. Commented Jun 13, 2020 at 22:20

There is a terminal command similar to free on Mac OS X... it is called top

For further information you can check out this Apple Support document.

Mac OS X: How to View Memory Usage With the "top" Utility


There's no exact equivalent that's distributed with Mac OS X, but there are a couple other ways to get the information:

  1. system_profiler - Shows all of the Mac's System Profile info in the shell
  2. sysctl -a | grep mem or sysctl hw.memsize (total mem)

Just taking the solution from @zack and adding inactive and speculative blocks.


FREE_BLOCKS=$(vm_stat | grep free | awk '{ print $3 }' | sed 's/\.//')
INACTIVE_BLOCKS=$(vm_stat | grep inactive | awk '{ print $3 }' | sed 's/\.//')
SPECULATIVE_BLOCKS=$(vm_stat | grep speculative | awk '{ print $3 }' | sed 's/\.//')

echo Free:       $FREE MB
echo Inactive:   $INACTIVE MB
echo Total free: $TOTAL MB
  • To adapt this script to support both x86 (page size=4096) AND apple silicon (page size=16384) replace instances of 4096 with $(pagesize).
    – Seth
    Commented Sep 13, 2023 at 2:25
free="$(( $(vm_stat | awk '/free/ {gsub(/\./, "", $3); print $3}') * 4096 / 1048576)) MiB free"
  • 1
    The current edition of that command does not work for me in tcsh (my default) or sh. Is the command shell-specific? Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 8:21
  • Yes, it is bash and ksh specific. In tcsh try: set freeblocks=`vm_stat | grep free | awk '{ print $3 }' | sed 's/\.//'` ; set freeMB=`expr $freeblocks \* 4096 / 1048576`; set free=`echo $freeMB MiB free`. You can then do echo $free to print the amount of free memory. You could also create an alias: alias free echo $freeMB MiB free.
    – jaume
    Commented Feb 4, 2013 at 8:58
top -l 1 | grep PhysMem: | awk '{print $10}'

For Unix experts only:

top -l 1 | awk '/PhysMem:/ {print $10}'
  • 2
    This no longer returns any result in modern macOS. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 20:17
  • use top -l1 | awk '/PhysMem/ {print $2}' on macos >= High Sierra
    – JDS
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 1:49
  • Does not return used memory
    – theillien
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 0:08

Judging by your other question, I think you've found the use of the Activity Monitor utility to look at your memory status, right? Just for the record, it's in /Applications/Utilities/Activity Monitor.app.


The above is way too much effort for my liking, and it assumes that you have a fully fledged install too... If you've booted from a Mac OS X start up disk, then all the above solutions obviously won't work... Just use the command "hostinfo", here's the output from my mid 2012 MBAir running Mavericks (10.9.1):

 Mach kernel version:
 Darwin Kernel Version 13.0.0: Thu Sep 19 22:22:27 PDT 2013; root:xnu-2422.1.72~6/RELEASE_X86_64
Kernel configured for up to 4 processors.
2 processors are physically available.
4 processors are logically available.
Processor type: i486 (Intel 80486)
Processors active: 0 1 2 3
Primary memory available: 8.00 gigabytes
Default processor set: 195 tasks, 961 threads, 4 processors
Load average: 1.61, Mach factor: 2.38

The good this about this command is that it comes preinstalled with the 10.9 installer too under /usr/bin, so it's very handy,

ideally, if you just want RAM then issue:

$ hostinfo | grep memory

Don't know if hostinfo exists on any previous OSes though...

  • 6
    How does hostinfo show used memory?
    – nohillside
    Commented Jan 28, 2014 at 6:52
  • 5
    this command (at least here in OS 10.6.8) shows only the physically available memory, but not how much of it is currently used Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:26
  • 1
    Which means this doesn't actually answer the question asked since it specifically states that it desires "free and used memory".
    – b4hand
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 23:58
  • This is the only answer that works when booted from a MacOS installer USB disk. But I still can't ID the CPU so instead I boot a plain linux distro from USB and that works fine with all the normal commands.
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 0:43

You might try the command allmemory if you want a command line tool that reports extremely detailed memory usage.

  • 1
    A powerful tool, but it's processor-intensive (around 95% of one of two CPUs on my MacBookPro5,2) and if much memory is used: a simple run of allmemory may be unexpectedly long — for me today, over four minutes per run, YMMV. A run of allmemory for sysdiagnose may take considerably longer. Commented Apr 30, 2012 at 8:35
top -l 1 -s 0 | awk ' /Processes/ || /PhysMem/ || /Load Avg/{print}'

This should do nicely :)


I think these days, psutil and its meminfo.py script provide the most helpful memory-usage details. To try it:

pip install psutil
curl -O https://raw.githubusercontent.com/giampaolo/psutil/master/scripts/meminfo.py
python ./meminfo.py

The output it produces looks like this:

Total      :   16.0G
Available  :    5.5G
Percent    :    65.8
Used       :   13.5G
Free       :    1.5G
Active     :    7.4G
Inactive   :    4.0G
Wired      :    2.1G

Total      :    1.0G
Used       :   33.5M
Free       :  990.5M
Percent    :     3.3
Sin        :   15.9G
Sout       :   71.6M

Notice the Available row, which shows an estimate of how much memory is actually available for starting new applications, without swapping.

I don’t know of any other MacOS utility providing that available-memory estimate.

For the sake of comparison: On a Linux system, the same sort of information is provided in the available column in output from current versions of free:

              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:           7.8G        552M        182M        156M        7.1G        6.9G
Swap:            0B          0B          0B
Total:         7.8G        552M        182M

That available column in free output just comes from MemAvailable in /proc/meminfo. And on systems that have /proc/meminfo, psutil also just uses that to estimate available memory.

But MacOS doesn’t have /proc/meminfo, so to estimate the available memory in that case, psutil employs the same algorithm used on Linux to calculate MemAvailable for /proc/meminfo.


Bash commands "free like" for Mac OSX.

This is the second reissue of this post. At first, I got two -1. One because I was not describing in English, it is corrected. The other because I used gawk (which is not part of a standard OS X installation), it is also corrected, I now use awk. The -2 are still there ;-). The best is perhaps now to test and evaluate the commands it themselves?

I reviewed my first idea to build only one end-user oriented command with a friendly and highly configurable display, I made two:

  • free-like.sh a script always oriented "end user", with more accuracy, a "friendly" and configurable display, but with more calculations and resource consumption,

  • free-like-raw.sh, a command now oriented developer, sysadmin, etc.., with less computation and resource consumption, but also with less precision, less "friendly" display.

The data for the physical memory are extracted from the results of the command vm_stat (which returns the results in blocksize). The imprecision resulting from the transformation in bytes (number_of_blocks * block_size, the default value of the calculations) will be between 0 < the size of the block. The data for virtual memory are taken from the top command. The imprecision here is linked to the unit of reference of the top command: kilo, mega, giga.

Calculations are made using awk that respects rounded (as opposed to bc). awk is also quicker than bc. You can see the test script here: http://myblog.robert.sebille.name/article29.html#awk-bc

You can view the results of the commands in bytes (default), in kilo, mega or giga, with x decimal places in the case of free-like.sh and if you ask the display in mega ou giga.

The scripts are too long for a post, but you can find them on this article of my blog: http://myblog.robert.sebille.name/article29.html

The article is in french, but it display one example of display for each command and their integrated help (./free-like.sh -h and ./free-like-raw.sh -h), in english. These aids completely describe the commands. The article display also the codes.

English is not my mother language. If somebody wants to correct errors in the integrated help, he is welcome ;).


  • Besides being more or less unusable by somebody without any knowledge of French, your script seems to require gawk which is not part of a standard OS X installation.
    – nohillside
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 8:54
  • @patrix : Thank you for your feedback I will make a description in English and I will translate the integrated help too (currently in French). gawk: actually, I forgot, thank you. I met some localization issues (decimal comma or decimal point) with awk. They disappeared without knowing why. I came back to awk instead of gawk. I've needed a bit of time to adjust things, I will repost when it's ready. Yours.
    – Robert
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 12:29
  • 1
    Simply replacing gawk with awk worked for me without issues.
    – nohillside
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 13:09

If case you use fishshell on osx, along with fisher its package manager.

I wrote the following extension: https://github.com/orefalo/free/blob/master/functions/free.fish

It's a complete redo of the free command for osx. See by yourself

> free
                 total     used     free   appmem    wired   compressed
Mem:            8.00Gb   6.65Gb   1.95Gb   2.87Gb   2.09Gb   1.86Gb
+/- Cache:               1.24Gb   1.87Gb
Swap(43%):      2048Mb    877Mb   1171Mb
Load Avg:        1.63 1.95 1.95

This runs at my $PS1:


(Ruby version: https://github.com/vigo/dotfiles-universal/blob/master/prompts%2Ffree_memory.rb )

  • 1
    Answers on Ask Different need to be more than just a link. It's okay to include a link, but please summarize or excerpt it in the answer. The idea is to make the answer stand alone.
    – nohillside
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 7:34

vm_stat shows you in kilobytes.

The oneliner below shows in megabytes:

paste <(vm_stat | awk 'NR>1' | grep -o ".*:") <(for i in $(vm_stat | awk 'NR>1' | tr -d '.' | awk '{print $NF}'); do perl -e "print $i/1024" | awk '{printf "%0.2f", $0}'; echo; done) | column -s: -t


Pages free                      11.06
Pages active                    798.25
Pages inactive                  776.03
Pages speculative               9.15
Pages throttled                 0.00
Pages wired down                303.27
Pages purgeable                 0.95
"Translation faults"            82172.66
Pages copy-on-write             11629.60
Pages zero filled               27685.41
Pages reactivated               1450.70
Pages purged                    91.66
File-backed pages               430.20
Anonymous pages                 1153.24
Pages stored in compressor      481.75
Pages occupied by compressor    149.91
Decompressions                  1277.92
Compressions                    1622.33
Pageins                         13198.02
Pageouts                        66.61
Swapins                         54.34
Swapouts                        90.63

top or htop can also help to solve the problem .

  • Welcome to ask Different. Please provide more information about how the commands you reference answer the question.
    – tubedogg
    Commented Sep 22, 2016 at 4:56

This works with vanilla Mac OS 10.10 - 13.2, on both Intel and ARM Mac's, to get the amount of free memory in Mb, as defined as memory that the OS would page out and allocate to other processes if needed, plus unallocated memory:

page_sz=$(/usr/bin/memory_pressure |awk '/ pages with a page size of / { print  $NF+0 }')
free_pages=$(/usr/bin/memory_pressure |awk '/^Pages free:/ { print  $NF }')
inactive_pages=$(/usr/bin/memory_pressure |awk '/^Pages inactive:/ { print  $NF }')
speculative_pages=$(/usr/bin/memory_pressure |awk '/^Pages speculative:/ { print  $NF }')
free_mb=$(( (${free_pages} + ${speculative_pages} + ${inactive_pages}) * ${page_sz} / 1048576 ))

And, as a one-liner:

memory_pressure|awk '/ page size of /{z=$NF+0}/^Pages free:/{f=$NF}/^Pages inactive:/{i=$NF}/^Pages speculative:/{printf "%i\n",(f+i+$NF)*z/1048576}'

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .