Why Are There Two Applications Folders?

If you have ever looked in your Applications folder to find nothing in there, or almost all of your apps missing, that is because you can have an Applications folder in your user Home folder as well as at the main hard drive level. Most applications will install to the main hard drive level, making them available to all user accounts on the Mac. But if you look in the wrong Applications folder, it can cause confusion.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Why Are There Two Applications Folders?.

So this is something that Mac users ask about from time to time. You're in the Finder here and you're looking at your files and you decide to go to your Application folder. So you click on Applications, under Favorites on the left, and you see all your applications. All is well. But then you go to your Home folder and in your Home folder you might see your Documents and Desktop folders unless they're set to be iCloud. But you're going to see things like Movies, Music, Pictures, Downloads, and you're also going to see Applications folder. But you go in here and it's empty! Where did your applications go?

Well the thing is there are two separate Applications folders. Actually there are probably more than two. But you're always going to have at least the two. One is going to be this Applications folder which has all your applications in it. If you look here, I'm going to click here at the top, to see which folder this is under. You can see the Applications folder is just under the main hard drive level. If I go to the main hard drive level I can see here I've got User, System Library, and Applications. That's where all those applications are. At the main hard drive level.

Now if I go into Users, I'm going to switch to List View here, if I look at Users I see I have my Home folder. I also see other Home folders of other users on this Mac. In my Home folder I can see there's an Applications folder. This one is empty. There's nothing in it. These are the two Application folders. This is the one that is linked to under Favorites. The one at the hard drive level. This is the one that you see in your Home folder and it's typically empty.

So why are there two Application folders? Well, this one is for the entire computer. So all users setup on this computer have access to those applications. This one is inside of a user's Home directory. They are only available to that user. So typically when you install an app it, by default, installs in the main Applications folder and is available to all users. This is how you would probably want it in almost all cases. When you install something from the Mac App Store it goes in here.

When you install something that uses a third party installer from a site, usually it goes in here but sometimes it asks you do you want this application only available to this user. If you say yes then it will put it here. Then other users won't see the application. Won't be able to access it. You will. Now in most cases, for most typical Mac users, you never want to do that. You just want to put it at the main level. Even if other users won't be using that app. It doesn't really matter. It doesn't change anything in terms of space or anything like that. So just put it all at the main level and that works fine. But it does explain why, when you go to your Home folder and go to Applications you'll see nothing. Yet when you click here you see all your applications.

Comments: 5 Responses to “Why Are There Two Applications Folders?”

    Lynda Farabee
    7 days ago

    I had noticed that Gary, but never quite understood. Thanks for a great explanation.

    Bill Tomlinson
    7 days ago

    Thanks Gary. Can apps be moved between these two Applications folders, or do they have to remain where they were installed?
    Bill T.

    7 days ago

    Bill: I wouldn’t do that unless you have a good reason. Typically you want apps in you system applications folder. Not sure how LanchPad and the App Store will react if you move things around.

    Gregory Jones
    5 days ago

    The user app folder is a good place for those things you don’t want anybody else using/ accessing — like your personal accounting , taxes, password manager, deep utilities —-

    5 days ago

    Gregory: Deep utilities, yes, perhaps. But if that is a concern, perhaps the other user accounts on your Mac should be Standard and not Admin accounts. As for accounting and passwords, those should still be in the system Applications folder. Other users can use the apps, but they would be accessing their own documents and data with them, not the documents and data stored in your Home folder.

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