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The difference between closing and quitting

Reader Linda submitted a question a few days ago that reminded me that I’ve noticed many people think that they can quit an application by clicking the little red X button Little red X button in the upper left of a window. When I switched to a Mac a few years ago I thought the same thing since Microsoft Windows has a similar button that does quit the application.

On the Mac, the red X button does not quit the application, it just closes that window. The application is still running, possibly with no open windows. Often this won’t cause you a problem but in Linda’s case it did. She was trying to update her version of Safari and the update installer asked her to quit Safari so it could continue. She thought she had since she’d clicked the red X button and there were no Safari windows open.

As you’ll see in this video, I showed her the difference between closing a window and actually quitting the application. Once she quit the application the update installer was satisfied and scurried along updating her Safari. Both Linda and the installer were happy. 🙂

Video too small? Watch full screen by clicking the YouTube Full Screen button button here

In summary, there are three ways to close a window but NOT quit the application:

  1. Click the little red X button Little red X button in the upper left corner of the window;
  2. Choose “Close Window” from the “File” menu;
  3. ⌘W (while holding down the “command” key, press “W”).

And here are two ways to quit an application:

  1. Choose the “Quit” command from the application (“Quit Safari” in the “Safari” menu, “Quit iTunes” in the “iTunes” menu, etc.)
  2. ⌘Q (while holding down the “command” key, press “Q”).

Personally, I almost always use the ⌘Q and ⌘W keyboard shortcuts. Once you remember “W” for “Window” and “Q” for “Quit”, they quickly become second nature.

Safari icon with blue dotFinally, if you still see that little bluish-white dot underneath an icon on your Dock (like the one to the left), then that application is still running. But now you know how to really quit it if you want.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • susanne May 11, 2011, 8:44 am

    I use Force Quit–is that OK? Shows you instantly all the apps you have open and need to close.

    • Steve May 11, 2011, 10:06 am

      Suzanne, I’m impressed you know about Force Quit (which can be very handy sometimes) but you need to be careful with it. It’s really the “Quit of Last Resort”. It’s best to use it only when an application is misbehaving and won’t quit normally.

      A normal Quit gives the application a chance to ask you if you want to save any unsaved changes, gracefully save context like which tabs and windows you had open last, and just in general wrap things up in an orderly fashion.

      A Force Quit basically pulls the plug on the application, skipping all of those graceful steps that a Quit does. Using it increases the chances of losing your work and seeing those “this application did not shut down normally last time” messages the next time you start an application.

  • barb May 11, 2011, 3:10 pm

    I am so happy that I have found your site, thanks to Leo! Thank you so much.

  • SUE May 14, 2011, 10:38 am

    I’m happy to know how to delete the long list of names on e-mails. I used to
    hi-lite the message/picture and cut & paste in a new e-mail. Your way is so much
    easier! Thanks. Sue

  • Dottie July 17, 2011, 1:11 pm

    Yippee! Finally there’s somewhere I can go to get easy to understand directions to do things on my Mac. Love ya, Leo

  • Vance Walker October 22, 2018, 8:50 pm

    Hi. I used to click Q and command to quit, now, suddenly, in google chrome, it says HOLD command Q and a quick click no longer works. Did something change? Thanks.

    • Steve October 23, 2018, 9:26 pm

      Hi Vance, “Hold ⌘Q to Quit” is a feature that you will appreciate the first time you type ⌘Q meaning to close a different application, forgetting that Chrome is the active one. Not sure how many tabs you have open but I have a ton so restarting Chrome takes awhile!

      If you find the holding part a nuisance, you can turn off that feature in the Chrome menu. Just uncheck the “Warn Before Quitting (⌘Q)” option. But if you do, don’t complain if you accidentally close Chrome while you’re in the middle of something important.

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