Kernel panics are one of the last things any Mac owner wants to deal with. Your Mac will suddenly display a message, telling you there’s been a fault, and then it will restart. If you were working on anything at the time, your progress can easily be lost.
Kernel panics happen when something goes wrong with the macOS kernel. It’s an essential part of Unix-based operating systems, including macOS. The most common cause of kernel panics is software errors, but they can be caused by hardware faults as well.
If you find yourself faced with kernel panics on your Mac, what can you do? In this guide, we look at some of the best potential solutions.
Before we start
Hidden processes that launch with your Mac might be the cause of kernel panics. With MacKeeper, it’s easy to find and remove them.
- In MacKeeper, select Login Items from the sidebar
- Click Start scan
- Select any items you want to remove
- Click Remove selected items
Install MacKeeper, and give it a go for yourself. You can try each of MacKeeper’s tools one time fully for free, so it’s well worth giving it a shot.
Common causes for Mac kernel panics
There are many reasons kernel panics happen on Macs. Incompatible software, for example. Or device conflicts. In many cases, these kinds of problems aren’t serious enough to cause a kernel panic, and your Mac just carries on working as normal. But if a problem is significant enough, macOS might restart to protect your Mac.
Other reasons for Mac kernel panics include:
- Lack of RAM
- Full system disk
- Inability to find the root file system
- Missing file systems
- Incorrectly set up or broken disk permissions
How to deal with kernel panics on your Mac
Check out crash reports
macOS keeps all kinds of records about its performance, including when it crashes. You can view these in the Console tool or open the crash log files from the DiagnosticReports folder in Library > Logs.
Here’s how to view macOS crash reports:
1. Open the Console app in Applications > Utilities
2. Select Crash Reports from the sidebar
3. If there are any crash reports, click on one, then look at the text in the report
The first section of the report tells you what the process that caused the crash is. The second section informs you about the exact date and time of the crash, as well as the version of the OS.
The next section includes Exception details. There are two types you’re interested in:
- EXC_BAD_ACCESS/KERN_INVALID_ADDRESS caused by access to unmapped memory
- EXC_BAD_ACCESS/KERN_PROTECTION_FAILURE caused by writing to read-only memory
The section after this tells you the backtrace information, where you can find out which thread crashed and the events that led to this. With any luck, there’ll be some clues in these reports about what caused your kernel panic.
Restart in safe mode
Safe mode is a good way to check if your Mac has a software problem. It starts macOS with only the drivers and apps it needs to run, so if you find your Mac’s kernel panics stop when you put your Mac in safe mode, there’s a good chance it’s the result of third-party software.
How to enter safe mode with an Intel Mac:
- Shut down your Mac, and wait 10 seconds
- Turn your Mac on, and immediately press and hold Shift
- Release the Shift key when you see the login screen
How to enter safe mode with an M1 Mac:
- Shut down your Mac, and wait 10 seconds
- Press and hold the power button until the startup options window appears
- Select the startup disk
- Press and hold Shift
- Click Continue in Safe Mode, then release Shift
Remove login items
It’s possible an app is starting up with macOS and causing problems. If that’s the case, you can stop it from automatically running, which might fix your kernel panic issue.
Here’s how to change login items in macOS:
1. In System Preferences, open Users & Groups
2. Click your name in the sidebar
3. Select the Login Items tab
4. Click an app in the list
5. Click the minus button
It’s important to note that this list doesn’t include all startup processes, which can include LaunchAgents and LaunchDaemons. You can delete login items manually or use something like MacKeeper to do it for you.
Check you have enough disk space
Running your Mac with a full or nearly full system disk can cause stability issues, including kernel panic.
How to check your disk space on a Mac:
1. Click the Apple icon in the menu bar, and select About This Mac
2. Click Storage
3. Look at how much storage is available
4. If you want to manage your storage, click the Manage button
Run Apple Diagnostics
Formerly known as Apple Hardware Test, Apple Diagnostics is a tool built into macOS, which tests for hardware problems. This may be the cause of your Mac’s kernel panics. Before running it, disconnect everything from your Mac, other than the mouse, keyboard, monitor, power, and Ethernet cable, if you’re using one.
Here’s how to run Apple Diagnostics on an Intel Mac:
- Shut down your Mac
- Turn on your Mac, and immediately press and hold the D key
- Release the D key when you see a progress bar or are asked to choose a language
Here’s how to run Apple Diagnostics on an M1 Mac:
- Press and hold the power button on your Mac
- Release the power button when you see the startup options
- Press Cmd+D on your keyboard
Apple Diagnostics will now check your Mac’s hardware. You’ll see a progress bar while it’s doing this. When it’s finished, you’ll get a report, which includes reference codes. Take a look at Apple’s reference code guidance to see what they mean.
Remove third-party kernel extensions
macOS uses files called kexts (short for kernel extension) to add functionality to the operating system. These are all stored in the Library > Extensions folder. This is also where third-party extensions are installed. But you should be very careful about deleting kext files, in case you delete one that macOS relies on. It’s a good idea to check what third-party extensions you have installed, if any.
How to use Terminal to check for third-party macOS extensions:
1. Open Terminal from the Applications > Utilities folder
2. Type kextstat | grep -v com.apple, and press Enter
3. If you have any third-party extensions installed, they’ll be listed here
Once you’ve identified third-party extensions, you can find them in the Extensions folder and delete them. Alternatively, use a tool like MacKeeper’s Smart Uninstaller to find and remove extensions for you. This avoids the risk of deleting default system extensions – which might cause more problems on top of your Mac’s kernel panic issues.
Run First Aid in Disk Utility
Repairing errors on your Mac’s system disk might help to fix kernel panics. You can do that easily using Disk Utility’s First Aid function.
How to run First Aid on your Mac:
1. Open Disk Utility from Applications > Utility
2. Select your system disk from the sidebar
3. Click First Aid
4. Click Run
5. Click Continue
6. Wait for First Aid to finish
If all else fails, reinstall macOS
Undoubtedly the nuclear option, but if you can’t fix your Mac’s kernel panics, you might have factory reset your Mac. If the kernel panics still happens, then your problem must be hardware-related – including third-party peripherals. To reset your Mac, you’ll need to enter Recovery mode.
Here’s how to put an Intel Mac in Recovery mode:
- Turn off your Mac
- Turn it back on, and immediately press and hold Cmd+R
- Release the keys when you see the Apple logo
Here’s how to put an M1 Mac in Recovery mode:
- Turn off your Mac
- Press and hold the power button until you see Loading startup options
- Select Options to get into Recovery
Talk to a professional
If you’re unable to fix your Mac’s kernel panics, you might have to take it to a repair shop or talk to a professional support team like MacKeeper’s Premium Services. Whether you’ve got a MacBook, iMac, Mac mini or any other model, they can help you with any problems you might be having, including kernel panics.
But hopefully, the tips in the guide will be enough to get your Mac up and running again, without any unexpected restarts.