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Debugging macOS

Did you know that many problems can be isolated by checking with an entirely unconfigured macOS account?

Apple has increasingly made it hard to mess with macOS system files. That’s true whether you intentionally want to extend macOS’s functionality or if a malicious party is trying to install and activate a virus.

However, many system components and all Apple and third-party apps rely on preferences and other files to store your custom settings, caches for work in progress, and other data. If those files corrupt, macOS may be perfectly fine, but you can’t get anything done in an app or your account.

Once you’ve gone through troubleshooting your Mac within your account that doesn’t seem to improve matters, the next big leap before reinstalling macOS is to set up a fresh macOS user account. From this account, you can test hardware, like your Wi-Fi or ethernet adapter; add printers and scanners; or run third-party software that keeps crashing on launch.

Because a fresh account typically contains nothing that would already be corrupted, you can isolate whether a problem is in your everyday user account or a system-wide issue–maybe even hardware related.

Here’s how to set up a fresh, new user account in macOS Ventura:

• Go to System Settings > Users & Groups.

• Click the Add Account button.

• Enter your password if prompted.

Here’s how to set up a fresh, new user account in macOS Monterey and earlier versions of macOS:

• Go to System Preferences > Users & Groups.

• Click the lock icon and enter your administrator password.

• Click the + sign at the bottom-left corner of the user list.

Then, after those first three steps in any version of macOS:

• Choose whether to create a Standard or Administrator account. Give it a name, password, and hint, and click Create. When making the account, what kind should it be?

Create a Standard account if you want to test a problem from the perspective of a user without any extra privileges.

Create an Administrator if that’s your normal account type–that’s typical–and you’re trying to perform an apples-to-apples comparison.

• Choose  > Log Out [name].

• At the login screen, select the new account, enter the password, and click the arrow to log in.

Now you can check if your problem persists. For instance, if you can’t get a Wi-Fi adapter to show up in your regular account, this new one should have a fresh set of adapters that represent all the hardware your Mac recognizes. It should pull those into the System Preferences > Network pane (macOS Monterey or earlier) or System Settings > Network view (macOS Ventura). If Wi-Fi doesn’t show up as an adapter in the list, it’s likely a hardware problem, though reinstalling macOS is the next step before a repair shop just in case.

When you’ve debugged your problem, you can get rid of the account. You must be logged in using an Administrator account to do this. (Warning! These steps are irreversible. Choose “Don’t change the home folder” to retain it.)

In Ventura, go to System Settings > Users & Groups, click the i info button next to the account, click Delete Account, enter your administrator password, and click Unlock. Now select “Delete the home folder,” click Delete Account, and confirm.

In Monterey, go to System Preferences > Users & Groups, click the Lock icon to authenticate, select the account you create to debug macOS, click the – sign at the bottom-left corner, choose “Delete the home folder,” click Delete User, and confirm.

Fix “USB Accessories Disabled” error

Some Mac users may see a “USB Accessories Disabled” error message when using their computer. This is often encountered with a USB-C hub that has many devices attached to it, but it can also occur when a Mac has connected an external USB drive, disk, camera, keyboard, controller, USB-C power cable, or other device to the computer, and then the USB devices are no longer usable or accessible.

If you encounter the “USB Accessories Disabled” error message, try the troubleshooting tips below to resolve the problem.

Disconnect & Reconnect USB Devices

• Disconnect all USB devices from the Mac, then plug them back in again and see if the problem goes away.

• If you aren’t sure which device is causing the problem, try disconnecting USB devices one at a time to see if the error message goes away.

• Prioritize whatever USB-C devices may be drawing the most power, for example trying to use an external GPU through a USB-C hub may often trigger the problem.

Troubleshooting USB Hubs

• If the USB hub is powered, be sure that it is connected to power directly.

• If you’re using a USB-C hub, try plugging it into a different port on the Mac

• Try disconnecting the most power-hungry device from the USB-C hub, and instead plugging that device directly into the computer instead using one of the built-in USB ports on the Mac.

• Try using a different USB-C hub.

Miscellaneous Troubleshooting Tips

• Connect the device directly to a different USB port on the Mac.

• Reboot the Mac with the devices connected.

• If you’re concurrently experiencing display issues with an M1 Mac, try connecting the display directly to the Mac USB port and use other devices through the USB hub (if applicable).

If you’re experiencing this error on an Intel Mac, sometimes resetting the SMC can resolve problems with USB as well. If you’re experiencing the USB Accessories Disabled error on an Apple Silicon Mac with an M-series chip, there is no SMC to reset so simply rebooting and using the troubleshooting steps above is typically enough to resolve the problem.

If you’re still experiencing power issues and USB accessories and devices not working on the Mac, it’s always possible there is a hardware issue that can only be resolved through official Apple Support, so if the above tricks failed reaching out directly to Apple Support is a reasonable next step.

Get an Apple ID Recovery Key on Mac

Resetting an Apple ID password can be annoying, though it’s made much easier if you have access to a device that you are already signed into. Without another device though, the process of resetting an Apple ID account login can be frustrating, but a Recovery Key makes this situation easier.

Apple ID Recovery Key serves as an additional way of authenticating your Apple account, and it can be used if you forget your password and lose access to another trusted device. Using a recovery key eliminates the need to visit Apple’s website to jump through hoops like verifying payment method details and answering security questions for a password reset. The ability to generate a recovery key from the Mac requires macOS Big Sur or macOS Monterey.

If you have a Mac, it’s pretty easy to generate and use a recovery key.

• Open “System Preferences” on the Mac (from  Apple menu or Dock).

• This will open a new window on your Mac. Click on the Apple ID option located at the top-right corner.

• Now, click on “Password & Security” from the left pane. In this section, you’ll find the Recovery Key option below Trusted phone numbers. Click on “Turn on” next to the Recovery key option to continue.

• When you’re prompted to confirm your action, click on “Use recovery key” to proceed.

• Next, you’ll be asked to enter your Mac user password. Type in the password and click “OK”.

• If you have an iPhone, you’ll also be prompted the enter the passcode you use to unlock your iPhone.

• Now, your unique recovery key will be shown to you on the screen. Make sure to write it down in a safe place that you’re able to easily access. Once you’re done, click on “Continue”.

• Next, you’ll be asked to enter your 28-character recovery key to verify that you’ve noted it down. Click on “Done” after typing it in.

• The feature is now turned on. If you want to change the recovery key for any reason, you can click on “Create new key”. You also have the option to turn this feature off at any time.


From now on, you’ll have just two ways to reset the password for your Apple account. You can either reset the password from a device that you’re already logged into, whether it’s your Mac, iPhone, or iPad, or you can use the recovery key instead. The latter could prove to be invaluable if you don’t have access to another trusted device, or if you only have one Apple device.

Note that when you disable and re-enable the Recovery Key feature, a completely new key will be generated for your account. If you lost your current recovery key somehow, you can replace the key with a new one on your Mac from the same menu using the “Create new key” option.

Reset network settings on Mac

If you're having persistent networking issues on a Mac, like constantly dropping from a Wi-Fi network, inability to join networks, inappropriately sluggish internet connections that only impact the particular Mac, or other networking related issues, it may be helpful to reset the network settings.

The easiest way to reset Wi-Fi settings is to delete Wi-Fi related configuration files. Please note that by resetting network settings you will need to re-add and re-join any networks and enter the passwords again.

• Disable Wi-Fi by pulling down the Wi-Fi menu and choosing to toggle the Wi-Fi switch Off

• Go to the Finder, pull down the "Go" menu, choose "Go to Folder..." and enter the following path:

/Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/

the click the "Go" button

• Select and delete the following files from this folder:

com.apple.airport.preferences.plist
com.apple.network.identification.plist
com.apple.wifi.message-tracer.plist
com.apple.network.eapolclient.configuration.plist
NetworkInterfaces.plist
preferences.plist

• Restart the Mac by going to the Apple () menu and choosing "Restart..."

• When the Mac boots back up, enable Wi-Fi again by going to the Wi-Fi menu and toggling it back On

• Select the network you wish to join

This approach will often resolve many wireless networking issues encountered on the Mac, but if you're still experiencing any Wi-Fi networking issues, you might want to reset the router and the modem itself, which typically involves unplugging those devices from power source for 10-15 seconds and then plugging them back in again, then waiting a few minutes for those to rejoin the appropriate networks.

 

Use Messages to share your screen in macOS

If you need to quickly offer help to another Mac user you know, there's no quicker way to remotely provide assistance than via Apple's own Messages. Here's how to take control of another person's Mac on their behalf, and how to allow others to do the same to your desktop.

As part of the Messages app in macOS, it is possible to establish a remote desktop session where you have control of a Mac across the Internet or someone else has control over your Mac desktop. What's more, as well as being simple to get going, it also doesn't require any real installation of extensions or other components.

What does Messages' screen sharing feature do? When a screen share is initiated, the screen from the Mac being controlled will be streamed as a live video feed to the other participant, the Mac that will be used for control. This will allow the user on the controlling Mac to see what is on the desktop of the Mac being controlled. At the same time, a FaceTime Audio call is started between the two users, providing two-way audio. This enables the users to speak to each other, such as advising on what they are doing for the other user or additional instructions. The feature doesn't automatically enable the ability to remote control the other person's display by default, but the option is presented. If control isn't provided by one party to the other, the screen is shared but it is not remotely controllable.

To share your screen with another user:

• Open Messages on your Mac.

• Select the conversation with the person you want to share the screen with. If no prior conversation exists, send a message to them.

• In the main menu, select Conversations then Invite to Share My Screen. The sharing and audio call will begin automatically once the remote user accepts the invitation.

To request another user shares their screen:

• Open Messages on your Mac.

• Select the conversation with the person you want to share the screen with. If no prior conversation exists, send a message to them.

• In the main menu, select Conversations then Ask to Share Screen. The sharing and audio call will begin automatically once the invitation is accepted.

Once sharing is enabled, a new window appears called Screen Sharing, which will host the call and show the sharing user's desktop. There are also some options within the window that can be used. Clicking the mouse pointer icon in the menu will send a request to the sharer to enable remote control of the Mac. Clicking on the remote display will highlight elements on the shared Mac, which can be useful for pointing out elements of an app's interface without taking control. When you have control of the remote Mac, you can also control the Clipboard, which means you can copy and paste text and images between the two computers. This is handy to save you from retyping a URL into a remote browser when you have the link locally. You can even transmit files from the remotely-controlling Mac to the shared Mac by dragging and dropping them onto the window.

To end a screen sharing session:

• For the screen-sharing Mac, click the Sharing icon in the menu bar then End Screen Sharing. Alternately, you can select Pause Screen Sharing if you want to stop for a while.

• The remote controlling Mac can do the same by selecting Screen Sharing in the menu followed by Quit Screen Sharing.

If screen sharing doesn't work, make sure the user of the Mac being shared is signed in to iCloud on that Mac using the same Apple ID that they are using for messages. If they are using different IDs, add both Apple IDs to the same contact within the Contacts app and try again. Also, make sure that they are not limited by Screen Time. If one party is restricted and the initial Messages communication cannot be established, that could prevent Screen Sharing from functioning properly.