Some complain about Apple’s walled garden, or if you prefer a less flowery term: closed platform. Apple would say that maintaining a level of control over the apps we can install on our devices protects us from malware and a bad user experience, but it can be frustrating and worrying if you want to run an app and you are confronted by a warning that it is from an unidentified developer.
Luckily it is possible to open and run these apps and we will show you how. But before you do so be warned: do this only if you are satisfied that the developer and software (and the means of distribution, since innocent apps can be hijacked by guilty parties) are legit. We discuss the safety of unidentified apps later in this article.
Why am I seeing an unidentified developer warning?
Apple has a lot of control over the apps available for Macs, iPads and iPhones. While the Mac is a little more open than iOS – the only way to get third party apps onto your iPhone and iPad is to download them from the iOS App Store – there are still a lot of hoops to jump through before you can install and run some third party apps on your Mac.
As we said above there is good reason for this. These measures are designed to protect us from malware that might arrive on our Macs disguised as an app that we think we can trust. It might even look like a well-known app but have malicious code added to it. While we can all follow the advice not to download apps from file-sharing sites, or via links on dodgy looking emails, Apple’s basically put in measures to make it harder for us to install apps that might be dangerous.
These measures include Gatekeeper, which is Apple’s name for the security aspect of macOS that checks apps for malware and quaranteens them. It also checks whether the app is written by a developer known to Apple (aka signed). Then, even if it matches those requirements, Gatekeeper will ask you to confirm that you want to open the app. In macOS Catalina, which was introduced in October 2019, Apple made Gatekeeper even more stringent. Previously you could get around Gatekeeper by launching the app via Terminal but now if you open an app via Terminal Gatekeeper will still check it out. Another change is that Gatekeeper will run its list of checks everytime you open an app.
So, how can you open apps from unidentified developers? And how can you stop seeing the warning everytime you open an app?
Concerned abour viruses and other security threats on your Mac? Read: Can Macs Get Viruses & Do Macs Need Antivirus Software? We also have this collection of Mac Security Tips.
How to open apps not from Mac App Store
By default macOS allows you to open apps from the official App Store only. If you have this still set as your default you will be seeing the warning when you try to open an app for the first time.
Luckily you can make a simple change to your settings that will allow you to open some third-party apps that aren’t on the App Store. It won’t mean that you can open every third party app without issue, but it will certainly mean you see fewer warnings.
- Open System Preferences.
- Go to the Security & Privacy tab.
- Click on the lockand enter your password so you can make changes.
- Change the setting for ‘Allow apps downloaded from’ to ‘App Store and identified developers’ from just App Store.
You’ll still be prevented from opening anything macOS doesn’t recognise, but at least you will be able to open apps that weren’t purchased from the App Store, assuming that they don’t have malware and they are signed by a developer Apple recognises and trusts.
How to open a blocked app
If you attempt to open an app and macOS stops you from doing so, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with the app. But it will indicate that the app isn’t from an ‘identified developer’ – in other words a developer that has signed up to Apple’s developer program and jumped through a few hoops to get Apple to trust it.
Luckily you can still open the app and override the block. Here’s how:
- Open System Preferences.
- Go to Security & Privacy and select the General tab.
- If you’ve been blocked from opening an app within the past hour, this page will give you the option to override this by clicking the temporary button ‘Open Anyway’.
- You’ll be asked one more time if you’re sure, but clicking Open will run the app.
This creates an exception for that app, so you’ll also be able to open it in the future without having to repeat this process.
Because of Gatekeeper’s other checks this will still stop you from opening an app with known malware attached to it.
Other ways to open blocked apps
Another way to open a blocked app is to locate the app in a Finder window.
- Open the Finder.
- Locate the app (it might be in the Applications folder, or it might still be in your downloads folder).
- Ctrl-Click or right-click on the app.