Understanding the errordomain=nscocoaerrordomain&errormessage=could not find the specified shortcut.&errorcode=4


Many Mac users have encountered the frustrating error “could not find the specified shortcut.” when trying to perform basic tasks on their computer. This error prevents shortcuts or aliases from opening the files or applications they are intended to launch. While concerning, this error is often easily fixable. Let’s break down what causes this error and how to resolve it.

What Does This Error Mean?

At its core, this error indicates that Mac is unable to locate or access the file or application associated with the shortcut. A shortcut, also known as an alias, acts as a pointer that tells Mac where to find the linked item. However, if something changes the location of the target file or application, the shortcut will no longer be able to locate it.

There are a few common reasons why a shortcut may stop working:

  1. The target file or application was moved or deleted. If you or another user moved or deleted the actual file or application the shortcut points to, it will not be found.
  2. The drive or folder containing the target was disconnected or lost access. External drives, network drives, and mounted volumes can become disconnected, causing shortcuts within to break.
  3. System or library files changed locations. Occasionally, macOS system or library files need to be moved or updated, which alters the expected path in shortcuts.
  4. Multiple shortcut copies led to broken links. If you copy shortcuts around, the duplicates are easy to lose track of, and the links between them are broken.
  5. Corrupted shortcuts due to system or application errors. On rare occasions, a system or app glitch can corrupt a shortcut, even if the target remains in place.

Understanding the cause will help pinpoint the appropriate resolution steps to try. In many situations, the error means the target cannot be found at the location the shortcut expects.

Resolving the Shortcut Error

The good news is there are usually simple fixes that can get shortcuts working again without too much hassle. Here are some things to try:

  • Find and relink the target. Sometimes, just navigating to the folder containing the original target file or application is enough for Mac to reconnect the shortcut automatically.
  • Repair disk permissions. Using the Disk Utility First Aid tab can fix broken internal file references that may cause shortcut errors.
  • Rebuild the LaunchServices database. LaunchServices indexes shortcuts, so rebuilding it with terminal commands may resynchronize broken links.
  • Replace the shortcut. If it’s corrupted, delete the broken shortcut and create a new one for the exact target location.
  • Check external volumes/drives. Verify drives containing targets are correctly mounted and reconnect any loose cables.
  • Search with Spotlight. Try locating the target file or application using Spotlight to see if it can still be found on the system.
  • Reinstall corrupted system software. As a last resort, reinstall any system files or apps known to contain moved targets.

Often, it only takes a few moments to browse folders or use basic troubleshooting steps like the above to resolve the issue. In rare cases, corrupted shortcuts may require replacing, but the target is usually still accessible once found.

Avoiding Shortcut Errors in the Future

While they can happen for various reasons, taking some precautions can help avoid shortcut issues down the road:

  1. Store shortcut folders in synchronized or cloud locations instead of external or network drives. This protects against disconnects interrupting links.
  2. Periodically check that shortcut targets remain in place. If you commonly move or rearrange files, validate that shortcuts still work on a schedule.
  3. Limit duplicate shortcut copies to reduce broken reference chains. It’s best to keep a single master copy in a central location.
  4. Consider using launcher applications instead of pure shortcuts. Launchers offer more robust linking than standard aliases.
  5. Create desktop shortcuts judiciously, favoring system-level Dock placement when possible. Desktops are prone to accidental renames or deletes.
  6. Back up essential shortcut folders regularly in case files need restoring from a previously valid state.
  7. Use Folder Actions or launch it to monitor folders containing shortcut targets. These can trigger auto-relinking if contents change unexpectedly.

ith a bit of planning and occasional checks that shortcuts still point to intended files, using aliases remains a handy macOS productivity feature without excessive breakage risk. Apply these suggestions to help avoid “shortcut not found” frustrations in the future.

Deeper Issues Behind the Error

In some unusual cases, the error may indicate a deeper issue requiring additional troubleshooting steps:

  • Permissions problems preventing lookup: Check file/folder permissions and ownership for both the shortcut and its target.
  • Broken symbolic links from system changes: Verify whether any core OS symbol links like /usr were altered recently.
  • Hardware failure corrupting file system: run Disk Utility First Aid from Recovery Mode to repair directory damage.
  • Third-party software conflicts: Identify recently installed apps and check for known shortcut conflicts.
  • Bugs in macOS updates: Research your macOS version for known shortcut bugs and look for related software updates.
  • Malware-altering system files: Use antivirus software to scan for infected files unexpectedly moving targets.

Here are some things to check if basic resolution steps fail:

  • Examine the system.log file for errors caused by permission or link issues.
  • Inspect folder structures for missing or misplaced targets using Terminal commands like ‘ls.’
  • Boot in Safe Mode to test if third-party software is interfering.
  • Reset the Spotlight index or rebuild the LaunchServices database in an escalating manner.
  • As a final option, back up and erase/reinstall macOS in a clean state if corruption is suspected.

Most of the time, the error indicates a simple location change, but deeper problems, on rare occasions, require debugging the issue at a lower system level. Rule these out if basic fixes do not work.

Using Mac Developer Tools for Shortcut Diagnosis

While most shortcut issues can be resolved using the finder and basic troubleshooting, more advanced tools are available for developers and power users to diagnose problems further. The macOS command line interface and developer diagnostics allow deep inspection of the file system and library databases where shortcuts are indexed.

The Terminal is an excellent starting point for gathering more information. Using the ‘ls’ command enables listing folder contents, including invisible files, to check for missing targets. ‘ls -lO’ gives more detail on permissions and object types. ‘ls -la /’ displays the entire file system structure for mapping paths. Symbolic links can be inspected with ‘ls -l /Volumes’ or similar.

Developer diagnostics provide greater insight than the standard troubleshooting steps. The ‘pkgutil –pkg’ command displays packages installed through PKG installer databases like Homebrew, linking some system changes to third-party software. ‘sqlite3 ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.LaunchServices. The list opens the LaunchServices database for the manual query.

Digging into system logs with the ‘ Console’ app or command line ‘log show –style syslog’ often reveals more profound clues. Searching for errors, hang-ups, or linking issues related to aliases, bundles, or other shortcut-related objects provides diagnostic breadcrumbs. Errors like ‘could not get link target’ give a starting point to research.

Apple’s official developer documentation also supplies low-level troubleshooting assistance. The LaunchServices Programming Guide explains how Mac locates applications and files through folder hierarchies, subscription databases, and fallbacks. Comparing actual folder structures to the documented precedence order can expose bugs.

The System Logger Framework documentation outlines log archives and filtering to isolate shortcut-caused entries from background daemon noise. The Logging and Troubleshooting Guide has additional best practices for systematic problem tracking.

Symbolic link errors may require debugging at the operating system layer. Kernel debugging tools like ‘kdb’ or ‘kextstat’ display loaded extensions and drivers that could interfere. Checking kernel logs or system corruption with ‘fsck -fy’ inspects at a deeper level for integrity failures.

As a last resort, there are methods for completely resetting the global database indexes shortcuts rely on. The Spotlight troubleshooting page explains force rebuilding its cache from scratch. Deleting and letting LaunchServices recreate the .plist databases cleans any corrupted references.

Simulating a New System State

Suppose all conventional diagnosis and repair attempts hit a wall. In that case, it may help to simulate a clean macOS install without entirely wiping the disk and resetting as much of the global system state as possible, which rules out accumulated bugs, malware, or corrupted configurations.

Creating a new user account removes any shell-level configuration, caches, or preferences from the troubleshooting profile without deleting the primary user. Logging into this fresh account checks if shortcut errors persist independently of the immediate environment.

Booting in Safe Mode cuts out login items, daemons, and non-essential system software while maintaining data intact. If shortcuts work here, a third-party application or kernel extension likely holds the blame. Low-level diagnostics in Safe Mode deepen the hunt.

Creating a new blank Library and moving essential data folders prevents corrupted preferences and file caches from rebuilding. The bare system loads faster to test troubleshooters with fewer variables at play.

Mounting a new volume, restoring from a recent Time Machine backup, or even creating a fresh virtual mac instance emulates a clean install state for thorough testing without risking primary data. Any error persistence points strongly to infrastructure faults requiring intensive repair.


While annoying, the “could not find shortcut” error usually stems from innocuous causes fixable by basic troubleshooting. Mac system tools extend this to diagnose trickier cases involving corrupted databases or infrastructure faults. Simulating a fresh environment resets accumulated residue, confounding the problem. With patience and systematic exploration of the file system and system logs, power users can untangle even stubborn shortcut glitches down to their root cause.

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