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How to read OS X system messages without the Console utility

If you do not have access to the Console utility in OS X, you can still read log file information and console messages using various commands in the Terminal.

The OS X Console utility provides a very useful window into the ongoing messages and log entries that applications and system processes output as they perform various tasks. This information can be invaluable when troubleshooting problems with numerous aspects of the system, but if the Console utility is not available or is broken and not loading then you may have a difficult time reading the logs and console entries.

The Console utility is essentially a viewer for a collection of log files, which are just basic text files that can be opened in any text editor. These are located in the following directories:

/Macintosh HD/Library/Logs/

If for some reason the Console utility cannot read these directories or the contents within them, then the program may hang or show a blank window. One possible way to fix this is to run a permissions fix on the boot drive to ensure that these default log directories are accessible by the program.

By itself the Console utility does nothing to manage the system logs, so if you need to access the logs or system console and the Console utility is not available or cannot be quickly fixed with a permissions fix, then you can locate the various logs in the following directories in the Finder and open them with another text file reader like TextEdit, or even using Quick Look by highlighting a log file and pressing the spacebar:

/Macintosh HD/Library/Logs/

In the case of the hidden "/var/log" directory that the console reads, use the "go to folder" option in the Finder's Go menu and type "/var/log" in the field. When the hidden folder opens you can then open the various .log files. Some older logs in this directory may be compressed in a BZIP2 format to prevent logs from taking up much space, but if needed these can be expanded (the archives usually will not contain any information about recent system events).

Beyond log files, the Console utility will display the system console information, which contains messages from active applications, services, and other currently running processes. The console logs are located in the /var/log/asl directory, but unlike the other logs they are stored in a binary format that makes them smaller and allows the system to access them more quickly. To view the latest console entries, all you need to do is launch the Terminal and run the following command:

syslog -C

There are a variety of ways to use the syslog tool for viewing, exporting, and otherwise managing the system logs. The details can be extensive, but if you care to see them you can check out the syslog manual page.

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