How to fix “Unable to start Parallels services” issue on a Mac

Parallels Desktop for Mac occasionally informs you of updates to the product, typically alluding to “overall stability and security improvements,” plus a long list of fixes.

Parallels Desktop update box on a Mac.
Oooh! An update!

Improved stability and security? Sounds good to me. But, if you install the update, you may end up with a non-operational Parallels Desktop installation.

Unable to start Parallels services error message on Mac Mojave 10.14.6.
Uh oh. Unable to start Parallels services.

“Unable to start Parallels services” translates to “Parallels Desktop won’t start at all.”

I’ve seen this with two recent Parallels updates: with the Parallels Desktop 16.1.1 (49141) update, and with the Parallels Desktop 16.1.0 (48950) update, both running on macOS 10.14.6.

The suggestion to “Please relaunch Parallels Desktop” isn’t helpful: you can launch it over and over, and every time you’ll get the same “Unable to start Parallels services.” You can restart your Mac and that won’t help either.

If you click the disclosure triangle for “Help me solve the problem” you’re taken to the Parallels website… and then nothing. That’s nice.

Fortunately, I have the answer for you, and it works every time. Just reinstall macOS.

How to reinstall macOS

  1. Shut down your Mac (Apple menu).
  2. Turn on your Mac, and immediately hold ⌘-r to start up in Recovery Mode

You’ll see an image like this:

macOS Utilities screenshot
macOS Utilities
  1. Choose the option to “Reinstall macOS,” follow a few prompts, and then let the process complete. It’s going to take about an hour.

Having reinstalled macOS, try Parallels again. It will work. It will probably ask you to reinstall Parallels Tools– in fact it will probably start doing that automatically, as soon as you open a Parallels virtual machine. That’s something that actually works, so let it happen.

This “Unable to start Parallels services” issue is completely reproducible (and it happened to me “organically” with the last two Parallels Desktop updates) so I know this is going to happen to someone else. The good news: now you know how to solve the problem.

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4 thoughts on “How to fix “Unable to start Parallels services” issue on a Mac

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  1. This doesn’t work as internet recovery wants you only to install Mac OS 10.15 Catalina (which is odd since it isn’t the current or the latest Mac OS release). Doing a normal reinstall works but installs an OS version without the 10.14.6 supplemental and Safari updates, and when you DO update them, the problem reverts, and back to square one. This is a really odd error, indeed!

    1. If your machine is on Mojave, and your do the Command-R restart, and then you choose “Reinstall macOS” you will get Mojave again. This has nothing to do with Parallels though. Unless you are trying to reinstall Mojave in your Parallels virtual machine. Let me know, I don’t want to give you bad advice by not understanding the question.

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