What are .plist files on Mac?

Many troubleshooting guides have files with the .plist extension. Typically, these files are deleted during repair and the system then recreates them. But what exactly are these .plist files, how are they structured, how can you open, edit and delete them? All of this is explained in this post.

What are plist files on macOS?

A .plist file is a special type of file used on macOS systems. Its purpose is to store certain parameters and configuration options for various applications that need them to function properly. These .plist files, also called property lists, are most commonly identified by their .plist extension.

Inside, .plist files are structured in XML and typically use Unicode's UTF-8 encoding. Interestingly, they are not just limited to text - they can also exist in a binary format. So if you want to edit a .plist file, you need software that can handle both XML and binary files.

In this article you will learn everything you need to know about plist files on the Mac - probably not even a lot more.
In this article you will learn everything you need to know about plist files on the Mac - probably not even a lot more.

Where can I find plist files on Mac?

In general terms, most .plist files can probably be found in the Library folder on the Mac. They are either in the folders of the corresponding apps, such as in “Mail” or “Microsoft” or in the “Preferences” folder.

Since the plist files contain settings data, these are of course very well placed in a folder that translates to “settings” or “preferences”.

Here's another reading tip: 3 easy ways to open the Library folder

But you usually don't have to worry about the location, because in the instructions that you can find here on the blog, you will always be given the exact folder in which the corresponding files can be found.

There are many plist files in the Library → Preferences folder.
There are many plist files in the Library → Preferences folder.

Free plist editor software to edit plist files

If you want to change the plist files by hand, you can basically do this with the TextEdit program, which is preinstalled on every Mac. Ultimately, these files are just text files.

However, editing is much more convenient with programs that can handle the XML format and translate the values ​​directly so that you can see what you are changing.

For example, Apple's developer software called Xcode is an option. Xcode you can here at Apple load for free.

The Mac app PlistEdit Pro is chargeable, but at least offers a trial version with which you can see what the app can do. There are other apps in the App Store that are plist editors and cost money, but we really want to find the free apps.

This is how the files are edited in PlistEdit Pro.
This is how the files are edited in PlistEdit Pro.

Since the plist files are simple text files containing XML structures, they can also be edited with any XML editor. The following apps could be mentioned here, for example:

Troubleshooting: Deleting plist files on Mac

It can always happen on the Mac that files become corrupt - i.e. get an error that prevents the file from being written or read correctly. For example, when this happens, the Mac doesn't save preferences, or it reads them incorrectly and it suddenly does things that worked normally before.

An example is about the missing thumbnails in Finder windows, which we have treated as a problem in the recent past. The solution to such errors often lies in finding and deleting the appropriate plist files. This is usually followed by a Mac restart and then the Mac recreates the missing plist file and the problems are resolved.

Here's another example: Is your Mac suddenly acting strangely when using the trackpad? Then you may be able to solve this by finding and deleting the corresponding plist files. However, this can be a bit tricky, because the system does not spit out the plist files with the normal Finder search. So you have to think about where they might be.

  1. a good place to start is /Library/Preferences
  2. in this finder window click on the search in the top right corner
  3. Now enter “Trackpad”, select “Name contains: Trackpad”
  4. and then you limit the search to the folder by clicking on the “Preferences” button
  5. Make a copy of the two files you find there and delete the originals
  6. now restart Mac and hope that everything works
Searching for plist files is explained here.
Searching for plist files is explained here.

Risks of editing .plist files

As mentioned before, editing or deleting .plist files can cause problems. Always be careful and make sure you have a backup copy before making any changes. A running Time Machine backup is enough here to be able to restore a damaged file later.

However, the easiest way to ensure changes are safe and reversible is to make a backup copy of the .plist file (cmd + D) before making any changes. This way you can restore the original file if something goes wrong.

Conclusion

.plist files are an essential part of macOS, although they often remain in the background. Understanding them and knowing how to safely edit and delete them can help you better manage and personalize your system. However, always be careful to avoid possible problems.

If you have any questions about these files, please leave a comment here. We try to help you in any case.

FAQ

Here are some questions that are frequently asked about this topic.

What are plist files used for?

Basically, they are files in which the Finder or programs on the Mac save their settings or user settings.

How can I open plist files?

The best free ways to open plist files are TextEdit, Visual Studio Code, and QXmlEdit. But you can also use any other XML editor or text editor.

Where can I find plist files on Mac?

Usually they are somewhere in the library folder. Either in a corresponding folder of the program or in the large collective folder called Preferences.

Is it safe to delete plist files on Mac?

In most cases, nothing bad should happen. But one must be aware that the plist files contain program or device settings. These settings are lost when the file is deleted. It is therefore advisable to have the file on hand as a backup before deleting it by duplicating it.

Can I delete all my .plist files?

Yes, you can, but it doesn't make sense. The files are created by macOS and other programs to save settings. They hardly take up any space and these files are usually only deleted if there is a technical problem with the Mac. But then you delete specific files and not all.

My tips & tricks about technology & Apple

Did you like the article and did the instructions on the blog help you? Then I would be happy if you the blog via a Steady Membership would support.

Post a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked with * marked

In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.

Specials
Shopping
  •  
  •