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Pref Setter: Terrific Upgrade To Search and Edit Your .plist Files

Published October 17th, 2006

Pref Setter is an application used to edit plist (Property List) files

Pref Setter Freeware Plist EditorOriginally downloaded 9/21/06. I’ve tried several of these tools… most of them are quite good, and free as well. Of course, Apple ships one with the Developer Tools on OS X (Property List Editor), but it does have some drawbacks (no drag/drop, duplicating, copy/paste). I’ll see how this one compares with others like PlistEdit Pro. For the uninitiated who may have wandered into the opaque description, plists are the Preferences files Mac OS X uses for applications. Each Mac OS X app has at least one plist file, and often several. Plists are XML files, and they’re used for more than just preferences… which is why “Property List” is a more correct way of referring to them.

Update 10/17/06. After trying out Pref Setter a few times, it’s now firmly ensconced in my utilities toolbox. Pref Setter is the best freeware preferences editor I’ve run across—and there are quite a few by now. There are also some good shareware pref editors that are worth a look… in particular, PlistEdit Pro, though I’ve determined I can get by quite nicely without spending $25 for this particular geeky activity.

Pref Setter's domain search pane

Pref Setter is wonderful for a few reasons:

  1. It pops up each time with a global search window so you can easily find preferences files by entering some text. For example, enter “apple” to filter the list to just Apple software. Or be very specific by typing “itunes” to get right at the iTunes plist file. Once you have the file you want, just double-click it to open it up.
  2. The preferences window actually implements tabs, so you can open multiple plist files in a single window. Oh so handy!
  3. It’s child’s play to add new keys or dictionaries to a given plist file, and just as easy to set a new file up from scratch. In fact, since Pref Setter has full support for drag/drop, you can simply drag items from one plist file and drop them on the tab of another. The software is smart enough so that if the key you drop already exists in the target file, the drop will be ignored.
  4. You can just as easily cut and paste items from one plist file to another, if drag/drop isn’t your idea of fun.
  5. Pref Setter's main plist files window

  6. You know one more cool thing? So cool, it almost tops everything I’ve said so far? If you select and copy a whole plist file from the Pref Setter details window to TextEdit, you end up with two pieces of Cocoa goodness:
    1. At the top of the file is the complete set of defaults commands required to set up the plist file from the command line, and
    2. Below that is a full XML representation of the file.

    This works even if the original plist file is a binary rather than ASCII file. Note: If the plist file contains an element (or elements) that can’t be built with a defaults command, you’ll see this sad message in the defaults section of the file: “Sorry, defaults can’t handle the nested dictionaries / arrays found in the key [badkey]

  7. One last thing… the Pref Setter details window also has a search field, and you can use this to quickly find a particular setting within the file.

So, I’m pretty thrilled to have this little tool at my side. If you have a need to go beyond Apple’s built-in property list editor, I highly recommend Pref Setter


Version as tested: 1.2.

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