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I just ran into this question. I think there must be a plist file or something similar. Here is what I found:

  1. When customizing a plain folder with my own icon file, there is an invisible file created in the folder called "Icon^M", which I think is a kind of icon file?

  2. But system "special" folder like /Applications, /Users/Documents, and so on, do not have this kind of file in it, and are displayed as special icons instead of stock plain blue icon.

So, how does Apple associate special folders and their special icons? I think there is some system plist file to associate these two, like:

...
< key >/User/Documents< /key >
< value >pathToIcon or binaryRepOfFileAndPath< /value >
...

Where can I find the file? Thank you!

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The special folder .icns files, e.g for Applications, Library, System and User, etc. are stored in /System/Library/CoreServices/CoreTypes.bundle/Contents/Resources and the info.plist file to control these is /System/Library/CoreServices/CoreTypes.bundle/Contents/Info.plist.

  • Here is the thing. I added an entry in the plist file you mentioned, let's say "Developers". And I make a folder in my User folder. But Developer folder is still using plain folder icon. – Zhigang An Feb 14 '17 at 1:34
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    @Zhigang An, 1. You shouldn't be messing around with System Level Files! 2. Those files and info.plist are for the System to use, not you per se. (One of the reasons Apple implemented SIP!) 3. If you want a different folder icon on a folder in your Home folder, then copy and paste it to the Get Info Sheet of that Folder from the target .icns file opened in Preview. – user3439894 Feb 14 '17 at 1:42
  • Yes, you are right. I shouldn't mess system file. But do you know how Info.plist link folder with a certain icon, in detail? – Zhigang An Feb 14 '17 at 2:59
  • @Zhigang An, The special folders icons are programmatically controlled by various components of the OS. As I've already said... If you want a different folder icon on a folder in your Home folder, then copy and paste it to the Get Info Sheet of that Folder from the target .icns file opened in Preview. – user3439894 Feb 14 '17 at 3:15

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