Does anyone know of a resource that lists the Preferences files/plists (pertinent to OS X and Apple applications, not third-party apps) found in ~/Library/Preferences (and the other locations too, but that would be a start) and what they're used for?

I've been looking around and can't find anything. The closest I found was this chart compiled by appleexaminer.com — but that only covers a few items, and the obvious ones at that.

  • make a backup and try to change stuff in there, you will find out soon enough... – vrwim May 4 '12 at 7:12
  • No, that doesn't help me at all. I would like a resource that lists every file in ~/Preferences & what it does. Your suggestion doesn't provide that. – Scott Granneman May 4 '12 at 17:44
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    I really doubt you'll find a complete list. Generally each application you run will record its settings in a file in ~/Preferences -- and since there are a huge number of apps (AppShopper currently lists 10,764 in the Mac App Store), nobody's going to bother trying to compile a complete list. – Gordon Davisson May 23 '12 at 2:22
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    Ah—I should have been clearer. I'm just interested in Apple's Preferences. Thanks for forcing me to clarify! – Scott Granneman Jun 3 '12 at 18:33

It's fairly easy to figure out which files in ~/Library/Preferences are used by Apple applications and which app.

All the Apple ones start com.apple and then almost all continue with the name of the application or part of the system that they are a preference for - some examples com.apple.ScreenSharing.plist or com.apple.TextEdit.plist

With the less "specific" ones once you know more about how the back end of the System and Finder hang together you start to realise what they are, for example com.apple.LaunchServices.plist is the one that defines your personal URL and file type handlers as that is done by LaunchServices.

Mac sysadmins tend to slowly get a list of the more important ones as we use them to push preferences out to our managed Macs. If all else fails I use InstallEase, the free utility from Absolute, to snapshot a Mac then change a preference and do another snapshot to see what changed.


Pref Setter appears to do exactly that.

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    OK, how is that? On the website, it's described thusly: "Pref Setter is an application used to edit plist (Property LIST) files, geared towards viewing / editing Mac OS X's preference files. Very useful for setting those “hidden” preference settings that aren't available directly in an application." So how does that tell me what each Preference/plist file DOES? I can't see that Pref Setter does that at all. – Scott Granneman May 13 '12 at 2:26
  • First, open it. Then click on the little blue window with the I in it, Get Info. Haven't seen anything else that will do that, and it's very cool. – Zo219 May 23 '12 at 0:24

Normally you can examine by yourself like

/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c "Print :CFBundleIdentifier" \
    /Users/kevit/Library/Address\ Book\ Plug-Ins/SkypeABSMS.bundle/Contents/Info.plist

List of keys is described in Apple's Developer documentation on Property List Files, Cocoa Apps part.

Unfortunately, lot of developers ignore recommendations

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