What's the best application to open and edit a plist file ?

  • wasn't me but someone voted to close... I think if you just changed your question to be more specific about what you're trying to do it wouldn't get any 'subjective' votes. – Robert S Ciaccio Dec 24 '10 at 21:24
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    Voting to close without commenting? Way to go, team! – Philip Regan Dec 25 '10 at 11:01
  • This is a good question. Several times, I have wanted to open a .plist file, but even with downloading an app it looked (very) difficult, so I gave up. – Nicolas Barbulesco Mar 30 '14 at 0:39

A PList file, like Mankoff said, is just a specially formatted XML file, so you can actually edit and create them in a program like TextEdit.

Because of the specific nature of PLists to Development, however, using a special program like Xcode or Property List Editor becomes a much more fruitful endeavor. This is because it not only automatically formats the XML code for you, but it will actually translate the key identifiers and layers into readable words, and also for some values it will provide a drop-down menu to fill in the correct responses. Especially when dealing with iPhone plists, when multiple runtime variables can be set using the Plist, easily creating new fields and knowing what to put in them makes it so much easier.

You can get bot Xcode and PList Editor from the Apple Developer website http://developer.apple.com for free by downloading the latest Xcode release.

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    IIRC some plist are compressed though, which makes them unopenable in a text editor without decoding them first. Apple tools do that automatically though, and back again. – Lloeki Aug 9 '11 at 7:59
  • Well perfect, more reasons to use Xcode 4! – SeniorShizzle Sep 29 '11 at 5:13
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    If only… ! But no, some .plist files are binary or something like this, and TextEdit is not enough for them. – Nicolas Barbulesco Mar 30 '14 at 0:42
  • Remember that, depending on the specific use case, there may be a tool better fit for the job, intended for editing a specific type of plist file. For instance, you can use Apple Configurator for editing iOS profiles (.mobileconfig extension) or Clover Configurator for editing Clover boot profiles. – Manchineel Nov 5 '18 at 21:50

If the plist file is in the XML format, you can edit it in any text editor like TextEdit. If the plist file is in the binary format, you can convert it to XML first by running:

plutil -convert xml1 file.plist

If you want to go back to binary format after editing:

plutil -convert binary1 file.plist

If you have Xcode 4.3 or later, you can use it to edit property lists in a graphical editor like this:

Xcode 4.2 and earlier came with a separate application for editing property lists (/Developer/Applications/Utilities/Property List Editor.app/).

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  • As pointed out by this solution, it is totally possible to use plutil -convert json $file (or xml), then edit the file with any editor (like vi), and finally convert it back with plutil -convert binary1 $file. – 7heo.tk Mar 31 '15 at 0:30
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    plutil -p <file> will "print property list in a human-readable fashion" instead of converting it – dentarg Mar 1 '18 at 22:05
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    This is the more complete answer and should be the accepted one. For example, you can't directly edit ~/Library/Preferences/.GlobalPreferences.plist without conversion. – Maurice Schleußinger Sep 26 '18 at 13:20

A fine program like TextWrangler can edit binary .plist files without first converting them using Terminal. Simply open the file like you would any other (i.e. drag-and-drop on the program icon, or the File open dialog, or Open With in the Finder or...)

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Since Apple got rid of the GUI Property List Editor, Xcode is the best free option if you want to be sure of the result.

There are some gotcha's using a generic code editor to edit plist files. Since dictionaries use entries like

<key>some key</key>
<string>some value</string>
<key>another key with boolean value</key>
<true />

You can create a valid XML file that is not a valid plist file, for example:

<key>some key</key>
<!-- oops, forgot to enter a value - still valid XML -->

<!-- valid XML, not a plist -->
<key>another key with boolean value</key>

If you're willing to go commercial, Plistinator will edit both binary and XML plist files.

Full-disclosure: I'm the author of Plistinator and the $12.99 it costs pays for my ramen and rent.

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  • does it better than XCode? – georgexsh Nov 15 '17 at 8:36
  • Xcode is better than Plistinator on Mac - the UI is better, and its canonically Apple. It can be a pain as you have to install the whole of Xcode just to get the editor tool. Plistinator does do the directory search/scan and it also has a large edit field for entering free form text into values. Those features make Plistinator excellent for jobs like data driven apps and games. But for most jobs Xcode's editor is better. – sez Nov 16 '17 at 6:00

On a Terminal window, you can use PlistBuddy, available at /usr/libexec/PlistBuddy.

PlistBuddy can read and modify values inside of a plist, either interactively or directly on the command line.

However, PlistBuddy is not a GUI editor.

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I have used PlistEdit Pro for macOS and found it to be useful and comprehensively feature rich.

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