How can I quickly edit root owned files like /etc/hosts and /etc/apache2/httpd.conf in a text editor such as TextEdit which would let me do modern text editor operations, without actually running the editor in sudo -b mode first, or without using nano, vim and other terminal based editors?

Ever since Lion came out, doing

$sudo open -e /etc/hosts

no longer works - the file remains locked when TextEdit opens it.

2 Answers 2


sudo and open provide all the functionality already for editing files of other users so you can just run

SUDO_EDITOR="open -FWne" sudo -e /etc/hosts

to edit /etc/hosts. Make sure to quit Textedit at the end (Cmd-Q) because otherwise sudo won't notice that you're done with editing.

To make life easier add the following to your .bashrc (or .alias if you have it)

alias sudoedit='SUDO_EDITOR="open -FWne" sudo -e'
  • Hmm. Doesn't work for me. This command opens up a sort of temporary clone of hosts in the form of hosts.5o3nev8 and edits that one. If I save it and re-run the command, it opens the same file (changes are there) but a different suffix is at the end. However, no matter what I do via SUDO_EDITOR, if I go and look at the real /etc/hosts, it stays the same - like it was before the first SUDO_EDITOR command.
    – Swader
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 15:51
  • It opens a temporary file but it should get copied back to the original after you quit Textedit (at least it does for me), see d.pr/i/sMN2
    – nohillside
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 15:59
  • You are correct. It is worth noting that the TextEditor instance needs to be killed completely in order to overwrite the original - if it stays on but the editing window is closed, the overwrite does not happen.
    – Swader
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 16:07

Here is a step by step solution:

  1. Download the free TextWrangler app ( http://www.barebones.com/products/TextWrangler/ )

  2. Create a .profile file in your home folder if it does not exist

    $ touch ~/.profile
    $ open -e ~/.profile
  3. Edit the file and give it the following aliases, along with any others you may wish to add:

    alias edit_hosts='sudo open -a /Applications/TextWrangler.app/Contents/MacOS/TextWrangler /etc/hosts'
    alias edit_vhosts='sudo open -a /Applications/TextWrangler.app/Contents/MacOS/TextWrangler /etc/apache2/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf'
    alias edit_httpd='sudo open -a /Applications/TextWrangler.app/Contents/MacOS/TextWrangler /etc/apache2/httpd.conf'
    alias edit_alias='open -a /Applications/TextWrangler.app/Contents/MacOS/TextWrangler ~/.profile'
    alias reload_alias='. ~/.profile'
  4. Save the file and run:

    $ reload_alias

Now when you run edit_hosts or the other edit_* aliases, the TextWrangler app should open the hosts file. It will still be locked, but this application can unlock it once you start editing, it will prompt you. You now have a one-line command to edit the root owned files of your choice.

You can also alias just the first part of the path:

alias edit='sudo open -a /Applications/TextWrangler.app/Contents/MacOS/TextWrangler'

which will let you execute commands such as

$ edit /etc/hosts

and still achieve the same results.

Edit: other answer looks to be a better solution as it does not require the download and installation of another application.

  • 1
    For completeness sake, the reload_alias command won't work unless you source the profile once with . ~/.profile
    – nohillside
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 15:43

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