What is PrefEdit?
PrefEdit is an application to manage nearly all aspects of the preference system contained in every macOS installation. The program consists of three components which are tightly integrated with each other:
- An entry point to the preferences database of macOS, with access to all settings which are effective for your user account,
- a browser and editor for macOS property list files (plists),
- a browser for preference manifest files.
Property list files are the technical means used by macOS to store user preference settings in the background. This file type is also utilized by macOS for many other purposes, not only for building the preference database. You can use PrefEdit to display and edit all
files compliant with Apple’s plist standard.
Preference manifest files contain descriptions for so-called Managed Preferences. If modifying a user preference setting is not only of interest for the application owning this setting, but access to the setting should be possible for “foreign” applications, too, the vendor of the application can publish technical details about these preferences formally. Such a description specifies which setting with what name has which meaning for an application. In addition, the possible value range, as well as the meaning of each single value can be defined. Apple’s Workgroup Manager application uses manifest files to present such remotely manageable settings.
PrefEdit is directed both to software developers and to end users who like to have full access to each and every aspect of preference settings for the system and applications. The program is capable of visualizing the complete search path and priority of user default settings, exactly imitating the view each macOS application has on the preferences database.
PrefEdit was the first preference editor ever published for Mac OS X (now: macOS). With its long experience and maturity, it has become one of the most advanced preference management applications for macOS available today.
Features in detail
PrefEdit has the following key features:
- Browse through the complete list of macOS preference areas, also called “domains”.
- You can search for any setting in the database, either by value or by internal name of the preference.
- PrefEdit can automatically determine the correct preference domain name for a given application.
- You can change any entry in the preferences database or in a property list file. Property names, entry types and values can be edited freely. Entries can be removed, added, or sorted. The program handles nested entries of any depths correctly.
- The application has full undo and redo capabilities with an unlimited number of steps.
- The program displays whether certain settings are controlled by the client management (MCX) system of macOS which was used via directory services in professional networks. (It has been superseded by Apple Profile Manager.) In addition, it becomes visible if preferences belong to an application which is protected by a sandbox.
- PrefEdit automatically detects if metadata for preference settings are available in a preference manifest provided by the application’s vendor. In this case, the exact description of the setting, its meaning, and possible value ranges can be displayed.
- A preference domain inspector allows you to view the exact relationship between entries in the live preferences database and their corresponding storage implementation by preference files.
- The preference search path used by each compliant macOS application can be visualized, reflecting the view on the settings as each application sees them.
- PrefEdit fully supports the “Versions” feature of the operating system. If you modify settings with PrefEdit, you will be able to restore them to previous states. Changes performed by other applications are reflected “live” in PrefEdit.
- Applications can be launched via PrefEdit, so the effects of changing a user default setting can be verified immediately.
- It is possible to search for any entry in a property list file, either by value or property key of the entry.
- PrefEdit can open and write XML-based, as well as binary property list files. Users can freely convert data between the two formats. It is additionally possible to read property list files in the OpenStep format, used by macOS’s predecessor NeXT OPENSTEP for Mach.
- You can open macOS Preference Manifest Files for Managed Clients and display their decoded contents. Annotated preference settings will be displayed with their complete metadata, like text description, value type, default value, permitted value range, and repetition specification. It is further possible to display Union Policy Manifest Keys (UPKs) in full detail, if used by the respective vendor. Text descriptions will be automatically displayed in the user’s preferred language if the vendor has provided multi-language presentations for the preference manifest.
To use PrefEdit, you’ll need an Apple computer which has one of the following operating systems installed:
- OS X Mavericks 10.9 or later, including operating systems with the designation macOS
Updates of the application
PrefEdit is constantly evolving, adapting to new features in the latest versions of macOS. New versions are released as (usually free) updates from time to time. To check manually if a new version of PrefEdit is available for download, select the menu item PrefEdit > Check for updates. For automatic checks in regular intervals when you are launching the application, you can enable the following option:
- Select the menu item PrefEdit > Preferences… or press ⌘ + ,.
- In the panel Preferences, set a check mark at Check for updates automatically.