Basic Operations

The control window of TinkerTool System

After starting TinkerTool System, the main control window will appear. Depending on computer model and system configuration, it may take a few seconds until the window becomes visible. TinkerTool System is performing a great number of validation and security checks during startup which will need some time until completed. The checks are necessary to ensure that TinkerTool System can indeed run successfully even if you are using it as a kind of first aid utility on a computer with a partially damaged operating system.

The control window of TinkerTool System
The control window of TinkerTool System

TinkerTool System has a long tradition of making its user interface similar to the corresponding version of the System Settings program. On the left is the sidebar, where all the program’s functional areas can be found. They are structured as described in in the introduction. After clicking on an item, the associated settings pane will appear on the right-hand side of the window. Panes can be further subdivided. Depending on the function, this can be done either by tabs or via sub-items that can be opened via an overview list.

At the top of the sidebar is a search field that you can use to search for a specific feature by keyword. The right-hand part of the window contains the window title at the top, indicating the current pane and any sub-item selected. There is also a button to minimize the window and a button to open context help. These objects are described in the next sections.

You can select a TinkerTool System pane by clicking on its item in the sidebar. Alternatively, you can also use the or keys to switch between the individual functional areas. It is also possible to select a pane via the View menu. All panes with their corresponding symbols are additionally listed there. You can also use the key combinations ⌘ + ← or ⌘ + → to switch between the individual panes via the terms backward or forward. A preference setting (see below) allows you to choose whether this should be understood spatially or temporally. TinkerTool System remembers which card you worked with last time. The next time you start the program, you will be automatically taken back to this point.

Items in the toolbar

In addition to the sidebar, the toolbar at the top of the window is an important element while using the application. At the left, you’ll find the common three buttons for closing, zooming or minimizing the window. The icon next to them can be used to hide the toolbar or enable it again. This is useful when you like to focus on a specific program feature and like to the have the largest possible workspace for it.

The free space next to the sidebar icon is reserved for important notices or warnings that affect the entire application. If you see an icon at that location, you can click on it to receive detailed information about a potential issue.

Next to the sidebar, the toolbar is an important control element
Next to the sidebar, the toolbar is an important control element

Approximately at the center of the window, the title of the currently selected pane is shown. If this is a pane with sub-features that are offered via a list (i.e. not via tab items), a second line indicates the name of the respective sub-feature currently selected. The icon < to the left of the title can be clicked to return to the overview again. You can also use the menu item View > Upwards to overview or press the key combination ⌘ + ↑. It is also possible to click the respective pane in the sidebar.

The right-hand side of the toolbar contains a button to optimize the window size and an additional button to show the quick context help. Both items are described in more detail in the following sections.

The toolbar cannot be hidden because it is too important for the operation of the application.

Searching for features by keywords

TinkerTool System offers a large number of different features. For beginners, it can be difficult to know immediately on which pane and in which sub-item a function you are looking for is located. To help you in this case, you can search for features and settings by keyword. Type the search term into the field Search at the top left of the window. After each typed letter, TinkerTool System makes suggestions as to which function it could be. The hits are listed in the sidebar together with their associated panes. Depending on the situation, the names of the respective sub-items are also given in parentheses. If the sidebar is too narrow to show the term in its entirety, you can hover over it and all of the text will appear. The pane and the respective sub-item can be opened immediately by clicking on it.

The entered search term can be deleted using the button with the cross in the search field. The sidebar then returns to normal operation.

Minimizing window size

Due to the variety of different functions in TinkerTool System, there are often major differences in the space required by a specific pane in the window. The control window expands automatically if necessary, but you can always enlarge the window yourself by dragging its border, or switch to full screen mode by clicking the green button.

If you want to bring the window back to its optimal size, i.e. set the smallest possible size that TinkerTool System needs to display a certain item, you can click on the button with the two arrows in the title bar of the window. Depending on the currently selected feature, the results will be different.

Context Help

Each pane of TinkerTool System offers a context help panel which can be opened by clicking the round button with the question mark in the upper right corner. A second window will be attached at one of the sides of the main window, displaying short help information for the pane and the sub-item currently open. The help text is structured by the following sections:

The Dock Menu

Some frequently used functions of TinkerTool System can also be activated via the Dock menu: Search for the icon of the application in the Dock, then perform a right-click on the icon to open the context menu. The menu items follow the usual Macintosh standards. If the text of the item does not end with an ellipsis character (…), the function will be executed immediately when you select it in the menu. In the other case, TinkerTool System will only open the respective pane and sub-item, so you will have the chance to review settings and to adjust them before anything will happen.

Fields for file system objects

Many features of TinkerTool System work on files and folders. In contrast to other applications, it is often important to know at which exact locations the objects are stored. macOS is using UNIX paths to describe such locations. For this reason, TinkerTool System is using special fields to display file system objects together with their UNIX paths. These fields are a special feature of TinkerTool System and look like this:

Path entry field
Path entry field

In all cases where TinkerTool System likes you to specify a file system object, you can use any of the following methods to enter the requested data:

Understanding when Changes Take Effect

When you are using TinkerTool System to modify a system setting of macOS, it tries to let the changes take effect immediately. Note that macOS may ask you to enter name and password of an administrative user first before the actual change takes place. You see that the change has been applied successfully if the user interface keeps its new state, e.g. a check mark you have set “sticks,” or a radio button you have clicked keeps the marker in its new position.

For features which do not affect a simple setting but actually execute some operation, for example to delete a selected file, TinkerTool System will show a dialog sheet after the operation has been completed. The sheet will confirm whether the operation was successful or whether it has failed for some reason. More complex operations which might run for several minutes are accompanied by a textual report, displayed either during the operation, or after it has completed, depending on technical situation. The reports can be saved into text files, or be printed for future reference.

General Settings

TinkerTool System supports a few general settings which control some basic policies. You can modify them by selecting the menu item TinkerTool System > Settings… or by pressing ⌘ + ,.

The settings window
The settings window
Pane Control

Setting a check mark for the option Automatically open last used pane when starting has the effect that the application will remember the pane which was active the last time when you have used and then quit the program. TinkerTool System will automatically switch to this pane and the correct tab item or sub-feature the next time it is started.

The arrow buttons, keys, or menu items allow you to switch between the different panes in the order they are shown in the window. This means you navigate by position. In many other applications, e.g. web browsers, the arrows allow you to go backward or forward in time instead, following the order how you had selected the items in the past. If you rather prefer this kind of approach, enable the option Arrows navigate through history.

As mentioned, most panes are designed, similar to System Settings, in such a way that you have some kind of main menu with a list of sub-features you can access. If you are guided to the previously used feature when launching the application or browsing through different panes, it can be confusing for inexperienced users that you’ll only see the last used sub-feature and not all features of that pane. The option Always return to overview instead of sub-feature (if applicable) can modify this behavior. Each time when switching to a different pane, its overview with the list of sub-features will become visible. This option is enabled by default as of version 8.4 of the application, but can be disabled again any time if desired.


The option Always create report before performing delete operations controls if TinkerTool System should display a confirmation dialog before removing objects from the file system. It applies mainly to the pane Clean Up and to a few other features where TinkerTool System might delete files from folders unknown in advance. In the confirmation dialog you can preview what TinkerTool System will do and which files will be lost after the delete operation has been executed. You can either cancel the entire operation, or deselect particular files or folders from the deletion set. It is recommended to keep this preference setting switched on. Switching it off causes TinkerTool System no longer to wait for confirmation but to remove files immediately. The pane Clean Up has additional switches to override this policy for single operations, however.

The option does not apply to all delete operations. When removing cache files, tens of thousands of files might be affected, so a confirmation for each file would not be useful.

TinkerTool System contains a safety mechanism which tries to detect if you are about to make modifications which could make the whole operating system unusable. Examples are the change of permission settings for files which are part of the operating system, or removing files which belong to macOS. In these cases, changes could cause TinkerTool System or the whole computer no longer to work correctly, so it would also become impossible to revert such a change without reinstalling the whole system.

Very experienced administrators can disable this safeguard, setting a check mark at Allow critical operations which could destroy macOS. After this, TinkerTool System will no longer block dangerous file operations. The administrator alone will be responsible for any actions performed.

Attention It is not recommended to enable this feature. Total data loss can occur. You should know exactly what you are doing when the safeguard is inactive.

You must not understand this safety feature as a guarantee that TinkerTool System cannot be misused to damage important user or system files even if it is left at its recommended setting.

The option Deauthorize administrator after each completed operation controls if TinkerTool System should cache and reuse name and password of an administrative user after these credentials have been entered correctly and no more than 5 minutes have passed since the last successful authorization. For further details, please see the chapter The security policy of TinkerTool System.

Display of Memory Sizes

The buttons in the box Display of Memory Sizes allow you to select how the program should round the number of bytes whenever it needs to represent the size of storage space or main memory:

The option Standard units is the recommended default for macOS, because many of Apple’s applications (unfortunately not all) use the same policy for the display of memory sizes.

Other preference settings

TinkerTool System contains several features where you need to choose a user or a group from the list of accounts available on your Mac, e.g. to change the ownership of a file. In professional network environments, the list of user and group accounts may not be hosted on your Mac alone, but also on one or more directory servers in the network. This way, your Mac can work with several thousand user accounts that are known in your network. However, some versions of macOS are affected by performance problems when working with such external account lists. Because TinkerTool System likes to present the complete list of users or groups in situations where you need to select an account, retrieving these lists can take a considerate amount of time. Some versions of macOS may even block the entire user interface for several minutes due to internal design flaws in the way the operating system collects the necessary data.

To avoid such problems, you can force TinkerTool System to use a very simple user interface when it is necessary to choose an account from a list of available users and groups. Set a check mark at Enforce macOS identity picker when selecting user or group accounts to use the built-in features of macOS only.

If the simple account window also has performance problems, this will indicate that this macOS version currently cannot handle this more efficiently.

Apple’s account window has the following disadvantages, however:

The setting Check for updates automatically controls whether the application should automatically inform you when new, free updates of the software become available. The automatic check will be performed in regular intervals while you launch the program.

The preference Don’t suggest evaluation when launching in demo mode only applies if you don’t own a valid registration for TinkerTool System. Under normal conditions, TinkerTool System will offer to let you test the application during a limited period for free, which is called evaluation mode. When setting a check mark for this option, TinkerTool will no longer make this offer upon each launch (if still available), but directly switch to the locked demo mode. For more information about demo mode, unlocking TinkerTool System, and evaluation mode, please see the respective chapter.

The button Reset to Defaults will reset all of the preferences discussed in this section to their recommended default settings. Only the option for update notification will keep its value.

Reverting All Permanent Changes to System Settings

Among the many features of TinkerTool System is the capability to modify system settings built into macOS. When experiencing system problems, you might like to reset all settings to Apple’s factory defaults. This is possible by selecting the menu item Reset > Reset all permanent changes… or pressing the key combination ⇧ + ⌘ + R and following instructions.

This step is also helpful after you have tested TinkerTool System without license in evaluation mode but the evaluation period is over. In this case, TinkerTool System will fall back to demo mode and you can no longer use it to revert system settings you might have changed. The reset feature however will always remain functional, no matter if you are going to purchase a license or not. This makes sure you cannot be locked out from certain settings after the evaluation has ended.

Note that it is not possible to differentiate which system settings have been changed by TinkerTool System and which have been changed by other third-party applications or by using the macOS command-line. For this reason, TinkerTool System must reset all system settings it could have changed theoretically to factory defaults, even if you didn’t use it, but something else to make the initial changes. Disabling support for IPv6 is excluded from this rule, because you have full control over this setting in System Settings after TinkerTool System has switched the respective option to off.

Searching for Software Updates

TinkerTool System is under continuous development and new versions will be published in irregular time intervals. These updates are usually free unless a completely redesigned product will be released. The latest version is always available for download via the official web site. TinkerTool System can check if a new free update is available for the version you are currently using. To do this, select the menu item TinkerTool System > Check for Updates. The program will connect to the Internet and inform you about the results. In case a newer version is indeed available, you can choose to open your web browser to be automatically guided to the download page. Instead of performing a manual check by clicking the menu item, you can alternatively enable a preference setting (see above) to let the application perform automatic checks in regular intervals.

The program does not support any auto-download mechanisms because such features usually do not work and should not work in professional environments where all applications are stored on protected file servers. Automatic replacement of software products might neither comply with security regulations of large organizations, nor with the laws of certain jurisdictions.

System Integrity Protection

Technical Background

The operating system is protected by a security feature called System Integrity Protection. At the technical level, this is also known as Customer System Restriction (CSR). For marketing purposes, Apple also uses the term rootless.

System Integrity Protection means that only specific programs of the operating system itself, for example the Apple Installer, have permission to modify certain files of the operating system or to use certain features. Not even the highest system authority, the root user account can circumvent this restriction. This policy makes sure the system cannot be damaged, or intentionally manipulated by an attacker. Access to the following resources is restricted by System Integrity Protection:

Some features of TinkerTool System can be affected by System Integrity Protection. For example, when you disable the preference setting Allow critical operations which could destroy macOS and you try to use the function Files > Force Delete to remove a file which has the attribute restricted set, the delete operation will be prevented by macOS. In such cases, TinkerTool System will show an error message as follows:

“Your computer is configured not to permit this operation. The current task cannot be completed because System Integrity Protection is active on this computer. It might be possible to deactivate this feature by changing a hardware setting via the recovery operating system. Please see the reference manual for more information.”

System Integrity Protection can be switched off if the owner of a computer prefers to do so. To be effective, System Integrity Protection has to protect itself, however. This means switching this feature off is not possible within the running operating system. In addition, the setting is not stored in any file, but in the system hardware. In case you have installed multiple copies of macOS on your computer, the setting will take effect for all of them.

Disabling Protection

If you need to disable System Integrity Protection for some reason, you can do so as mentioned in the previous section. Perform the following steps:

The steps are slightly different depending on the processor type of your Mac. If you are not sure whether you are using an Intel processor or Apple Silicon, you will find that information on the sub-item Mac of the Info pane of TinkerTool System.

  1. If you are using a Mac with an Intel processor: Restart (or switch on) your computer and hold down ⌘ + R to select the Recovery System. You can release the keys when the Apple logo appears. If you are using a Mac with Apple Silicon: Make sure your Mac has a connection to the Internet. Switch the computer on by using the power button and hold this button until you see a screen with startup options. Select the item Options, which contains a gear icon, then click Continue.
  2. Depending on the security features active on your Mac, the window Recovery Assistant may appear. If it does, follow its instructions to log in as administrative user.
  3. Wait until the screen macOS Utilities appears, then select the menu item Utilities > Terminal to launch the Terminal application.
  4. Enter the following command in Terminal to disable System Integrity Protection for the entire computer. Press the return key afterwards:
csrutil disable

We don’t recommended to disable this feature.

The change will take effect after you have restarted the computer. You can restart the system via the corresponding menu item in the Apple menu.

To re-enable System Integrity Protection later, you can use the same steps with the command

csrutil clear

Privacy Policy Settings of your Mac

Background Information

As of version 10.14 of the operating system, Apple has added another level of system protection: Nearly all applications are now running in a sandboxed environment, which means that each and every request an application sends to the operating system is monitored and checked before it will be executed. Not only Apps from the Mac App Store, but all other software as well, including some of Apple’s own applications, are no longer free in executing any command that would otherwise be authorized by user permissions. Access to data that could affect system security or a user’s privacy needs explicit approval by an administrator of the Mac first. This approval is granted per program. For example, the administrator could say “program A has permission to access a user’s Photos database”. Such a privacy definition will then become valid for the entire computer and any user account, for all copies of program A. If program A is running while its privacy settings are changed, the program must be restarted before the new policy takes effect.

The settings for privacy policy are a powerful tool to prevent applications from accessing critical data behind the user’s back, no matter whether intentionally or unintentionally. This is especially true for unwanted applications such as adware, computer viruses, Trojan Horses, or other types of malware. However, this additional protection comes with additional work for administrators. After new software has been installed, it should be checked whether the application needs access to protected parts of the Mac in order to fulfill its duties. If the necessary approval is not granted, the affected application cannot execute specific operations. Such operations may either silently fail, or they are stopped with an error message. The necessary approval must be given by an administrator and the application must be restarted.

Privacy Settings affecting TinkerTool System

As the name indicates, TinkerTool System is a an application designed to perform system-related tasks. Some of the areas that can be accessed by TinkerTool System are critical to the users’ privacy, e.g. the application is capable of determining the size of the Spotlight index database. The Spotlight index contains information about all files of all users, and parts of this data may be related to persons, or could be confidential, so it is protected by macOS. Without prior approval, TinkerTool System cannot “see” the Spotlight index or its size at all.

TinkerTool System uses special precautions to check whether a certain operation could be blocked by macOS due to privacy settings before that operation is about to be executed. This way, “silent failures” should be avoided. TinkerTool System won’t erroneously pretend that an operation was apparently successful although that operation might have been completely blocked by macOS and actually nothing happened at all. In such cases, TinkerTool System shows specific error messages with detailed information which approval needs to be granted before the affected feature can be used.

A special warning marker with a red shield will appear in the title bar of the control window when TinkerTool System detects that basic features of the application won’t work as expected due to the current privacy settings. If you click on this marker, TinkerTool System will show in detail which areas are affected:

If you see the red shield button in the title bar or any of the detail items have a red warning indicator, you should change the privacy settings of macOS using the instructions given in the next section. You can still operate TinkerTool System without doing this, but then some features could fail with an error message.

Changing the privacy settings

In order to use all features of TinkerTool System, the following privacy approvals must be granted:

macOS will automatically ask for your approval for automation when you are attempting to use the feature Test Finder Copy for the first time. If you like to approve full disk access for TinkerTool System, perform the following steps:

  1. Launch System Settings.
  2. Open the pane Privacy & Security.
  3. Select the item Full Disk Access.
  4. Check if an entry for TinkerTool System is in the table. If yes, set a check mark next to it. If no, click the button + below the list of apps and add TinkerTool System to the table.
  5. Relaunch TinkerTool System.