Preference settings: where to find them in El Capitan

If you do have problems with getting Preference settings to stick, where do you look for the property list file containing them?

As a general principle:

  • Apple and App Store apps should now be accessed via ~/Library/Containers/[app signature]/Data/Library/Preferences, where [app signature] is something like com.corpname.appname
  • settings which apply to all users, particularly if they apply before a user logs in, are normally in /Library/Preferences
  • settings which apply to an individual user, only after they have logged in, are normally in ~/Library/Preferences (that’s the Library folder in your Home folder)
  • settings files should be named something like com.corpname.appname.plist, but many still aren’t.

If you’re in doubt, open the Preferences (or other) folder in which you suspect the file is stored, and order the files by time and date last changed, the newest at the top. Open the app/pane, make a change in the Preferences or other settings, and the property list should shoot to the top of the Finder window.

Here is a list of well-known preferences files, for OS X El Capitan 10.11.6. Yosemite was slightly different, and earlier versions even more different. No doubt macOS Sierra will be different again.

Activity Monitor preferences ~/Library/Preferences/
Airport preferences /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/
Ambient light sensor /Library/Preferences/
App preference settings ~/Library/Preferences/[app signature].plist
App Store account settings ~/Library/Preferences/
App Store autoupdate settings /Library/Preferences/
App Store settings ~/Library/Preferences/
Apple accounts enabled /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/ and ~/Library/Preferences/
Apple Magic Mouse gestures ~/Library/Preferences/
Apple Magic Trackpad ~/Library/Preferences/
Apple Remote Desktop /Library/Preferences/
Archive Utility ~/Library/Preferences/
Audio MIDI Setup ~/Library/Preferences/
Audio settings /Library/Preferences/Audio/ and /Library/Preferences/Audio/
Automator ~/Library/Preferences/
Bluetooth configuration /Library/Preferences/
Calculator exchange rates, etc. ~/Library/Preferences/
Calendar ~/Library/Preferences/
ColorSync calibrations ~/Library/Preferences/
Contacts ~/Library/Preferences/
Crash Reporter ~/Library/Preferences/
Date & Time menubar clock ~/Library/Preferences/
Date & Time timezone auto setting /Library/Preferences/
Desktop ~/Library/Preferences/
Dock ~/Library/Preferences/
Emoji & Symbols palettes ~/Library/Preferences/ and ~/Library/Preferences/
Energy Saver settings /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/
Find My Mac /Library/Preferences/
Finder ~/Library/Preferences/
Help ~/Library/Preferences/
iBooks ~/Library/Preferences/ and ~/Library/Preferences/
iMessage ~/Library/Preferences/
Infra-red controller /Library/Preferences/
iTunes ~/Library/Preferences/
iTunes, Aperture, iPhoto paths ~/Library/Preferences/
Keyboard settings before login /Library/Preferences/
Keyboard settings after login ~/Library/Preferences/
Login window /Library/Preferences/
Miscellaneous preferences ~/Library/Preferences/
Network extensions /Library/Preferences/
Network interfaces /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/NetworkInterfaces.plist
Network settings /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/preferences.plist
Network Utility ~/Library/Preferences/
Photos ~/Library/Containers/
Power Management /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/
Printers /Library/Preferences/org.cups.printers.plist
Remote Access servers /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/
Safari ~/Library/Preferences/
SMB servers /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/
Software updates /Library/Preferences/ and ~/Library/Preferences/
Spaces ~/Library/Preferences/
Spotlight ~/Library/Preferences/
Text substitutions (Keyboard pane, Text tab) in an SQLite database in ~/Library/Dictionaries/CoreDataUbiquitySupport/ under your UUID; not readily editable or removable
Time Machine backups /Library/Preferences/
Universal Access ~/Library/Preferences/
User dictionary in an SQLite database in ~/Library/Dictionaries/CoreDataUbiquitySupport/ under your UUID; not readily editable or removable
WiFi settings /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/