What Is a PLIST File? – How-To Geek

A PLIST file (pronounced “plist”) is a file format used primarily on Apple’s macOS and iOS platforms to store configuration and preference settings for applications and the operating system. The term “PLIST” stands for “Property List,” which reflects the file’s purpose of organizing data in a structured format using key-value pairs.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of PLIST files and their usage:

1. Property List Format:

  • PLIST files are written in a specific XML or binary format that represents data as key-value pairs. Each key corresponds to a property or setting, and its associated value stores the data for that property.

2. Configuration and Preference Storage:

  • PLIST files are commonly used to store configuration and preference settings for macOS applications. When you change settings within an application, the changes are often saved to a PLIST file associated with that app.
  • For example, settings related to window size, theme, language, or user-specific preferences can be stored in a PLIST file.

3. System-Level PLIST Files:

  • macOS also uses PLIST files at the system level to manage various system-wide preferences and configurations. These files contain settings that affect how the operating system and its built-in services function.

4. User-Level PLIST Files:

  • Each user account on macOS has its own set of user-level PLIST files. These files store preferences specific to that user, such as application settings, custom keyboard shortcuts, and recently used items.

5. Human-Readable and Editable:

  • PLIST files, particularly those in XML format, are human-readable and editable using a text editor. This makes it possible for users and developers to view and modify settings directly if needed.

6. Binary PLIST Format:

  • In addition to the XML-based PLIST format, macOS and iOS also use a more compact binary format for PLIST files. Binary PLIST files are not human-readable but are more efficient in terms of storage and parsing.

7. .plist File Extension:

  • PLIST files typically have the .plist file extension, making them easily identifiable. For example, an application’s preferences might be stored in a file named “com.example.app.plist.”

PLIST files play a crucial role in macOS and iOS for managing application and system settings, ensuring that user preferences are preserved across sessions, and maintaining consistent behavior across different instances of an application. They are a part of the broader macOS property list architecture, which provides a convenient and organized way to store and access configuration data for various aspects of the operating system and its applications.

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