How to remove application preferences on your Mac

ApplicationIconXMost programs and services you run in OS X will save preferences to disk as a property list (.plist) file in your account’s hidden Library > Preferences folder. Since these files contain settings that are loaded and interacted with as the program is run, if a fault exists either in a specific setting or in the structure of the file itself, then a program may experience hangs, crashes, the inability to save and retrieve settings, or other odd behaviors.

To fix these problems if they crop up, a common recommendation is to remove the program’s associated preference file. These are located in your Library folder, which can be accessed by holding the Option key, clicking the Go menu in the Finder, and then choosing the Library from there. In the folder that opens, you can navigate to the Preferences directory and then locate and remove the property list that corresponds to the program you are using. These plist files are usually named after the developer and application names, so for instance, the preference file for Apple’s TextEdit program is called “com.apple.TextEdit.plist”

Preferences folder in the user library in OS X

The property lists for your applications’ preferences are stored in this folder.

There are several ways to remove these preference files, if needed. The first is to do so manually by dragging them to the trash and emptying the trash. However, if you have the name of the preference file (otherwise known as the application’s “domain”), then you can target this in the Terminal using the “defaults” command to delete the plist’s contents, or the plist itself:

  1. Deleting the contents can be done with the following command:
    defaults delete DOMAIN

    In this command, “DOMAIN” is the name of the preference file without the .plist suffix, such as “com.apple.TextEdit” for Apple’s TextEdit program.

  2. Deleting the plist file itself can be done with the following command:
    sudo rm ~/Library/Preferences/DOMAIN.plist

    In this command, again DOMAIN is the preferences file name; however, you are targeting the file itself so the .plist suffix is required. The use of “sudo” here is optional, but may be needed if a permissions error is preventing you from accessing the plist file.

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