defaults (software)

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defaults is a command line utility that manipulates plist files. Introduced in 1998 OPENSTEP, defaults is found in the system's descendants macOS and GNUstep.[1][2]

The name "defaults" derives from OpenStep's name for user preferences, Defaults, or NSUserDefaults in Foundation Kit. Each application had its own defaults plist ("domain"), under ~/Defaults for the user configuration and /Defaults for the system configuration. The lookup system also supports a NSGlobalDomain.plist, where defaults written there will be seen by all applications.[2][3] In macOS, the Defaults part of the path is replaced by the more intuitive Library/Preferences. defaults accesses the plists based on the domain given.[2]

defaults is also able to read and write any plist specified with a path,[1] although Apple plans to phase out this utility in a future version.[2][4]


Common uses of defaults:

$ defaults read DOMAIN # gets all
$ defaults read DOMAIN PROPERTY_NAME # gets
$ defaults write DOMAIN PROPERTY_NAME VALUE # sets
$ defaults delete DOMAIN PROPERTY_NAME # resets a property
$ defaults delete DOMAIN # resets preferences

DOMAIN should be replaced by the plist file name sans extension ('.plist'). plist files are named with reverse domain name notation. For example:

$ defaults read # prints all iTunes preference values

plist files store keys and values. The PROPERTY_NAME key is the name of the property to modify. For example, to remove the search field from Safari's address bar:

$ defaults write AddressBarIncludesGoogle 0
$ # or
$ defaults write AddressBarIncludesGoogle -bool NO # case-sensitive!

Using "1", "YES", or "TRUE" instead restores this to the default of including search.

Preferences can at times corrupt applications. To reset Address Book's preferences, either the file ~/Library/Preferences/ must be removed or the following command issued:

$ defaults delete

Compound values[edit]

defaults prints values in the OpenStep format. It allows the VALUE to be arrays and dicts, as long as they conform to old-style plist syntax.[5]


Some example settings configurable with defaults under macOS:

Globally-available defaults (works in NSGlobalDomain or application settings)
Key OSX Version Legal Values Default Value
AppleAquaColorVariant 10.8 1, 6 1
AppleHighlightColor 10.8 RGB, 3 floats range 0-1.0 "0.780400 0.815700 0.858800"
AppleShowScrollBars[6] 10.8 Automatic, WhenScrolling, Always Automatic
NSQuitAlwaysKeepsWindows[7] 10.8 bool false
NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled[8] 10.8 bool true
NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode[9] 10.8 bool false
NSWindowResizeTime[8] 10.8 float:time in seconds .2
CGFontDefaultAllowsFontSmoothing[10] 10.14? boolean

SS64 documents a set of other keys that can be changed for each software (not the global domain) in macOS.[11] Other sites also document settings to be changed using defaults.[12] Apple does not publish a complete list of these "secret knobs", but their support site does occasionally provide defaults commands for user to change a certain setting, such as the creation of .DS_Store.[13]

GNUstep documents its defaults more clearly, so that there is no such thing as a "hidden settings" community like there is for macOS.[3]


  1. ^ a b defaults(1) – Linux General Commands Manual
  2. ^ a b c d defaults(1) – Darwin and macOS General Commands Manual
  3. ^ a b "User Defaults Summary for GNUstep Libraries".
  4. ^ "Unofficial macOS defaults man page".
  5. ^ "macos - modifying a Plist from command line on Mac using Defaults". Stack Overflow.
  6. ^ grg (26 August 2013). "macos - Enabling Scroll Bars In Mountain Lion?". Ask Different.
  7. ^ "Disable 'Resume' system-wide". 26 September 2012.
  8. ^ a b "10 terminal commands to speed up macOS High Sierra on your Mac". 11 November 2017.
  9. ^ Bynens, Mathias. "mathiasbynens/dotfiles: .macos". GitHub. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  10. ^ "Issue 858861: No subpixel antialiasing under macOS Mojave".
  11. ^ "System preference settings for macOS - macOS -".
  12. ^ "Top 11 Terminal Command Tricks for Mac That You Should Know". Guiding Tech.
  13. ^ "Adjust SMB browsing behavior in macOS High Sierra 10.13 and later". Apple Support. Retrieved 5 January 2020. (type into a search engine to find more: "defaults write")