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Table 4-1. Valid XML Types for a Property List
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<array> <dict> <string> <data>
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Cocoa Class
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NSArray Container for other classes NSDictionary Container for other classes. NSString Stores string data. NSData Stores arbitrary data. This data is base-64 encoded once written to the .plist file. NSDate For storing date values. NSNumber (intValue) Class to store integer values. NSNumber (floatValue) Class for floating point values. NSNumber (boolValue == YES or boolValue == NO) The <true/ > and <false /> elements are interpreted as Boolean values.
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<date> <integer> <real> <true/> or <false/>
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NOTE: NSDictionary is the perfect partner for .plist files. If you need to access .plist files programmatically, make your best effort to use a language that can use Cocoa---namely, Objective-C, Python, or Ruby. To get the contents of a .plist file into an NSDictionary, use the dictionaryWithContentsOfFile: or dictionaryWithContentsOfURL: methods. To write an NSDictionary as a .plist file, use the writeToFile:atomically: method. See the Resources section at the end of this chapter for links to further documentation. In Apple s Cocoa framework, the corresponding classes are NSString, NSDate, NSData, NSNumber, NSArray, and NSDictionary itself. These classes map directly to the valuetypes in a .plist file. In short, it s no mistake that Mac OS X developers store data in .plist files. There happens to be one other reason, too.
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CHAPTER 4: Property List Files
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Mac OS X developers have another useful routine in their toolbox: the user defaults system. Anytime a well-behaved Mac OS X program wants to save its preferences, it uses the user defaults system. As it turns out, the user defaults system is optimized for----and will work only with----values that can be stored in .plist files. (See where we re going with this ) These preferences are stored in well-defined places: Preferences for just one user are stored in that user s home directory in Library/Preferences. An example of this would be iTunes preferences. Each person on a single system will have a different iTunes setup: window position, artwork hidden or displayed, and so on. This is stored as ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.iTunes.plist. Inside the user s Library/Preferences folder is another folder named ByHost. Inside it are per-user preferences that apply only to a specific machine. The intent of these ByHost preferences is for users who have network or portable home directories, and who also use multiple machines, to be able to have unique preferences for each machine they use. An example is the com.apple.preference.displays set of preferences (or preference domain)----if you had a network home directory, and sometimes logged into a machine that had two 19-inch displays connected to it, and sometimes logged into a machine that had a single 30-inch display connected, it s far more useful to be able to keep your display preferences separate for each machine. These ByHost preferences are named in the format com.apple.preference.displays.XXXXXXXXX.plist, where XXXXXXXXX is a unique identifier for each machine.
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NOTE: Apple has used two different methods to generate the unique machine identifier for ByHost preference names. The older style used the machine s Media Access Control (MAC) address. This was silently switched to use the machine s Universally Unique Identifier (UUID) to support the new MacBook Air which didn't have a built-in Ethernet port. Changing the AirPort card on these machines would also change the en0 MAC address, even if the motherboard was untouched. The current machine UUID is stored in the I/O Registry and can be retrieved using System Profiler, or the ioreg command: ioreg -rd1 -c IOPlatformExpertDevice | grep IOPlatformUUID This perhaps should make the point clear: the best method of managing these preferences is with Managed Preferences!
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CHAPTER 4: Property List Files
Preferences for everyone on the machine are stored in /Library/Preferences (note the leading slash character, denoting that this Library folder is at the root of the drive). An example of a preference that is used system-wide is the Login Window. The way the Login Window is configured affects everyone on the system. Since it is typically displayed even before any single user logs in, its preferences can t be tied to any one user. Login Window preferences are stored as /Library/Preferences/com.apple.loginwindow.plist. Network-based preferences can be implemented by storing property lists in /Network/Library/Preferences. This works only for computers that are bound to a central directory service. It s not often used and has largely been supplanted by Managed Preferences. This location is merely mentioned for completeness.
You may notice that each of the example file names uses a similar naming scheme. This is called reverse DNS naming. This helps identify where a preference file originated. Both the company URL and specific program name are part of the file name. It s not just Apple that follows this convention. For example, you may also find on your system com.microsoft.Word.plist, com.vmware.fusion.plist, and com.omnigroup.OmniFocus.plist. NOTE: The convention of using reverse DNS naming is just that--- convention. It is not -a enforced by the operating system on any level. Less informed developers have been known to shirk this unwritten rule and store their preferences in a file with a name that is obviously not like the others. Admin beware. All of that said, .plist files are not restricted to the defaults system. Even Apple makes use of them outside of the paths listed previously for all sorts of data storage needs. For example, the bulk of the local directory is implemented via .plist files. (Take a peek in /var/db/dslocal/nodes/Default/Users----you ll need to be root to do so.) Another example is Apple s own launchd daemon. It is fed information about which jobs to run and when by .plist files. (Again, go peek in /System/Library/LaunchAgents and look at the types of files in there.) Now that you ve heard so much about property lists and their virtues, let s dive into the format itself.
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