How-To

Access your Mac’s secret system settings, with TinkerTool


Did you know that macOS has some secret system settings, that you won’t find anywhere in the “System Preferences” app?

By default, you can only access these settings by using the Terminal application to manually edit macOS’ system-level preference files, which can be a hugely time-consuming, frustrating and potentially error-prone process.

TinkerTool is a free application that lets you access and edit these secret settings, via a straightforward interface of dropdown menus and checkboxes.

In this article, I’ll show you how to setup TinkerTool, and then use it access a range of secret macOS settings, including a way to boost your Mac’s performance, uncover hidden files, and even protect a shared Mac from unwanted changes.


Before you begin

While TinkerTool is typically easy-to-use and error-free, there’s always a chance you may encounter strange behaviour or unexpected side effects when using apps that make changes to system-level files, such as TinkerTool.

While I’ve always been able to quickly and easily roll back any changes I’ve made with TinkerTool, you may want to consider creating a full Time Machine backup, before you start using this app.

Setting up TinkerTool

To get started with TinkerTool:

  • Head over to the TinkerTool website and download the correct version of TinkerTool for your operating system. Note that Apple tend to make changes to their system preferences with every release of macOS, so you must use the correct version of TinkerTool for your version of macOS. If you’re unsure what version you’re running, select the “Apple’ logo from your Mac’s menu bar, and then select “About This Mac.”
  • Once the file has downloaded, launch it and follow the onscreen instructions to install.
  • Read the warning, and if you’re happy to proceed then click “Understood.” This launches the main TinkerTool interface.

Now that you’ve got TinkerTool setup, let’s look at a few of the changes you can make! Note that the available options may vary, depending on your version of macOS.

Uncover hidden system files and applications

To help prevent users from accidentally editing or even deleting important files and data, macOS hides some items by default. While you typically won’t need to access these hidden files, folders and apps on a day-to-day basis, there are some scenarios where you may require access, for example maybe you’re troubleshooting problems with macOS, or performing certain maintenance tasks.

You can use TinkerTool to uncover all of these hidden items, across your Mac:

  • Select TinkerTool’s “Finder” tab.
  • Select the “Show hidden and system files” checkbox.

To restore these files, folders and apps to a hidden state, repeat the above steps, but this time deselect the “Show hidden….” checkbox.

Stop your Mac from creating .DS_Store files over a network connection

Every time you view a folder, macOS creates a .DS_Store file that contains metadata about that folder’s contents. Most of the time, these .DS_Store files won’t be an issue, as they’re hidden by default and contain information that’s only useful to macOS. However, these folders can quickly become a problem when you’re sharing a network with others – specifically, anyone who isn’t a fellow Mac user!

Every time you access a shared directory, macOS will generate one or more .DS_Store files. These files will be invisible to you, but they’ll be visible to anyone who isn’t using macOS, for example a colleague or family member who’s accessing the shared folder on their Linux or Windows PC.

Even if you delete these .DS_Store files manually, macOS will create a replacement file each time you return to the shared directory, potentially confusing and frustrating the other people on your network.

If you’re sharing your network with people on other operating systems, then you can use TinkerTool to ensure macOS never generates .DS_Store files on your shared network:

  • In TinkerTool, select the “Finder” tab.
  • Select “Don’t create hidden .DS_Store files over a network connection.”
  • To apply your changes, select “Relaunch Finder.”

Just be aware that while this option is enabled, you won’t be able to post any comments or assign any labels within your shared network folders.

Share your Mac with others? Hide important system settings

Although TinkerTool can grant you access to hidden system features, you can also use it to restrict access to various features.

If you share your Mac with children or less tech-savvy adults, then you can use TinkerTool to hide settings that would normally appear in the Finder, and allow others to change your Mac’s setup.

In TinkerTool, select the “Finder” tab. This contains a “Restricted Finder” section, where you can disable or even completely remove the following options:

  • Connect to server. You should hide this setting if you have a server that you want to keep private. Disabling the “Connect to server” option can also be useful if you share your Mac with someone who you suspect might go poking around in your server settings, and potentially break something by accident.
  • Preferences. You can customize the Finder via its “Preferences” setting. Although most of these customisations are visual tweaks that are easy to revert, if you’re fed up of logging into your Mac only to discover that someone has changed the Finder layout yet again, then you may benefit from hiding the “Preferences” setting!
  • Go to Folder. Certain parts of your Mac are more difficult to access than others, such as the “Library” folder which is buried in an obscure corner of the file system. If Apple chose to bury an item deep in the operating system, then it’s usually because editing or deleting that item would have serious negative consequences for your Mac, for example it might result in data loss, or cause one or more applications to stop working. If you share your laptop with others, then removing the “Go to Folder” option will make it more difficult for these people to access buried, and potentially sensitive areas of your file system.
  • Empty Trash. Every time you delete an item, it gets sent to your Mac’s Trash, so you still have the chance to change your mind and recover that item before it’s permanently deleted. If you share your Mac with children or less tech-savvy adults, then you can make it more difficult for these people to permanently delete important files and folders, by disabling the “Empty Trash” option.

Customise the Dock: Adding Spacer tiles

By default, your Mac’s Dock is permanently onscreen, so it’s important that it looks good, and provides easy access to all of your most frequently-used files, folders and applications.

If your Dock is starting to look cluttered but you’d prefer not to delete any icons, then you can add one or more “spacer” tiles to help give your icons some breathing room. These spacer tiles can also be useful for organising related icons into groups.

To add a spacer tile:

  • Select TinkerTool’s “Dock” tab.
  • Find the “Insert spacer after Dock tile” section and open its accompanying dropdown; this displays a list of all the applications currently in your Dock.
  • Select the icon that should precede your spacer tile.

  • Click the “Insert” button.

The Dock will relaunch automatically, and once it restarts a new spacer tile should have been added to your Dock. To add multiple spacer tiles, simply repeat the above steps.

You can move this spacer tile to a new location in the Dock, using drag and drop. If you want to remove the spacer tile, then drag it onto the Desktop and drop it, in exactly the same way you delete a regular Dock icon.

You can also lock the Dock, so it’s impossible to customize. This can be useful if you share your Mac with others, or if you’re sick of editing the Dock by accident, for example if you keep dropping apps onto the Dock unintentionally.

To lock the Dock:

  • Select TinkerTool’s “Dock” tab.
  • Select one, or both of the following options: “Don’t allow to change size manually,” and/or “Don’t allow to modify content.

Give your Mac a performance boost: Disabling animations

There’s plenty of advice out there on how to give your Mac a speed boost – from deleting unnecessary apps, to taking stock of the programs that are set to launch at login, or even purchasing additional memory. However, macOS is packed with animations, which may make for a more slick and sophisticated experience, but also put your Mac’s processor under increased pressure.

If your Mac is already struggling under the weight of everything you’re asking it to do, then disabling these nice-to-have-but-not-essential animations can result in a noticeable speed boost.

You can use TinkerTool to disable the following animations:

  • Finder animations. Select the “General” tab and then disable the following: “Animation opening info panels and Desktop icons,” and “Animation selecting info panel categories.”
  • Dock animations. Select the “Dock” tab and deselect “Disable animation when hiding or showing Dock.”
  • Launchpad animations. Select the “Launchpad” tab and select one, some or all of the following: “Disable fade-in effect when opening,” “Disable fade-out effect when closing,” and/or “Disable animation when switching between pages.”
  • Rubberband scrolling. When you scroll past a window’s scrollable region, the rubberband effect may kick in and snap you back into the scrollable region. To remove this overscrolling animation, select the “General” tab and then select the “Disable rubber band scrolling” checkbox.

Made a mistake? Restore your Mac’s default settings

If you’ve ever edited system-level files from the Terminal, then you’ll know that the biggest worry is doing something wrong, and having no idea how to fix it!

To help take the stress out of editing these files, TinkerTool provides a dedicated area where you can restore all of macOS’ default settings, with the click of a button:

  • Select TinkerTool’s “Reset” tab.
  • Choose from the following options: “Reset to pre-TinkerTool state,” or “Reset to defaults.”

Just be aware that deleting the TinkerTool application will not remove your changes. If you want to pretend that TinkerTool never happened, then you’ll need to launch it one last time and remove your changes via the “Reset” menu, before uninstalling TinkerTool.

About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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