The Secrets of the User Template Folder and Firefox

Managed Preferences Part 3 – Miscellaneous

In my last two posts I discussed the potential uses for managing Mac clients and how to configure them. In this post I’ll go over two related points that may be a little advanced for some support staff but are handy to know.

The User Template folder

Have you ever wondered how Mac OS X knows what folders to give a newly created user account?

Well, it cheats!

There’s a restricted access folder located in /System/Library called User Template. This folder contains a set of the standard home folder folders and files, including a large number of plist files in their default settings. This little bit of information provides a great wealth of options to an IT department. Anything you add into here will be added to every user folder for every new user.

For example, if there is a company wide information document that must be made available to every new employee, why not add it to the Desktop folder in the template before taking a master image for deployment?

Or how about a license code? These are normally in the form of a plist file that can be added to the template folder rather then being pushed out, as 9 times out of 10 it will never change again?

Or how about those preferences stored in ~/Library/Application Support? Those annoying ones you can’t push out? Set them up; add them to the correct place in the template folder and job done!

This folder is a useful piece of knowledge for any Mac department that users a centralised deployment mechanism but I’m sorry to say it won’t solve everything! Any changes will only apply to new users, not those who already have user folders on the Macs. Additionally, to update the contents of the user folder, you will have to either create and deploy a new master image, or deploy the update to each Mac individually. In light of this, I would recommend limiting its use to preferences that will not change, such as application serial numbers.

Non-plist file Applications

You’ve read through both posts in this series (by the way thanks!), you’ve checked every plist location, yet some applications stubbornly will not be managed… I’m looking at you Firefox!

Well there is also a solution around this. Specifically, with Firefox, you can configure settings by editing files within the Application Bundle itself. I won’t give you a comprehensive guide on the subject (unless you ask nicely in the comments!) but if you right-click the Firefox application on your master image, and select Show Package Contents, you can see the hidden secrets behind the application. This includes it’s own ‘User template’ folder of default new user settings as well as application wide (e.g. for all users) settings.

Modification of these files will allow you almost the same level of customisation as MCXs do for Mac OS X generally and using the same Key system.

Conclusion

It’s been two weeks since my last blog post due to work commitments (busy, busy!) but I hope that these posts have made it worth the wait. More importantly, I hope they help with the complicated work of managing Mac clients.

As always, please feel free to ask questions, or make suggestions for future topics in the comments below.

Links

Apple’s Mac OS X Server

Server Admin Tools Download
10.6.8
10.7.3

2 Replies to "The Secrets of the User Template Folder and Firefox"

  • I was wondering if I could have a copy of the firefox prefs. I am trying to get a extension to show up on all of the macs when a user logs in.

  • Hi Michael,

    I’m sorry to say I can’t provide you with the files that you can edit, but if you wish to find the preferences and values you can change, simply launch Firefox, and type “about:config” in the address bar.
    Once you have dismissed the warning message, you will be presented with a long list of preferences and their values with which you can base your settings on.

    I hope that helps!

    Darren

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