In OS X, hidden files (those starting with a period like .profile or
.bashrc) can be a challenge to edit because they are, well, hidden and
don’t show up in Finder windows. While there are tricks to make hidden
files visible in Finder windows, I prefer to keep my hidden files
hidden. I also prefer to edit them using vi, but I know that many folks
are likely to think ’six’ instead of ‘editor’ when presented with vi.
What follows is a simple way to edit a hidden file using TextEdit
without making any changes to the system.
When confronted with the task of editing your .profile file, there are
several options. For the seasoned veteran, editing this file is simply a
matter of dropping to a shell, editing in vi, and :wq’ing. There is
the pico editor which, for a command line editor, is a little friendlier
than vi. For the majority of users, editing a text file is warmer and
fuzzier using a GUI text editor like TextEdit.
The problem is that files starting with a period are hidden from
listings in the Finder windows, so trying to find a hidden file to open
using TextEdit will not get you very far. While many third party
editors provide options for opening hidden files, if you don’t have one
installed, you can easily open these hidden files using TextEdit which
is a part of OS X.
To open your .profile file, for example, start the Terminal
application (searching for ‘terminal’ using Spotlight and clicking on
the Terminal application is an easy way to do this). Since Terminal
will put you in your home directory by default and .profile is in your
home directory, you can edit .profile simply by typing:
If the file you want to edit is in another directory, you’ll need to
cd into that directory first or specify the full path name in front of
The open command used above uses the same mechanism to open a file
using a default application that the Finder does when clicking on a
file. If for some reason the default application for the file you are
trying to edit has changed to something that doesn’t work for editing,
you can force open to use TextEdit by adding the -a option:
open -a TextEdit .profile
Make your changes to the file and save it and you’re done. One
compulsory note of caution: hidden files are often hidden for a reason.
They tend to hold configuration information that, if incorrectly
changed, could cause one or more applications to misbehave. Tread
lightly and make backups before changing.