What is a Plist File?

Document icon image for the plist file type.

The Property List (plist) file is a data format used to store configuration settings and other types of structured data in macOS, iOS, and other Apple operating systems. The history of the plist file can be traced back to the NeXTSTEP operating system, which was developed by NeXT Computer, Inc. in the late 1980s.

The NeXTSTEP operating system used a file format called NeXT Property List, which was similar in structure to the current plist format. NeXT Property List was used to store system preferences and other configuration data in a hierarchical format. When Apple acquired NeXT Computer in 1997, they inherited the NeXTSTEP operating system and its associated file formats.

In 2001, Apple released Mac OS X, which was based on the NeXTSTEP operating system. The plist file format was included in Mac OS X. Plist files are stored in either XML or binary format. Each format has its own advantages. While the XML version of a plist can be edited using a simple text editor, the binary format is more efficient for storing large amounts of data.

Today, plist files are used extensively throughout Apple’s operating systems to store a wide range of configuration data, from system preferences to application settings. They are also used by developers to store application-specific preferences and other data.

Are you a developer looking to improve your productivity with plists?

Plist Converter is an app for macOS that can batch convert plist files to and from the XML and Binary formats. Plist Converter can also convert property list files to Swift and Objective-C source code. Learn more about the Plist Converter app here.