Damaged Preference Files - How To
David Anders,The Computer Guy, a freelance systems engineer in Seattle, WA.
Resolves computer problems, assists with production issues, designs and installs networks.

The Basics

. Most applications and system components have a Preference File stored in System Folder: Preferences. This is the file that contains information on the custom settings available in the program or Control Panel.

. Because they are written to, or changed more often, the Preference Files have a higher incidence of corruption than most files. The damage, although crash-generating, can be subtle and difficult to diagnose.

The Rules

. Almost all Preference Files will be recreated to the original default. This means that the entire Preferences Folder can be removed from the System Folder to diagnose a possible problem. The Preferences Folder will be recreated and most System components and programs will recreate the preferences as needed.

. Some older programs will not startup without a Preference File that is created at installation time.


. Corrupt System Preference Files can cause random or repeatable errors, bombs or freezes.

. Corrupt Application Preference Files can cause random OR repeatable errors, bombs or freezes within the affected application or system-wide.

Common Problem Preferences

. Finder preferences, Apple Menu Options preferences, LaserWriter 8 prefs, Appleshare Prep, File Sharing Folder, Users and Groups, and PC Exchange prefs.

Finding the Damaged File

. Disinfectant v3.71 (ftp://ftp.acns.nwu.edu/pub/disinfectant/ &endash; or online services) (free) is a virus protection utility that might find damaged Preference Files. NOTE: Disinfectant is no longer being updated.

. Other virus utilities may find the damaged file.

  • . Disk First Aid v8.2 and later can sometimes repair problems that affect files.
  • . Norton Disk Doctor v4.1 (www.symantec.com) ($79.95) occasionally will find damaged Preference Files.
  • . Conflict Catcher v8.03 (Casady & Greene) ($49.95) has a routine to test System Components and preferences.
  • . TechTool v1.18 (www.micromat.com) (free) checks System Components, but not preference files.
  • . TechTool Pro v2.11 (www.micromat.com) ($149.95) may be able to find damage.
  • . MacMedic and Help! from Total Recall (www.recallusa.com) ($149.95) can find damaged files.

When it's not a damaged Preference File

  • . Allocate more memory to the problem application.
  • . Allocate more memory to your System, using Conflict Catcher or one of the freeware/shareware utilities.
  • . Look for an extensions conflict.
  • . Replace the System File with a clean copy. NOTE: if any of the applications, utilities or hardware drivers you have installed (since the last clean system install ) made changes or additions to the System File, you will need to reinstall them.
  • . Replace the Finder with a clean copy. Delete the Finder Preferences to be safe.

Additional NOTES

. Having a stuffed (using Stuffit Deluxe) copy of your System Folder, or just specific components like the . Preferences Folder on your harddrive, makes the task of replacement easy. Just unstuff the System Folder or the Preferences Folder copy, move the current version into a different folder and place the unstuffed copies into the System Folder. Restart the computer.

. If you change the defaults of a program, once you get the preferences set, make a backup copy of that preference file. Replacing a damaged file will not require setting up the program to your liking over again.

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