Recovering accidental deletion of system preferences; other utilities

It appears that some users are making it a habit to inadvertently delete some important utility applications on their systems, namely the System Preferences.


It appears that some users are making it a habit to inadvertently delete some important utility applications on their systems, namely the System Preferences.

Apple Discussions poster tdarnick writes:

"I deleted System Preferences. Is there any way to restore it other than reinstalling Mac OS?"

The first thing users should keep in mind is that, although many applications and utilities exist for convenience, some are required for graphical access to system setup. We highly recommend that you do not delete the following applications:

  • Address Book
  • Automator
  • AppleScript (folder)
  • Dashboard
  • Dictionary
  • Expose
  • Font Book
  • Front Row
  • iSync
  • Mail
  • Safari
  • Spaces
  • System Preferences
  • Time Machine
  • Utilities (folder)

These applications and folders of applications serve vital functions for the sustem; configuring the computer and performing basic routines in Mac OS X (ie: dashboard, spaces, and expose) properly will be broken if these applications are removed. The most important of these is the system preferences, but for some reason users may find this application either nonfunctional or missing. There are several reasons why the program isn't working, and luckily if it's missing users can recover it several ways.

Nonfunctional System Preferences

If the System Preferences are not launching, users may have a corrupted system preferences "preference" file. As with any other application, the system preferences stores application-specific settings in a .plist file called that's located in the /username/Library/Preferences/ folder. Removing this file has fixed launch problems for some users. Additionally, users should try booting into Safe Mode (holding shift at startup) and then running a permissions fix on the hard drive using Disk Utility. After this is complete, and when still in Safe Mode, launching System Preferences should refresh some application-specific settings which may be interfering with the program. If the program launches successfully, users can then try when booted normally.

Missing System Preferences

If for some bizarre reason if the System Preferences are not in the Applications folder (or anywhere else on the system), users can recover them.

Time Machine: The first method is to use a Time Machine (or other) backup. If users are running Time Machine, navigate to the Applications folder and invoke Time Machine. Press the up arrow or search for the system preferences and locate the nearest backup instance that contains it. Then select the application and restore it to the Applications folder. For other backup systems, this can be done in the Finder by manually copying the System Preferences to the Applications folder.

Another Mac: If users have access to another Macintosh running the same version of OS X, they can copy the system preferences to their machines from the other Mac.

Pacifist: If users do not have backups or another mac, the system preferences are still available on the OS X installation DVD and can be accessed for installation using the popular "Pacifist" .pkg file reader ( Upon downloading and opening Pacifist, choose the option to open an installation DVD, and then navigate to the following location: Contents of OSInstall.mpkg/Contents of EssentialSystemSoftware/Contents of EssentialSystemSoftwareGroup/Contents of Essentials.pkg/Applications/

With that location open, select "System" and either "Extract To..." or "Install" it. This should have it appear in the Applications folder. While this should allow users to open the system preferences, the version on the Leopard install DVD is version 5.0, and the latest version is 5.2. Therefore if users have access to the internet it is recommended to download the OS X 10.5.6 "combo" updater and extract the "System" file from it, which will ensure the latest version is used. The combo updater is available here:

Optionally users can just reinstall the combo updater, which should update old and missing versions of applications.

NOTE: The aforementioned procedures should also work for other lost applications that come with OS X (disk utility, console, terminal, etc).

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