Safely rename 'reserved' system folders

Mac OS X is a fairly flexible system, at least in some areas. In others, though, getting OS X to change its behavior is nearly impossible. Consider the “system-level” folders such as Applications, Library, and Users, for example. While you can try to rename them in the Finder, OS X will gently let you know that you don’t have the rights to make that change. Sure, you can use the Terminal and force a rename, but that’s just inviting disaster—many programs are hard-coded to look for folders with specific names, and will break badly if you rename those folders.

A similar issue exists with the folders within your user’s folder. While you can freely rename these folders in the Finder, you may get unexpected results from certain programs if you do so. So does that mean you’re stuck with the Apple-provided folder names forever? Nope; it just means you need to work with some of OS X’s behind-the-scenes abilities to get the job done. You won’t be able to see your new names from within an application (Open and Save dialogs, for instance, will show the folders’ original names, as will the Terminal), but in the Finder, your new names will be displayed in all their glory, as seen in this movie.

See how Desktop became The Floor and Music changed into Tunez? Also notice that I didn’t rename the Library folder; you can change as many or as few names as you wish. The best part about this solution is that it’s 100% transparent to applications, so they’ll all continue to work, regardless of how creative you get with your folder names. Here’s how to create your own set of customized folder names.

Customizing Restricted Folder Names

In the Finder, open the top-level System folder, then navigate into the following sub-folders: Library: CoreServices: SystemFolderLocalizations: en.lproj (or the folder for your chosen language). This folder contains the file that stores certain system folders’ names. Leave this window open when you get there, as we’ll use it a bit later.

Inside the en.lproj folder, you’ll find a file called SystemFolderLocalizations.strings. Drag this file to your Desktop; since it’s a system-owned file, you’ll automatically create a copy of the file. Now select the copy on your Desktop and hit Command-D (File: Duplicate) to create another copy. Move this copy to a safe location; it’s your backup of the original unedited file.

Now drag and drop the SystemFolderLocalizations.strings file from your Desktop onto TextEdit. If you have the Developer Tools installed, you can double-click the file, and Xcode will open. In either case, you’ll soon see the file on your screen; the first part should look like this (depending on which version of OS X you’re using, the actual content may vary a little):

/* Top-level folders */
"System" = "System";
"Applications" = "Applications";
"Library" = "Library";
"Users" = "Users";
"Shared" = "Shared";
"Network" = "Network";
...

What you’re actually seeing is a table of translations. Behind the scenes, Mac OS X maintains a list of the original names of certain folders (on the left side of the equals sign in each row), along with the names you actually see in the Finder (on the right side). To rename any given folder, then, all you do is type a new name on the right-hand-side of the entry for the desired folder. To rename folder’s within your user’s folder, look for the /* Folders in user homes section. As an example, here’s the section of the code I used to create the above modifications:

/* Folders in user homes */

"Desktop" = "The Floor";
"Documents" = "RobG Docs";
"Movies" = "Flix";
"Music" = "Tunez";
"Pictures" = "Pix";
"Public" = "Open2All";
...

Again, the name on the left side of each pairing is the actual name of the folder, while the name on the right is my new “translation” of that name. Do not change any entries on the left side of a row—bad things will probably happen if you do! You can also add a row for a folder whose name doesn’t appear in the list. For instance, the Library folder isn’t in my SystemFolderLocalizations.strings file. But if I create a new row for it, using the existing rows as a template, I can then rename the Library folder, too:

"Library" = "Rob's Lib";

Once you’ve made all your edits, save the file, quit the editor, and switch back to the Finder. Before doing anything else, make sure your backup copy is there, just in case you want to easily undo these edits. Now drag and drop your edited file back into its original en.lproj folder, which you should have left open from the first step of this process. OS X will tell you that The item “SystemFolderLocalizations.strings” could no be moved because “en.lproj” cannot be modified. In the dialog box, though, is an Authenticate button. Click it, and then you’ll see the usual an older item exists, replace it? warning. Click Replace, and then you’ll be prompted for your Admin password. Provide it, and your modified file will replace the stock one (you did check your backup first, right?).

To use the modified file, you need to restart the Finder. The easiest (though least ‘clean’) way to do this is to hold down the Option key, then click and hold on the Finder’s Dock icon and pick Relaunch from the pop-up menu. The best way (though most time consuming) is to simply logout and login again. Once the Finder’s been restarted, you’ll see your customized names in use.

To get the original names back, find your backup and remove “copy” from its name—i.e. make sure its name is identical to the master file. Then follow the above instructions to replace your modified file, and your back to normal.

About File Permissions

Modifying this file in the way we have done so will modify its ownership and permissions. I’ve never had any issues with this at all, but if you’d like to return the file’s original permissions, here’s what you’ll need to do (Repair Permissions in Disk Utility will not fix this one). Select your modified file within the en.lproj folder, and hit Command-I (File: Get Info). Click the triangle in the Ownership & Permissions section of the dialog that appears, then click the small lock icon next to Owner and provide your password when prompted. Change the Owner and Group sections as necessary until they look like this:

image

Click the lock icon again, and close the Get Info window, and you’re done.

Conclusion

Sure, it’d be nice to be able to really rename some of these folders, so that you can use their new names in the Terminal and other applications. But doing so has historically been risky business with OS X. By using OS X’s translation features, you can safely rename your folders, at least as far as their appearance in the Finder is concerned.

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