Mac 911: A potpourri of OS X questions
This week, we answer questions about bookmark sync failure, managing Top Sites in Safari, dysfunction keys, and ransomware.
We’re taking a break from your hundreds of questions about Photos to answer a variety of OS X riddles. As always, please let us know if our answers helped or failed to solve the same or a related problem.
Cloudy with a chance of corruption
John Harrington writes:
Seems if I enable syncing of bookmarks and reading lists in the iCloud preferences in System Preferences that when I quit a session in Safari I get an error dialog stating that the
clouddprocess has crashed. The console log indicates it is an uncaught exception error involving CloudKit.
This sounds like something deep and wrong, but there may be a solution. While I can’t replicate the situation, others have experienced similar crashes for unrelated reasons. Adam Demasi, a developer, dove into why he was having slowdowns with folders in the Finder and found crashes in the system log. He determined the cause was a corrupt local database used to track CloudKit metadata. CloudKit is Apple’s framework for developers to interact with iCloud storage.
Adam found deleting the metadata database solved the problem. OS X re-creates the database from the cloud whenever it’s deleted, so you won’t lose data. (Though you should make sure you have a complete backup before you delete a system-level file—and export your bookmarks from Safari using File > Export Bookmarks.)
In the Finder, press Shift-Command-G.
Move CloudKitMetadata, CloudKitMetadata-shm, and CloudKitMetadata-wal to the trash.
If this doesn’t work, you may need to switch browsers if you want to sync bookmarks across desktop (and some mobile) browsers, as sad as that sounds. Firefox and Chrome can import Safari bookmarks and have their own sync options.
(And please check in and let us know if this solved the problem!)
Larry Browning asks:
I liked your way of alphabetizing my bookmarks, but could not find where they are hiding Top Sites. I have one that the url is wrong and have not been able to change it.
Top Sites in Safari is an oddball: it’s not a set of bookmarks even though it looks like. You manage entries that appear on that special page by viewing the page. Click the grid icon in the upper left of the window, then make sure the grid icon at the top right of the page is selected. (The star shows favorites.)
Apple adds Top Site entries automatically unless you’ve filled the screen with pinned locations. You can drag and drop entries to reorder them, and hover over a site preview to get Delete and Pin icons. Click Delete to remove the entry and Apple won’t suggest it again. Click the Pin and it remains a Top Site.
Mark writes in wondering why his 2013 MacBook Air’s function keys won’t perform the functions on the labels—they only work as, er, function keys! Some software either assigns commands to function keys or allows you to set them.
But Apple changed the behavior a few years ago so that instead of the default being F1, F2, and so forth being interpreted as those keys to the system and software, OS X instead uses what were alternative functions, like increasing or reducing brightness and volume.
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution, if this is the problem:
Open System Preferences > Keyboard.
Check the Use All F1, F2, Etc. Keys as Standard Function Keys.
If that doesn’t solve it, it’s possible you’ll need to reinstall OS X, which you can do without overwriting your current system. Follow Chris Breen’s Yosemite installation instructions, which include working with an existing OS X system.
Not without my data
After recent exploit discoveries, government database hacking (this time, the government’s, not by the government), and the LastPass data theft, it’s germane to answer George Barnette’s concern about data ransoming:
I read about people who suddenly find their drive’s contents held for ransom, and assume they downloaded or opened something they shouldn’t, and further, that they’re PC users anyway. If one diligently uses a backup, such as Time Machine, can one ignore the extortionist, or has one simply backed up the cyber-bomb as well as one’s data, so that reconstructing the drive from the backup reloads the bomb, as well?
I haven’t heard of this happening to a Mac user, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility that someone would download and install malware using administrative privileges that did such a thing. Mac users might be generally immune so far from serious attacks, but downloading and installing unknown software is an easy route, should a malware designer believe they can convince enough people to do so.
A Time Machine backup drive, unless it was a network drive, could also be encrypted by ransomware, and thus be at risk. A networked Time Machine drive would let you restore your computer or the data to another machine, but unless you knew exactly when the malware was installed, it could still be there, ready to be triggered again.
In such a hypothetical, I’d retrieve my known applications and documents, but not perform a full restore. This is also a good argument—even as an extreme case—for having offsite or cloud-hosted backups in additional to local ones.
Ask Mac 911
We’re always looking for problems to solve! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet them at me (if brief) @glennf. Mac 911 can’t provide direct email responses or answers for every question. For that, turn to AppleCare, an Apple Store Genius bar, or the Apple Support Communities.