You don’t have to be an expert to perform tasks like a Safe Boot or setting up a new user account; all you need is the step-by-step instructions in this section. Some of the procedures here help you figure out what the problem is, some of them fix problems, and some do both (as noted in Table 3). I’ve divided them into three groups:
General Procedures: This includes things like repairing permissions, setting up a new user account, and Safe Booting.
Delete Caches and plists: Mac OS X has font caches, but so do Microsoft and Adobe programs; and although Font Book’s plist is practically famous, it’s not the only plist that needs deleting.
Restore System Components: You can’t reinstall “pieces” of the operating system with the Installer, but you can still get at them, whether you need to replace fonts or Font Book.
Table 3. Testing and Fix-it Procedures
Restart the Mac
Clears out mistakes in memory
Repair system permissions
A long shot, but easy to do
Repair font-file permissions
Not needed often
Try a new user account
Narrows the scope of possible problems
Start up in Safe Mode
Ignores all but system-level items; performs housekeeping chores on things like font cache files and the disk directory
Delete caches and plists
Dumps possibly corrupted files
Restore system components
Replaces fonts, Font Book, Character Palette, and Keyboard Viewer
Binary search for bad font
Tracks down a bad font
Archive and Install
Not usually needed for font problems
X’s: MS PMincho: U+2117
Many of these procedures are used for general (non-font-related) Mac problems, so you may already be familiar with some of them.
A Safe Boot isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even if you’re experienced enough to have started up in Safe Mode as a troubleshooting method, don’t skip my instructions in Start up in Safe Mode. Contrary to popular belief, a Safe Boot doesn’t trash all your font caches or necessarily limit you to only the fonts in
An oldie but a goodie: just save everything and restart. Sometimes glitches just go away, so it’s worth a try!
If you spend some time on various user message boards, you’ll find a lot of disagreement about whether repairing permissions across the board actually does any good more than once in a blue moon. But it’s easy enough to do, doesn’t take long, and has no downside, so it should be in your arsenal of troubleshooting weapons:
The phrase “repairing permissions” always refers to the system permissions as just described. But when it comes to fonts, another kind of permission alteration is occasionally necessary:
Select the font file in the Finder and choose File > Get Info (Command-I).
Expand the Ownership & Permissions section.
Set the You Can pop-up menu to Read & Write.
You can do this only for items that you “own”; the default owner for most items is the Account owner. You can (sometimes) set the ownership back to yourself—assuming that’s what went wrong—in the same Get Info window:
Expand the Details area.
Click the lock icon to unlock the Owner pop-up menu.
Choose your Account name from the pop-up menu.
Click the lock icon to lock the menu again (Figure 2).
The majority of font-related problems are local to a specific User account. Setting up and switching to a new, clean account is one way to pin down where a problems lies—whether it’s specific to your account or more pervasive. (Does account terminology seem like a foreign language—or a strange dialect—to you? See Appendix D: Users and Accounts for some background.) Setting up a second account is easy, although you need administrative privileges to do it:
Go to the Accounts preferences pane.
Click the lock icon at the bottom of the window to unlock it, providing your password when asked.
Click the button beneath the Account list.
In the dialog that appears, fill in an account name, password, and so on (Verify means to type the password a second time), and check Allow User To Administer This Computer.
Click Create Account.
Use the Picture tab to assign a picture to this account if you’re going to use the tip about Fast User Switching (below).
Click the lock icon to close it and prevent changes.
You won’t see “your” Font Book if you open it from within another account; collections, user-defined libraries, and the fonts in
~/Library/Fonts are all specific to each user.
If you keep a second account around for troubleshooting font problems, it’s a real pain to log out of one account and log in to another, especially because you then have to log out of that account and log back in to yours, with the concomitant delays for starting up each time. But you can bypass the delays by activating Fast User Switching:
In the Accounts preference pane, for each account in the list:
Select the account name.
Click the lock icon at the bottom of the window to unlock it, providing your password when asked.
Click Login Options at the bottom of the accounts list.
Check Enable Fast User Switching.
Choose Icon from the View As menu.
Click the lock icon to lock the changes.
You’ll get an Accounts menu in your menu bar (the generic-but-sure-looks-male-to-me silhouette icon); it lists the accounts on your computer, and you can choose one to switch from one account to another without logging out. And it does it with—as much as I promised myself 20 years ago I would never use “cool” to describe something in one of my books—the absolutely coolest visual effect around.
Starting up in Safe Mode, also known as a Safe Boot, is a generic trouble-shooting procedure that has specific benefits for a system with font problems: it deletes some of the font caches for you, and puts you into a “Tiger-only” environment that ignores most of your fonts and all your third-party add-ons.
Every other description of Safe Mode startup you’ll see starts with Step 3 here, but when you’re diagnosing font problems, you need the preceding steps, too, as I explain a little further on. (Yes, a Take Control exclusive!! Film at 11!) Here’s how to start up in what I think of as “Even Safer Mode”:
Get rid of your user-defined libraries. You can just “put them away” temporarily: go to
~/Library/FontCollectionsand drag out the files whose names end in .library. These files track which fonts belong to the libraries, and where the fonts are located. You can put them back in the folder later, after you’ve used Safe Mode and solved your font problem. (There’s more about this folder and its contents in Collections or user libraries misbehave.)
A user-defined library, created through Font Book, is a way to get Mac OS X to see fonts you have stored somewhere other than one of the “official” Fonts folders described in Where Mac OS X Fonts Are Stored.
Trash the folder
/Library/Caches/com.apple.ATS. A Safe Boot is supposed to delete all the system font caches, but it doesn’t do a thorough job, so do it yourself.
Restart your Mac.
As soon as you hear the startup sound (not before), hold down Shift.
Release the Shift key when the gray Apple appears on the screen. At this point you’ll have to wait quite a bit—long enough to get worried, and perhaps even edge toward panic—as the progress wheel goes round and round and round and.... It can take several minutes before your login screen appears, so try not to freak out.
If you don’t see the words “Safe Boot” in red on your login screen, try starting up again, and get that Shift key down a little sooner.
Mac OS X performs the following maintenance tasks, ignoring certain aspects of your operating environment, on a Safe Boot:
Checks and repairs the startup disk’s directory; this is the same as using the Repair Disk command in Disk Utility.
Loads only absolutely necessary extensions.
Launches only system startup items.
Disables login and startup items.
Moves all user font caches to the Trash. (More about that “user” thing in a little bit.)
Here’s the other thing it’s supposed to do:
Ignores all fonts except those in
/System/Library/Fonts—if you open Font Book, you can’t even see the fonts in other folders.
This last item is practically canonical, but it’s not true, no matter what Apple says in its support documents. Safe Mode ignores the User, Computer, Mac OS 9, and Network Fonts folders, which would seem to leave only the system Fonts folder, but user-defined libraries are still active. Yours aren’t, of course, because you followed the directions in Step 1.
Now, about “user font caches” being moved to the Trash: this is another problem I’ve not seen addressed anywhere. As detailed in Delete the system font caches,
/Library/Caches/com.apple.ATS contains subfolders for each user and one for the system, but Safe Mode deletes only the user subfolders. If you have endemic font problems, you need to dump the system cache subfolder, too—which you’ve already done, in Step 2, right?
So, once you’re in Safe Mode, what do you do? Try to re-create your font problem—launch your word processor and type, for instance. If the problem’s gone, you’ll have narrowed down the possible causes to those items used in regular mode but not in Safe Mode (as described in Step 4 of the steps that comprise Tackle General Font Problems.
To start up again in regular mode, just restart the computer without the Shift key down; it can take several minutes for the first regular startup after a Safe Boot.
This is a mini-version, or maybe a micro-version, of a Safe Boot: hold down Shift when you log into an account, after you put in the password and hit Return. This prevents user-specific Login Items (listed in the Accounts preference pane) from loading.
The last-ditch effort for ultraserious Mac problems of any ilk is the Archive and Install option on your Mac OS X install disc. It puts a new, clean operating system on your Mac, shunting aside—but saving—the version you’ve been using, with all the additions and changes you’ve made. It’s unlikely that a font problem will push you to this extreme. But if you find yourself in extremis and resort to it, the fonts you’ve installed won’t be erased; you can use Finder’s Spotlight to find them.
When you suspect your font problems are due to a corrupted font rather than a systemwide problem, always assume it’s the most recently installed one. When that piece of advice is useless because it could be any of a hundred or more fonts causing the problem, you don’t have to take out and put back one font at a time.
The efficient approach is something left from previous Mac systems, where we’d try to find a recalcitrant extension among the many well-behaved ones: a binary search—which merely means you narrow the search by continually dividing your suspects into two groups. The procedure comes in two versions: a thorough one, and a short one for if you’re feeling lucky. Here’s the thorough version:
Quit your applications.
Working directly with the Fonts folder holding the suspected problem font, drag half of the possible culprits into a temporary Desktop folder. (This is easier if you’ve tagged fonts with colors or names, or put them in subfolders, so you know which are the newly installed ones, as I recommended in General Guidelines.)
If Font Book has been having problems, Delete Font Book’s plist.
Restart your Mac.
If there are no problems, the suspect font is in the off-loaded group, so put half of them back in service (colorize them first with the Finder’s File > Color Label command, or keep them in a subfolder so it’s easy to manipulate them as a group) and see if the problem resurfaces after the restart. If it does, the font is one of the recently returned fonts; if not, the problem is in the half that was left behind. And so on—keep dividing whatever group contains the bad font until you’re down to only a few that can be added one at a time. Make sure you delete the font caches and restart after every shuffle, or any problems you encounter may be “left over” from the last font arrangement you tried and not the current one.
Granted, you might have more than one bad font in the group, which means that at some point both halves of a group will cause problems—but that just makes the whole procedure that much more fun.
Here’s the short version of the procedure:
Quit your applications.
Take out half of the fonts.
Restart your applications and see if the problem is gone.
This short procedure is only reliable if it has a positive result: the problem goes away when you move the fonts. If there’s still a problem, it could be a corrupt font in the batch in use, or it could be information left in memory about the now-removed corrupt font; that’s why the long version calls for deleting the font caches and restarting. You can continue the short-version binary-swap game and hope, or switch to the thorough version and try again.
A cache file stores data about what you’ve done recently; its usefulness is based on the assumption that you’re likely to repeat your actions and it’s faster to retrieve information from the cache file than to re-create it. A font cache stores information about recently used fonts, saving time that would otherwise be spent scrounging around your drive looking for the actual font file, opening it, interpreting the information... you get the idea. Since these files get heavy use, they’re ripe for corruption, and once they’re corrupted, all heck can break loose. Trashing font caches can fix many general font problems, and since they’re re-created as necessary, you can trash away with abandon. Mac OS X has general font caches; Microsoft and Adobe also have their own font cache files.
A plist (pronounced “pea-list”) is a property list, a file that stores a user’s settings for a program or utility or a—well, for anything that can have settings. It serves basically the same function as a pre-Mac OS X preferences file and, in fact, you’ll usually find plists in folders named Preferences. Not all plists get heavy use, but Font Book’s does, so it’s quite prone to corruption; Character Palette and Keyboard Viewer have plists, too.
When you get rid of a plist, you lose the special settings you’ve made for a program, so certain options and things like window positions return to their defaults; this is usually nothing more than a minor annoyance.
The general try-this-no-matter-what-the-symptoms-are approach to font problems is trashing the system font cache files. (That’s font cache files that belong to the system, not cache files that belong to the system fonts!)
Tiger, unlike its Mac OS X predecessors, keeps all its font cache files in a single folder, so they’re easy to delete:
Don’t skip the restart! Cache-file information is continually swapped from memory to disk and back to memory. Deleting the cache files doesn’t affect what’s already in memory; if corrupted information is in memory, it gets written right back to the disk files.
On the restart—which you may find takes a little longer than usual—new font cache files are created so even if this doesn’t solve your problem, it won’t hurt anything, except that all your disabled fonts in Font Book are enabled (if that counts as hurting).
All the files in the com.Apple.ATS folder that you just trashed are referred to generally as “system font caches” to differentiate them from font caches created by specific applications. The folder has sub-folders for each user account—the first user’s subfolder is 501, the next subfolder 502, and so on—and one folder for caches shared by all the accounts, named System (Figure 3). They are all, however, considered system font caches.
Starting up in Safe Mode, which is often credited with trashing all the font cache files, does not delete all the system cache files, but only the user-account folders inside com.apple.ATS. Get rid of the entire folder, or all the subfolders inside it, to completely delete the system font caches. Yes, I said this before, and I’ll say it again before the end of this ebook; since it’s contrary to the advice you’ll get elsewhere, I want to hammer it home.
Some of the specific font-related problems that this all-purpose procedure can cure include:
Garbled text in documents. (Text is totally garbled describes other reasons this happens.)
Unexplained printing errors (with font substitutions, awkward spacing between words or lines).
Problems with creating PDF files.
Font menus that don’t update when you install or remove fonts. (A font doesn’t appear in a Font menu suggests other possible causes and cures.)
False font corruption warnings, particularly in Office applications—see (Mostly false) reports of corrupt fonts.
Mac OS X versions prior to Tiger stored font cache files all over the place; if you’ve been upgrading all along, you may have these useless files still sitting around. You can get rid of:
~/Library/Caches, five files whose names begin with com.apple: FCacheClassicDomain, FCacheUserDomain, ATSServer.0050E4C50426.FODB_Classic, ATSServer.0050E4C50426.FODB_Local, ATSServer.FODB_User. There may be additional files with similar names but with numbers inserted, like ...ATS.system_257.fcache; these can also be deleted.
/System/Library/Caches, three files whose names begin with com.apple: ATS.System.fcache, ATSServer.FODB_System, FCacheSystemDomain, and a fourth file, fontTablesAnnex.
The Microsoft Office font cache is especially prone to corruption, perhaps because of all the fancy footwork Microsoft applications do to take care of fonts their way. For Office 2004, the file is
~/Library/Preferences/Microsoft/Office Font Cache (11). For Office X, the filename ends in a
(10), but Office X has so many problems under Tiger that trashing the file isn’t likely to solve them.
Adobe creates private font cache files with names like AdobeFnt01.lst, AdobeFnt02.lst, and so on. Adobe has multiple Fonts folders for its use, and it spreads its cache files around, too. Close your Adobe applications, and do a Finder Spotlight search for adobefnt. The search will turn up more than just the cache files—it may even find this ebook, since it contains the text “adobefnt”—but delete all the cache files it does find.
One of the easiest Font Book troubleshooting procedures—trashing its plist—also takes care of the majority of its problems:
As with all plists, a new one is created as soon as you launch the application again, so you don’t have to worry that you’re getting rid of something that will keep a program from working. On the other hand, a preferences file is just that: it tracks your preferences within a certain application, so those items will be reset to their defaults. In Font Book’s case, trashing the plist:
Resets the default installation folder to User
Returns the window to its default size and position
Restores any settings you made regarding warning dialogs
Note that if the problem is not the plist, you might corrupt the newly created plist when you try working in Font Book and the other problem (whatever it is) rears its ugly head again. Repeated plist trashing is the order of the day when you’re troubleshooting Font Book problems.
Deleting the plist and the system font caches probably cures 90 percent of general font problems.
Character Palette has two plist files whose contents can get mangled rather easily:
The file found at
~/Library/Preferences/com.apple. CharPaletteServer.pliststores information like Character Palette’s last position on your screen and what’s in its Favorites list, minor points that are lost when you trash the file.
~/Library/Caches/com.apple.CharPaletteCache.plist, this plist helps speed along Character Palette’s behavior.
If you have problems with Character Palette, close it and then trash both these plists. There’s no need to restart the Mac.
Keyboard Viewer seems to be rock solid: I don’t know of anyone who’s had a problem with it yet, and I’ve been trolling message boards watching for an example. (Maybe nobody’s using it?) That doesn’t mean you won’t have some problem sometime that can be cured by deleting its plist:
(The computer gods have mocked me in my hubris on behalf of Keyboard Viewer; between the time I wrote that paragraph and reviewed it during an editing pass, the Keyboard Viewer on my PowerBook, after years of quiet subservience, has taken to popping up to say hello at unpredictable intervals. Keyboard Viewer crashes or otherwise misbehaves explains how to handle this if it happens to you.)
The font-related system components you might have to restore at some point are:
You can’t really “reinstall” system components because the Installer does only complete installation sweeps: you can’t pick out a font, or Font Book, or any separate component. When you need a font-related system component restored, you have three-and-a-half options:
Use your archived copy: Unzip the copy of the problem element that you made according to the suggestion in Take Preventive Measures and Plan Ahead section. You didn’t plan ahead? Try the other options.
Get a replacement from a Mac friend: You’re a licensed user of the software, so it’s not piracy or trespassing. Make sure it’s the most recent version available (encourage your friend to update if she hasn’t!).
Use the shareware program Pacifist: As described in Reinstall System Components with Pacifist, following, this is a great tool for extracting components from your install disc.
Update Tiger: This is the half option, because it might not apply to you, or because it might not work. If you’re behind a version or two, and if you’re lucky, it will update the components giving you trouble. It won’t replace fonts you’ve removed, but there are occasional updates to individual Tiger-supplied fonts, and new versions of Font Book, Character Palette, and Keyboard Viewer could be included in the update.
You’ve upgraded Tiger religiously, watching that second-decimal-place number increment every few months, and now you’re worried because the version of Font Book you want to extract from your install disc might be five versions behind the one that just died in your system.
Pacifist works with the virtual disks derived from disk images just as well as it does on real discs, so you can use it to extract the latest Font Book from a downloaded updater disk image. But not every system element is included in an update, so you won’t always be able to find Font Book, or Character Palette, or whatever you need, in the most recent updater.
Why can’t you just download fresh fonts from Apple’s Web site? Wrapping them in some sort of Mac OS X-flavored installer would keep them from being installed for any unauthorized use. Well, until they come to their senses about this, you at least have your archived Fonts folders to turn to, right? And there’s always the find-a-friend option. But, depending on which fonts you’re trying to install, you also have a few options with your Tiger install disc, even before you turn to Pacifist for its extraction capabilities.
You have two choices for restoring system fonts. One is incomplete, leaving out a few
/System/Library/Fonts standards, but that may not matter to you, since they’re foreign language fonts—it might be a good trade-off because it’s so simple. The other method takes a little longer and requires your downloading the freeware Pacifist program, but it gets all the Tiger system fonts back on your drive.
Direct from the install disc: Since your install disc has a system on it (that’s why you can use it to start your Mac), it has most of the system fonts in its own
/System/Library/Fontsfolder. Just navigate to the folder and grab the ones you need, dragging them to the
/System/Library/Fontson your drive.
Not all the fonts are in the disc’s Fonts folder; it’s missing these:
Geeza Pro Bold.ttf
Hiragino Kaku Gothic Std W8.otf
Hiragino Mincho Pro W3.otf
Hiragino Mincho Pro W6.otf
Hiragino Maru Gothic Pro W4.otf
If you don’t need any of these foreign language fonts, you may not care that you’re not restoring them.
Extracted with Pacifist: To find all the fonts on your install disk with Pacifist, use its Find function to search for
Fontswith Ignore Case unchecked so it finds fewer items but all the Fonts folders. The system fonts are in two different groups. One folder contains the fonts used on the Installer’s system (the set missing the nine fonts listed in the last bullet); you’ll find it in the path
../Contents of BaseSystem.pkg/. The other has the nine missing fonts; it’s in the path
../Contents of Essentials.pkg/Library.
You can’t get at these without using Pacifist, since they don’t exist as separate files on the install disc. Search for
Fonts and find the folder in the path
/Contents of Essentials.pkg/System/Library.
These are the foreign language fonts are optional during a system install. If you now want to add them, you have two options:
Direct from the install disc: You can access a separate installer from the Tiger disk for these fonts (note, however that Pacifist lets you choose from among the fonts, while the Installer insists on your having all of them):
On the install disc, double-click on the Optional Installs icon.
Click your way through the standard starting screens for licensing agreements.
On the Custom Install screen (Figure 4), check Additional Fonts.
Extracted with Pacifist: You’ll find the additional, foreign language fonts in the path
/Contents of Additional Fonts.pkg/.
Restoring Font Book is a little more complicated than restoring fonts.
First, your fresh copy—archived, from a friend, or extracted with Pacifist—should be the most current version (because your Tiger version is the most current one, right?). Font Book hasn’t been changed with every minor update, but you don’t want to miss any bug fixes. Will a slightly older Font Book version still run in a slightly newer system? Probably—and if you’re behind on a bug fix or two, it’s still better than no Font Book at all.
Next, there are a few steps necessary for a clean Font Book restoration—you can’t just drag it onto your disk and go:
Delete your current Font Book from the Applications folder.
Delete the folder
This isn’t absolutely necessary unless your problems are collection- and library-based, in which case you may have already trashed the files in this folder, as suggested in Collections or user libraries misbehave.
Put your fresh copy of Font Book in the Applications folder.
If you’re using Pacifist to extract Font Book from your install disc, use its search function to look for Font Book.app; of the 15 or so hits you’ll get—one for every language package—work with the one that’s in the path
../Contents of Essentials.pkg/Applications.
As with restoring Font Book, when you restore Character Palette or Keyboard Viewer, you should get the most recent version as a replacement. Then:
In the Input Menu tab of the International preference pane, turn off Character Palette or Keyboard Viewer by unchecking it in the list.
Delete the current version of the utility from
/System/Library/Components(the files are CharacterPalette.component and Keyboard Viewer.component) and replace it with the fresh copy.
If you’re using Pacifist to extract Character Palette or Keyboard Viewer from your install disc (search for those .component files), make sure you get the version that’s in the
../Contents of Essentials.pkg/..path, and not one of the foreign language versions included on the disk.
Turn Character Palette or Keyboard Viewer back on by checking it in the International preference pane’s Input Menu tab.
If you have any immediate problem with Character Palette’s or Keyboard Viewer’s behavior in the Input menu (the icon isn’t next to the name, choosing it doesn’t do anything), proceed to the methods described in The Input menu misbehaves; the simpler suggestions there should be sufficient to get the fresh version to do your bidding.