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How-To: Create a Custom User Template in Snow Leopard

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Setting up your OS to your liking can be an art for some. What if you need to set up Snow Leopard to present every user with the same look and settings? By following these steps you can have every user who logs into the machine receive the same look, feel and preferences that you desire. What we’ll be doing is creating a new user, setting it up to look how we want, then copying the settings so every new user will get those preferences.

Setting Everything Up

  1. Login under your admin account and open up Accounts pane in System Preferences.
  2. Click the + to create a new Standard user.
  3. As an example, we’ll use the nameĀ testuser.

  4. Log off and log back in as testuser.
  5. Set everything up the way you want. I customized the Dock, Safari’s home page and the Finder preferences.
  6. When you are done customizing, log off the testuser account.

Copying the Files

  1. Login under your admin account.
  2. Navigate to the /System/Library folder in Finder.
  3. Right-click on the User Template folder and choose Get info.
  4. By default, you cannot browse this folder. Change the permissions so Everyone has Read & Write permissions.
  5. Now we can open up the User Template folder & copy the English.lproj folder to your desktop. This will be our backup copy in case we want to restore it back.
  6. Open up Terminal and navigate to the User Template folder.
    cd /System/Library/User Template/English.lproj
  7. Copy the testuser folder over, which will replace the defaults. You may get errors about some files that can’t be replaced. I haven’t seen it cause any issues though.
    sudo cp -R ~testuser/* .
    sudo cp -R ~testuser/.* .
  8. Change the permissions for the User Template folder back so everyone has No Access again.

Test it Out

  1. Create a new user to verify everything worked. I used the name testuser2.
  2. Log off as admin and log back in as testuser2.
  3. You will now see your customized settings. These will be used for all new users created on the system from this point on.


To put everything back the way it was, log in as admin and copy the English.lproj backup file on your desktop back to the /System/Library/User Template folder.

If you have a lab of Macs but aren’t using Open Directory, this is a nice solution to maintain some control over the OS presentation. This change will only affect new users. It has no effect on existing users, so keep that in mind. If you start getting constant requests for more customizations similar to this, setup a Snow Leopard Server and start using Workgroup Manager. The changes can be much easier to implement but the Server solution has a larger price-tag for that convenience.

10 Responses to “How-To: Create a Custom User Template in Snow Leopard”

  1. To get rid of the Keychain error (especially when logging into the Guest account) just type:

    sudo rm -R "/System/Library/User Template/English.lproj/Library/Keychains"

    This removes the Keychain so that a new one is created.

  2. Hi, I have a problem with this in that when I am trying to open the User Template folder in Terminal, it says that there is no such folder. It keeps looking for the folder User and not User Template due to the space between words.

  3. ShizzleFizzle

    Thanks for this one!

    Exactly what I seek…but I have a lingering question before jumping in.

    Is there a reason you first have to create a Standard account and tweak that one before doing the copy of the User Template? I already have my administrator account exactly as I want all future user accounts to look…and I’m hoping I can just leap into the copy of the User Template folder now and have all future standard user accounts set up to look and feel just like the Administrator account EXCEPT FOR THE PERMISSIONS of the new user accounts.



  4. You don’t need to change the permissions in the Finder if you’re replacing the files via the terminal using Sudo.

    Also, best practice when doing this is to ensure that all the files are owned by root with group wheel.

    So, in the terminal, the way to replace the files and set the ownership would be:

    sudo mv “/System/Library/User Template/English.lproj” “/System/Library/User Template/English.backup”

    sudo cp -R /Users/testuser “/System/Library/User Template/English.lproj”

    sudo chown -R root:wheel “/System/Library/User Template/English.lproj”

    When customising the user template, be careful of things like dock preferences and finder sidebar preferences that may point to a specific home folder, rather than the new user’s home folder.

  5. quandmeme


    My kids have accounts on the mac downstairs with Parental controls allowing us white-listed internet. It is very tedious to set up the Safari bookmarks in the two accounts. Each website is a multi-step process and heaven forbid that one account should have access to a website that the other doesn’t. Going to go from two accounts to three eventually and was not looking forward to the manual micromanagement.

    Delicious bookmarked.