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A small portable C library to handle Apple Property List files in binary, XML, JSON, or OpenStep format.

Table of Contents


The project provides an interface to read and write plist files in binary, XML, JSON, or OpenStep format alongside a command-line utility named plistutil.

Some key features are:

  • Formats: Supports binary, XML, JSON, and OpenStep format
  • Utility: Provides a plistutil utility for the command-line
  • Python: Provides Cython based bindings for Python
  • Tested: Uses fuzzing (OSS-Fuzz) and data compliance tests
  • Efficient: Lean library with performance and resources in mind



You need to have a working compiler (gcc/clang) and development environent available. This project uses autotools for the build process, allowing to have common build steps across different platforms. Only the prerequisites differ and they are described in this section.

Linux (Debian/Ubuntu based)

  • Install all required dependencies and build tools:

    sudo apt-get install \
    	build-essential \
    	checkinstall \
    	git \
    	autoconf \
    	automake \

    If you want to optionally build the documentation or Python bindings use:

    sudo apt-get install \
    	doxygen \


  • Make sure the Xcode command line tools are installed. Then, use either MacPorts or Homebrew to install automake, autoconf, and libtool.

    Using MacPorts:

    sudo port install libtool autoconf automake

    Using Homebrew:

    brew install libtool autoconf automake

    In case you want to build the documentation, install doxygen using the corresponding install command from above.

    If you want to build Python bindings, you need to install cython:

    pip3 install cython

    You might need to set a few environment variables if building of the Python bindings fail. For example, the automated build via GitHub actions is setting the following environment variables:

    PYTHON3_BIN=`xcrun -f python3`
    export PYTHON=$PYTHON3_BIN
    PYTHON_VER=`$PYTHON3_BIN -c "import distutils.sysconfig; print(distutils.sysconfig.get_config_var('VERSION'))"`
    PYTHON_EXEC_PREFIX=`$PYTHON3_BIN -c "import distutils.sysconfig; print(distutils.sysconfig.get_config_var('exec_prefix'))"`
    export PYTHON_EXTRA_LDFLAGS="-Wl,-stack_size,1000000  -framework CoreFoundation $PYTHON_FRAMEWORK_PATH"


  • Using MSYS2 is the official way of compiling this project on Windows. Download the MSYS2 installer and follow the installation steps.

    It is recommended to use the MSYS2 MinGW 64-bit shell. Run it and make sure the required dependencies are installed:

    pacman -S base-devel \
    	git \
    	mingw-w64-x86_64-gcc \
    	make \
    	libtool \
    	autoconf \

    NOTE: You can use a different shell and different compiler according to your needs. Adapt the above command accordingly.

    If you want to optionally build Python bindings, you need to also install cython and make sure you have a working python environment.

    pacman -S cython

Configuring the source tree

You can build the source code from a git checkout, or from a .tar.bz2 release tarball from Releases. Before we can build it, the source tree has to be configured for building. The steps depend on where you got the source from.

  • From git

    If you haven't done already, clone the actual project repository and change into the directory.

    git clone
    cd libplist

    Configure the source tree for building:

  • From release tarball (.tar.bz2)

    When using an official release tarball (libplist-x.y.z.tar.bz2) the procedure is slightly different.

    Extract the tarball:

    tar xjf libplist-x.y.z.tar.bz2
    cd libplist-x.y.z

    Configure the source tree for building:


Both ./configure and ./ (which generates and calls configure) accept a few options, for example --enable-debug to allow printing debug messages in the final product, or --without-cython to skip building the Python bindings. You can simply pass them like this:

./ --prefix=/usr/local --enable-debug --without-cython


./configure --prefix=/usr/local --enable-debug

Once the command is successful, the last few lines of output will look like this:

config.status: creating config.h
config.status: executing depfiles commands
config.status: executing libtool commands

Configuration for libplist 2.3.1:

  Install prefix ..........: /usr/local
  Debug code ..............: yes
  Python bindings .........: yes

  Now type 'make' to build libplist 2.3.1,
  and then 'make install' for installation.

Building and installation

If you followed all the steps successfully, and or configure did not print any errors, you are ready to build the project. This is simply done with


If no errors are emitted you are ready for installation. Depending on whether the current user has permissions to write to the destination directory or not, you would either run

make install


sudo make install

If you are on Linux, you want to run sudo ldconfig after installation to make sure the installed libraries are made available.


Usage is simple; libplist has a straight-forward API. It is used in libimobiledevice and corresponding projects.

Furthermore, it comes with a command line utility plistutil that is really easy to use:

plistutil -i foobar.plist -o output.plist

This converts the foobar.plist file to the opposite format, e.g. binary to XML or vice versa, and outputs it to the output.plist file.

To convert to a specific format - and also to convert from JSON or OpenStep format - use the -f command line switch:

plistutil -i input.plist -f json

This will convert input.plist, regardless of the input format, to JSON. The code auto-detects the input format and parses it accordingly.

Please consult the usage information or manual page for a full documentation of available command line options:

plistutil --help


man plistutil


We welcome contributions from anyone and are grateful for every pull request!

If you'd like to contribute, please fork the master branch, change, commit and send a pull request for review. Once approved it can be merged into the main code base.

If you plan to contribute larger changes or a major refactoring, please create a ticket first to discuss the idea upfront to ensure less effort for everyone.

Please make sure your contribution adheres to:

  • Try to follow the code style of the project
  • Commit messages should describe the change well without being too short
  • Try to split larger changes into individual commits of a common domain
  • Use your real name and a valid email address for your commits



This project is licensed under the GNU Lesser General Public License v2.1, also included in the repository in the COPYING file.


Apple, iPhone, iPad, iPod, iPod Touch, Apple TV, Apple Watch, Mac, iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, watchOS, and macOS are trademarks of Apple Inc.

This project is an independent software library and has not been authorized, sponsored, or otherwise approved by Apple Inc.

README Updated on: 2024-02-21