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How to add QuickLook support for text based files on macOS

A text editor might seem like a basic tool, and it is, but if you’re dealing with code files, you’ll find that they can mostly be viewed in a text editor. A text editor may not be ideal for code files, but it does work. A lot of files that you encounter e.g., README files, CHANGELOG files, Makefile files, etc. are all text based and can be opened in a text editor. On macOS, there’s a really useful tool called QuickLook that lets you preview lots of different file types and it supports text files provided they have a proper extension. It tends to not support quite a few files even though they’re text based all because of the file extension. To fix this little problem and add QuickLook support for all text based files on macOS, you need to install a little QuickLook plugin called QLStephen.

QuickLook support for text based files

Download the QLStephen plugin. To install this plugin, unzip the file. Go to one of the following locations (it’s up to you which one you pick), and paste the plugin file there.

If you add the plugin to the system library folder, you will need to authenticate with the admin password. If you add the plugin to a user’s library folder, you will need to authenticate with the user’s password.

System library

/Library/QuickLook/

User library

~/Library/QuickLook/

You have to then log out and then log back in to apply the change.

Once you’re logged back in, look for a file that you know is text based but that you cannot open/preview with QuickLook. Select it, and tap the spacebar. The file will open in QuickLook and in many cases, if you’re dealing with code, it will also be formatted for easier reading.

The plugin is great for a lot of niche files but it still isn’t going to add universal support for all text based files. You may still run into some file types that are locked or cannot be opened for some other reason. Case in point, a .BAK file which is text based but still couldn’t be preveiwed in QuickLook even though TextEdit was able to open it just fine. There will be exceptions.

This is an unfortunate shortcoming of QuickLook. It is an otherwise great feature that lots of Mac users find useful, especially when they have lots of files to sort through. Apple needs to look into improving QuickLook’sfile support, especially for text based files.

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