Understanding Locked and Stationery Pad Files

You can set a file to be Locked or to be a Stationery Pad, but it can be hard to understand what these settings do. Locked files are not protected or encrypted in any way. Instead, they are simply harder to accidentally change or delete. Stationery Pads are files that act like simple templates.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Understanding Locked and Stationery Pad Files.

Hi, this is Gary with MacMost.com. On today's episode let's take a look at the Locked and Stationery Pad Settings of files on your Mac.

Now if you've ever tried to get information about a file in the Finder you may have noticed two different settings. I'm going to select this file here and I'm going to get Info. You can do that with Command I. There's these two check boxes; Stationery pad and Locked. Let's take a look at what each of those does.

So Locked may look like the simplest one to find but it's actually counterintuitive in a lot of ways. When you lock a file what you've basically done is you've prevented two things. One is deleting the file and the other is changing it. So if I were to put this in the trash it would actually go into the trash but if I would try to empty it it would tell me that it couldn't delete this file out of the trash. So it protects a file that you want to make sure you don't accidentally delete.

But it also prevents you from changing it. So I'm going to open it up here in TextEdit, I'm going to try to make a change and it's going to tell me it's locked and give me some options. I could unlock it right there or I can create a new file that has the same contents in it. It kinda of just doesn't really prevent me very hard from changing a file but it does give me that reminder that this is not something that I want to change or alter without maybe taking a step to do it first.

You could, of course, go select the file and easily unlock it here or as you saw before if you tried to change it you could use that unlock button there.

Now almost more important is what Locked doesn't do. It doesn't protect your file from anybody else seeing it. You might think locking it means somebody can't get into the file. But you could see here I can easily open the file and see the contents. It is not protecting it, it is not encrypting it, it is not doing anything. It is just preventing you from making changes or deleting it without taking a small step first. So it's important to keep that in mind.

That explains why Locked and Stationery pad are related. You can see here by having the file locked I cannot make it a Stationery pad. But I can now unlock it and change it to a Stationery pad. Now what happens when I try to use the file? I double click on it to open it and I get a copy. See it says Test copy. So it even shows it here that it made a copy.

So opening a Stationery pad file actually had the effect of creating a duplicate of it at first and then allowing me immediately to go and edit this file. Then when I save it it saves the copy out. So it's kind of like a template. Now you wouldn't need to use this in a complex app like say Pages, Numbers, or Keynote where there is a whole functionality of templates in there and you can create custom templates. You would want to use those custom templates.

But in a simpler app like here in TextEdit that doesn't have templates or maybe a third party app that doesn't have templates you can easily just check Stationery pad and it kind of blocks that file by forcing a copy to be made instead of the original being opened.

Now if I wanted to go back and edit this file all I have to do is uncheck Stationery pad. Now I can open it up as normal. I can make a change to it. Then send it back to Stationery pad and now I've got my kind of simple template where I can create new copies of it each time.

So say, for instance, if you have a small business and you create a very simple invoice in TextEdit. You can set it to Stationery pad and every time you double click on that file it creates a new version of it and you can fill out that invoice or form letter or whatever it is and save it without ever having to worry about accidentally saving over the original that you may want to use from scratch again to create a new copy.

Comments: 3 Responses to “Understanding Locked and Stationery Pad Files”

    Stephen Froggatt
    3 years ago

    Excellent tutorial as always, Gary! I never realised that Stationery Pad files were still a thing in OS X – I thought they disappeared round about System 6 or 7, way back in the old days! Thanks for the heads up on this – I think this could be very useful.

    Linda Taylor
    3 years ago

    Will both of these react the same way if you share your file with someone who downloads it to their own computer? And can that person ‘Get info’ and change the file as you demonstrated? If so, this doesn’t really seem o be secure except to protect yourself from yourself. Not sure this is a feature I’d use, but at least I found out what they’re used for and I thank you for that!!

    3 years ago

    Linda: those settings should stay when you send the file, and yes they can easily be changed by someone else. As I point out in the video, these are not for security at all.

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