Essential Fonts and Folders for Mac OS X

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Mac OS X has multiple Fonts folders to organize the fonts on your computer. Where you install a font determines when and who can access it. Mac OS X has at least four Fonts folders, depending on software installation and number of users. This article will distinguish the essential folders and fonts for you.

Installing Fonts

Many fonts will be installed by the Mac OS X Installer and other applications. You can also install fonts by copying or dragging font files to any of the standard Fonts folders in Mac OS X, including your User Font folder.

Font Security and Usage

The various Fonts folders follow the overall Mac OS X security design. The folder in which a font is located determines who can access and use the font.

Font files for use on an individual computer are set apart from those for use on a network. Additionally, on an individual computer, system software files are set apart from those under the control of a user or Admin user.

So for example: If a user installs a new font at ~/Library/Fonts/, the font is available only to that user. If a root or Admin user installs the same font at /Network/Library/Fonts/, all network users can use the fonts (assuming that the network is set up for sharing).

Font Activation

Changes to Fonts take effect when an application is opened, a user logs into the account or computer, or some font management software activates it. Duplicate fonts are resolved based on the order of precedence defined for the standard Fonts folders from highest to lowest priority shown below.

Font Folders and Locations

User (~/Library/Fonts/ - the tilde character (~) represents a user's Home, which may be local or remote)
Each user has complete control over the fonts installed in their Home. These fonts are available to that user when they are logged into the computer. Fonts installed here are not available to all users of the computer.

Local (/Library/Fonts/)
Any local user of the computer can use fonts installed in this folder. Mac OS X does not require these additional fonts for system operation. An Admin user can modify the contents of this folder. This is the recommended location for fonts that are shared among all applications.

Network (/Network/Library/Fonts/)
The Network folder is for fonts shared among all users of a local area network. This feature is normally used on network file servers, under the control of a network administrator.

System (/System/Library/Fonts/)
Mac OS X requires fonts in this folder for system use and displays. They should not be altered or removed.

Classic (/System Folder/Fonts/ - not to be confused with the Mac OS X "System" folder)
This folder contains fonts used by the Classic environment. If more than one Mac OS 9.1 System Folder is present, only fonts in the System Folder selected in the Classic pane of System Preferences are used. Classic applications can only access these fonts, not those stored elsewhere. Conversely, Mac OS X applications can use these fonts, even when the Classic environment is not active.

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