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Take Control of TextExpander
Jul 31, 2012
The Author

Michael E. Cohen has taught English composition, worked as a programmer for NASA’s Deep Space Network, helped develop the first commercial ebooks at the Voyager Company, co-founded a major university’s Humanities computing center, and played with a lot of new technology. He’s the author of a number of books, including Take Control of PDFpen 7, Take Control of Pages, Take Control of iBooks Author, and Take Control of TextExpander.

Take Control of TextExpander

Type 120 words per minute and have fun doing it with TextExpander!

Join expert Mac writer Michael E. Cohen as he helps you enjoy the power of TextExpander 4, the award-winning text expansion utility from Smile. If you’re a TextExpander newbie, you’ll learn how to create “snippets” of text (like your address) that you can insert into any text by typing a short abbreviation (for example, addd).

Once you’re comfortable with TextExpander’s core controls and options, it’s time to learn the more sophisticated options for inserting a snippet. You’ll also discover how to add optional snippet groups created by Smile and others, create and share your own groups, move groups between Macs using Dropbox, and get the basics on integrating TextExpander with AppleScript and even with the command line.

The ebook also explains how to share your snippets with your iOS devices and access them using Smile’s TextExpander touch app.

TextExpander 5? We expect to release a new edition about TextExpander 5 shortly. Look below to check on our update plans. Note that TextExpander 5 requires 10.10 Yosemite or later. If you’re not yet running Yosemite, but you are running 10.6 Snow Leopard or later, then this is the TextExpander ebook that you want (see the FAQ below for operating system compatibility details).

More Info

Running TextExpander is like embedding a superhero typist in your Mac. Read Take Control of TextExpander to learn how to:

  • Reply faster: If you frequently send similar bits of text—directions, chunks of legal writing, bios, product descriptions, company names, addresses, URLs, and so forth—let TextExpander quickly type all that text for you, making it a snap to respond quickly to customer questions or requests from colleagues, and a breeze to send other routine correspondence (“Dear Mom, I’m still not pregnant. Love, Me”). You can even create fill-in snippets that ask you for details and fill in all the rest of the text automatically.

  • Make typing more exciting: Discover how to grab and insert the URL in your browser’s frontmost window into whatever you’re writing, to insert HTML or CSS tags in a flash, to automagically add the date to filenames as you save, and more. It’s like having another set of fingers.

  • Type more accurately: Find out how to add the auto-correct dictionary groups from Smile and to create your own auto-correction options, so you’ll spend less time fixing common typing mistakes or going red-faced when you spot an egregious error too late.

  • Enjoy life more: When you let TextExpander handle your routine typing, your brain will be free to think more creatively about the rest of what you type. And you just might knock off work a little sooner some days.

Specific questions answered in this ebook include:

  • How do I register my demo copy of TextExpander and buy a family pack?
  • What are some common uses of TextExpander that I can try as I learn?
  • How do I use TextExpander to timestamp my text automatically?
  • How can I put the clipboard contents into an expanded snippet?
  • How can I make a TextExpander snippet that expands into a fill-in form?
  • How do I work with formatted text and pictures in snippets?
  • How do I handle capitalization and snippet expansions?
  • How can I get to TextExpander quickly, and hide it when I don’t need it?
  • What do I do if I can’t remember a snippet’s expansion abbreviation?
  • How can I edit my snippets quickly?
  • How can I quickly insert special characters like smileys and stars?
  • How do I insert a snippet and move the insertion point into the middle of it?
  • How do I insert a snippet immediately after a quotation mark or bracket?
  • I do a lot of CSS coding. TextExpander sounds great, but how can I leverage someone else’s work and not have to create my own set of CSS expansions?
  • How can I invoke an AppleScript from within a TextExpander snippet expansion, and use the result in my snippet?

This ebook was created in collaboration with Smile. Thanks to everyone at Smile who helped us make the book even more detailed and useful!

What's New

What’s New in Version 1.1

This version takes into account improvements in TextExpander itself in its transition from TextExpander 3 to TextExpander 4, as well as some changes in how it fits into Apple’s ecosystem. 

  • The fabulous fill-in macro enhancement: In TextExpander 3, the fill-in macro capability enabled you to create a snippet containing form elements that you could fill in when you expanded it. TextExpander 4 supercharges fill-ins and provides a set of easy to use macro editors. Make a Fill-in Snippet has been completely rewritten to describe this greatly enhanced feature.
  • Snippet Creation Assistant: When new users open TextExpander 4 for the first time, a Snippet Creation Assistant gives them the opportunity to create and try out snippets. A new Run the Snippet Creation Assistant section covers this. 
  • The end of MobileMe: Apple closed the MobileMe service at the end of June 2012. As a result, the MobileMe syncing feature in TextExpander was removed from the software, and I removed coverage of that feature from this book.
  • Dropbox syncing with TextExpander touch: Exchange Snippets with Your Mac now explains how you can use Dropbox to sync your snippet collection between your Mac and your iOS devices.
  • Where to get TextExpander: TextExpander 3 was available for sale both from the Smile site and from Apple’s Mac App Store. However, TextExpander 4 cannot be sold in the App Store because of changes in Apple’s policies. I’ve removed coverage about how to purchase it from the App Store. 

Other minor changes have received coverage (such as the addition of two non-English AutoCorrect dictionaries), some minor errors have been fixed, and most of the screenshots have been replaced with newer, shinier versions.


What versions of Mac OS X does TextExpander work with?

TextExpander 4 works with OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and 10.7 Lion, but not with 10.6 Snow Leopard. TextExpander 3 remains available for those running Snow Leopard; anyone still using 10.5 Leopard or earlier is out of luck.

I’m using TextExpander 3. Will this ebook be helpful to me?

Good news! Yes, the ebook will be entirely helpful. There are only a handful of changes between TextExpander 3 and 4, and the ebook is careful to note those differences when they come up.

TextExpander sounds cool. Where can I learn more about it?

TextExpander is developed by a company called Smile. Check out the TextExpander page on the Smile Web site for lots more info. Also, you can download a demo from the Smile site.

Update Plans

July 4, 2015 – With TextExpander 3 available for iOS and TextExpander 5 for Mac just released, it’s time for us to publish a new edition of this title. We’ve been working on the update for a while now, and we plan to publish it this week! If you buy this ebook now, you’ll get a free upgrade once the new edition is published.

Posted by Adam Engst

  1. TextExpander Makes You More Effective with Version 5

    Smile has just released TextExpander 5. The new version adds features aimed at helping you create and insert snippets more effectively. It can suggest snippets based on phrases it notices that you type often, and it can remind you when you miss an opportunity to insert a snippet that you’ve already created. It also makes it possible to search your snippets inline as you type.

    Additional new features include iCloud Drive support and more flexibility for Dropbox syncing, and JavaScript support. For a full list of changes, visit Smile’s blog post. Or, read Michael’s TidBITS article TextExpander 5 for Mac Makes Snippet Suggestions for a better idea of what to expect and pointers on trying the new features. TextExpander 5 works with OS X 10.10 Yosemite. It costs $44.95 new, or it’s a $19.95 upgrade.

    We are working on a new edition of this ebook that will cover TextExpander 5.

    Posted by Tonya J Engst (Permalink)

  2. Important — Recovering Lost Snippets in TextExpander touch 3.2.3

    Smile has acknowledged a bug in TextExpander touch 3.2.3 (released on April 7, 2015) that “appears to erase all your snippets.” Fortunately, the snippets aren’t really erased, just inaccessible. A forthcoming update to TextExpander touch will restore them, or, if you use Dropbox for snippet syncing, you can recover them with that. The bug and methods for dealing with it are fully documented in the Smile blog post, TextExpander touch 3.2.3—Recover Lost Snippets, posted on 9 April 2015. The most important takeaway is this: Do Not delete and reinstall the app as this may lose your snippets irrevocably!

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  3. (Not So) Stupid TextExpander Trick — Currency Conversion

    Posted on Smile’s blog today are instructions for building a TextExpander snippet that can do currency conversion. It requires that you install the JSON Helper for AppleScript app (free from the App Store). Once you have the snippet set up, you just type the dollar amount, a space, and the snippet abbreviation to run it. Slick!

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  4. Smile Posts TextExpander Tips for Shared Snippets

    If you need to share groups of TextExpander snippets with a team and want to avoid abbreviation conflicts, hie thee hence to the Smile blog for Tips on Shared Snippet Groups. These tips are also useful even if the only person with whom you share TextExpander snippets is yourself!

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  5. TextExpander touch 2.3 Works Around Apple Restrictions, But Touch-Savvy Apps Need Updates

    In iOS 7, Apple changed the rules about how apps can share data, and these changes have affected how TextExpander touch shares snippet data with apps. Because of this change, TextExpander-savvy apps have to change how they work in order to get snippet data from TextExpander touch. Smile has let app developers know about the new, Apple-approved, mechanism for data sharing, and over the next few months, updates to TextExpander-savvy apps will bring back full compatibility with TextExpander touch. In the meantime, apps that worked with the previous version of TextExpander touch will be able to access the older, “stale” snippet data made available from that version, but not new or changed snippets. Smile provides the details of the Apple rule changes and their consequences on its Smileworthy blog.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  6. TextExpander 4.2 Fixes Bugs and Tweaks Features

    Smile Software has released TextExpander 4.2, with a number of tweaks and fixes. Most of the fixes are minor, such as one that provides the correct keyboard focus when displaying a fill-in snippet window that has no text fields, while a few others improve the user experience, such as a tweak that displays the URL or the file path of an external group when you select it in the TextExpander window so you know where you got it. The complete set of release notes are here.

    To update TextExpander, open TextExpander’s Preferences, click Update in the window’s toolbar, and then click Check Now.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  7. TextExpander and Mavericks Tip for Text Expanding Bliss

    If you have recently upgraded your Mac to Mavericks and discover that TextExpander no longer seems to work for you, don’t panic: TextExpander 4.1.1 is completely Mavericks compatible, but you may have to adjust some Accessibility settings in System Preferences. According to the Smileworthy blog entry, TextExpander and Mavericks, you need to do the following:

    1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu
    2. Click on Security & Privacy
    3. Click on the Privacy tab
    4. Click on Accessibility in the list at the left
    5. Click the lock icon to allow you to make changes (you’ll be prompted for your password)
    6. Check “TextExpander” and “TextExpander Helper” (the latter may not appear)
    7. Launch TextExpander and you should be back in business

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  8. TextExpander 4.1 Brings Mavericks Support, Fixes, and Emoji Snippets

    Getting a jump on the forthcoming release of OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Smile has released TextExpander 4.1 with support for the new Security & Privacy settings, a collection of fixes and enhancements, and a new shared snippet collection of Emoji characters. A complete list of changes is available, some straightforward (“Allows typing Command-Return to complete the fill-in window”) and some arcane for non-developers, at least; e.g., “Allows capitalization correction in ‘AXScrollArea’, which allows it to function in applications which don’t fully implement the Accessibility Protocol”. But I have to say that it’s the Emoji snippet collection that has stolen my ♥.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  9. How iOS 7 Affects TextExpander touch

    iOS 7 changes how shared snippets work with TextExpander touch. The Smile blog provides the details about what you need to do to use shared snippets in TextExpander under iOS 7.

    iOS 7 changes how shared snippets work with TextExpander touch. Greg at Smile takes to the Smile blog to tell you what happened and what what you need to do to use shared snippets in TextExpander under iOS 7.

    Here’s what Greg says do:

    When you update to iOS 7, you may find that TextExpander doesn’t work in some apps which did work on iOS 6. Due to a change in iOS 7, those apps no longer have access to shared snippets. We have communicated with developers whose apps support TextExpander, and we’ve provided them an updated SDK with a new way to share snippet data. Many developers are working hard to ensure their apps are updated. Bear in mind that review times and other issues are beyond their control.

    Please update to TextExpander touch 2.1.1, and allow it access to your Reminders. After you install iOS 7, we recommend that you turn on automatic app updating so that when app developers deliver updated TextExpander support, you’ll get it right away.

    In case you’re wondering what Reminders has to do with it, Greg delves into the gnarly technical details in his blog post.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  10. TextExpander touch 2.0 Gives You Style and More

    Smile recently released version 2.0 of TextExpander touch, a free upgrade to users of the previous version of the $4.99 iOS app. The latest version brings with it a number of features familiar with users of the Mac version, including styled text in snippets and fill-in snippets. You can find out more about the new features in this release in the TidBITS article, TextExpander touch 2.0 Gains Features from Mac Version.

    Appendix A in Take Control of TextExpander (version 1.1) still remains accurate with the exception of this sentence (found at the bottom of pg. 90 in the PDF): “Keep in mind that the text-editing environments on an iOS device, including the one in TextExpander touch itself support only plain text.” That is no longer the case: iOS has supported styled text in apps for some time, and now so does TextExpander touch 2.0. However, apps that use the TextExpander API to implement snippet expansion on iOS must be updated before they can use the styled text snippet feature of TextExpander touch 2.0.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  11. Shell Script Can Fix Safari 6 Default Fonts

    Safari 6.0, which Apple released into the wild at the same time it did Mountain Lion, lacks the preference option for setting the default proportional font and fixed-width fonts. Fortunately, you can still set them using other methods, as described in the TidBITS article Fix Your Fonts in Safari 6. One of those methods involves issuing a series of shell commands in Terminal.

    If you use TextExpander, though, you don’t have to launch Terminal. Instead, you can create a shell script snippet that can issue the necessary commands, including commands to quit and restart Safari so that the changes take effect. As a bonus, the fill-in capabilities of a script can be used so you can specify the fonts and sizes you want when you expand the snippet, as seen in the following shell script snippet (developed by Michael and Norman Cohen):

    if [[ $(ps -ax grep -i safari grep -v grep wc -l) -ge 1 ]] then osascript -"tell application \"Safari\" to quit";  fi
    defaults write com
    .apple.Safari com.apple.Safari.ContentPageGroupIdentifier.WebKit2StandardFontFamily '%filltext:name=font-face:default=Lucida Grande%'
    defaults write com.apple.Safari com.apple.Safari.ContentPageGroupIdentifier.WebKit2DefaultFontSize %filltext:name=default-font-size:default=14%
    defaults write com.apple.Safari com.apple.Safari.ContentPageGroupIdentifier.WebKit2FixedFontFamily '%filltext:name=fixed-font-face:default=Consolas%'
    defaults write com.apple.Safari com.apple.Safari.ContentPageGroupIdentifier.WebKit2DefaultFixedFontSize %filltext:name=fixed-font-size:default=11%
    osascript -"tell application \"Safari\" to activate" 

    To use it, create a shell script snippet containing the above text, assign an abbreviation to it, and then type the snippet abbreviation in any text environment; Safari’s location/search bar works just fine. A fill-in window appears with the commands ready to execute, and with fields present in which you can enter different fonts and sizes. Enter the fonts and sizes you want, click OK, and the shell commands are executed.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)

  12. Take Control of TextExpander on MacVoices

    Chuck Joiner’s popular podcast features an interview with Michael E. Cohen, the author of Take Control of TextExpander this week. You can enjoy the dulcet tones of Michael’s voice in the audio version of the podcast at http://www.macvoices.com/wordpress/macvoices-1175-michael-e-cohen-takes-control-of-textexpander/. Or, if you wish to gaze at his striking visage as well, go to the video version at http://macvoices.tv/macvoicestv-1164-michael-e-cohen-takes-control-of-textexpander/.

    Posted by Michael E. Cohen (Permalink)