Friday, October 23, 2020
Home Linux What are configuration files? How to edit them safely

What are configuration files? How to edit them safely

Most of the computer programs we use – whether it’s offices, web browsers, or even video games – are configured through menu interfaces. It has almost become the default way to use our machines.

But some programs require you to take it a step further. Instead of menus, you need to edit the text file for the software to work the way you want it to.

These text files define the software and are – surprisingly little – called “configuration files”. If you want to improve your computer knowledge, you need to know what a configuration file is and how to edit it.

What are configuration files?

Before we get into the technical fool, let’s first determine what the configuration file is.

Config files are mainly editable text files that contain the information required for the program to run successfully. The files are built in a certain way, they are formatted by the user configurable.

Although some configurations are hard coded as software, the settings that you can change are included in the configuration files.

Surprisingly, there is no defined standard for how configuration files should work or what they should look like. That’s entirely the mood of the program developer.

Edit the Raspberry Pi boot configuration file

Linux users are particularly familiar with configuration files, as many basic maintenance tasks require modification. Adjusting Raspberry Pi






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often relies on editing configuration files. This can be to configure the wireless network you want to connect to, or to set the amount of RAM for graphics.

However, the configuration files are not exclusive to Linux. Sometimes you may need to edit them in Windows or macOS.

How to find and edit configuration files

Some configuration files are built in a format that matches the developer’s own template. Others use widely known standards used to construct data, such as:

  • JSON (JavaScript Object entry)
  • YAML (YAML Ain’s markup language)
  • XML (eXtensible Markup Language)

Some programs load the information stored in their configuration files when they start. At the same time, others regularly check the configuration file to see if it has been modified.

Whatever configuration file you want to edit, it’s smart to make a copy of it before making changes. If something goes wrong, you can restore the copy and start over!

Now let’s look at the real world configuration file. As we mentioned earlier, they come in different shapes and sizes. One configuration file that you almost certainly know is the host file. All Windows, Mac, and Linux use this to manually map IP addresses to hostnames.

Windows Config files

Windows users will find the host file c: windows system32 drivers etc .

To open it, double-click the mouse and select Notepad from the list of suggested applications. This is all you need to view and edit configuration files such as hosts. However, several options are available – see details below.

When a file is open, you’ll notice that it uses spaces (literally spaces and tab stops) to separate elements.

Edit the Windows host file in Notepad

Each hostname has its own line followed by a tab and an IP address. In addition, the host file allows the user to add annotations and comments, all of which begin with a hash symbol.

Linux configuration files

On Linux, you will find the host file /and so on/. This can be opened in Gedit or in a command line text editor such as nano or vim. In most cases, Linux distro is one or all of these preinstalled.

Some programs save the configuration file in the home directory, with a file name at the beginning of the section. These configuration files sometimes have a .rc file extension, and we call them “point files.”

Configure the files in macOS

Like Linux, the hosts file can be found /and so on/ MacOS operating system.

Mac users know that BBEdit is the default pre-installed text editor. This makes it ideal for editing configuration files in macOS. As with Linux, the command line editors vim and nano are also available.

Applications for secure editing of configuration files

So now we know what configuration files are used, let’s talk about how we can edit them.

To do this, you need a text editor. Avoid word processing programs; these can add formatting to the file that prevents them from reading correctly.

Edit the Windows configuration file in Notepad ++

The editors of the original text are available, as mentioned. However, third-party text editors are also available for additional functionality:

Charge: Notepad ++ For Windows (free)

Charge: Atom Windows, macOS, Linux (free)

Charge: Proud text editor Windows, macOS, Linux (free evaluation)

There are so many word processing tools available for each platform that it is difficult to recommend a single application. Linux users can also check our list Linux text editors






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. At the same time, this round up text editors for MacOS






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should help Apple computer owners.

When you edit a configuration file, it is important to make sure that you follow its rules. This can only be ascertained by looking at it. Some configuration files, such as the host file, explain these policies to you in commented lines. Others force you to read some documents or a couple of blog posts.

Lastly, if the configuration file you are editing has a JSON or XML format, consider a text editor with syntax highlighting. Notebook ++ and Atom are both good options. Highlighting the syntax improves accuracy by showing you an error.

Other places where you can find customizable configuration files

If you are interested in exploring configuration files in more detail, you can find them in all kinds of applications and platforms. There are more configuration files than configuring blocking websites and IP addresses!

In addition to the host file, you will find video game configuration files. They are often used to define and manage things like the keyboard.

At the same time, some configuration files can be used to cheat. This was the case with the original Deus Ex game on PC. Nowadays, cheating is much more difficult and often not worth the effort unless an official cheating space is allowed.

Web applications also use configuration files for customization.

What if your configuration doesn’t work?

Problems with editing configuration files are usually divided into two camps: permissions and user errors.

Problems with configuration files due to licensing issues are system integrity. You cannot save changes because you are editing as a regular user. To prevent unintentional misconfiguration, many configuration files can only be modified by those with administrator privileges.

Edit the Linux host file

This is easy to fix:

  • In Windows, right-click the text editor and select Run as an administrator
  • Try extending MacOS and Linux permissions with the sudo command. So, if you are editing a host file, run sudo nano / etc / hosts

(Note that if you specified another file name or location, you’ll effectively create a configuration file extension.)

When the problem is a user error, it means your fault. Make sure that you have not made any typos and that you have followed the rules in the configuration file.

While it may seem obvious, a simple typo can make your entire file useless. Before committing to changes and saving a file, be sure to:

  • Please check your change
  • Make sure you leave a comment

Also, be sure to close the configuration file before attempting to run the software you specified.

Config files are important

More than important, they are an integral part of using Linux. Knowing how to edit them properly can help you greatly.

Although you can edit many configuration files, be sure to copy the file before making changes. This way, you can go back to the original if something goes well.

Are you using Linux? Find out more here hosts the file on Linux






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