Researching file formats 18: DS_Store

This blog post is part of a series on file formats research. See this introduction post for more information.

Update: The official format definition is now online here: Desktop Services Store. Comments welcome directly to the Library of Congress.

The subject of DS_Store seems to bring the drama. There’s something about DS_Stores that really get people riled up. It feels like unlocking a particular trauma and people can’t help but express a lot of feelings (mostly anger) around the format. Like, it feels like every person who gets up-in-arms over the DS_Store was once a young computer user who was made fun of for checking in a .DS_Store into a git repo and it reminds them of how they were yelled at by an authority figure when they were a toddler but now they are a big tuff UNIX user.

It makes me really not want to look into it, it’s really off-putting to me.

As an archivist, I should hate the DS_Store too, because they can invalidate fixity and make things more complicated/annoying for my peers. I approach DS_Store files with curiosity, like a little fun treat that sometimes messes things up. Like gremlins? I’ve been using Linux for a long time, so they aren’t something that I ever have to interact with anymore (except when working in some more nonprofessional codebases, where they get left behind).

I don’t know, somehow I’ve accepted the DS_Store into my life. I think I encountered them at a time where I was really really excited about finally understanding what’s underneath computers, and it helps remind me of that kind of wonder that has unfortunately faded a bit as I’ve aged under capitalism.

Something that surprised me is that there is a fair amount of complaining about the DS_Store, but I feel like archivists might be the leaders in really understanding this format, frankly because they can be so unexpected and annoying. For a lot of the research I’ve been doing, I’ve been observing communities, asynchronously, to learn about all of the culture around usage of a format (corporate cultures, academic cultures, hobbyist cultures). For the DS_Store, it feels like archivists lead the culture as much as we are observing it. I don’t know if that makes sense – the DS_Store is so ubiquitous across everyone interacting with macOS, it has a much wider landscape than other formats with specific, predetermined user groups.

Here’s some interesting readings I came across while working on this format: