Using Apple Font Tools

Posted by scottstoel on March 3, 2009 at 9:33 am.

When troubleshooting font issues on your Mac, there are not very many tools that you can use to get under the hood and examine what the problem might be. Most of the time you are at the mercy of interpreting what might be happening. Sometimes you activate a font, but it does not show in your fonts menu, a font appears in your menus and you don’t remember ever activating it. At that point you are left to go between applications and see if the activation state is consistent between apps. And even then you can’t be sure if it is an application update issue, a cache issue or simply if you have a bad font.

Apple Font Tools

There is a an application (or in this case a suite of applications) that can help. Apple Font Tools is a little known, but extremely powerful set of command line utilities that can help you with may issues concerning fonts on your Mac.

The problem is there are so many things you can do with Apple Font Tools that there is no way to cover them all in a single blog post. I will visit some of the other interesting features of Apple Font Tools in the future, but the first I’d like to take a look at is ftxinstalled fonts.

Download and Install Apple Font Tools

The first thing you will need to do is download is Apple Font Tools Release 3.1.0. The download can be found at the link here.

Download the file, unzip it, then double-click on the Apple Font Tool Suite 3.1.0.dmg to open it. Then, double-click on the Apple Font Tool Suite 3.1.0.mpkg and click through the installer.

Since Apple Font Tools are command line based (there are a couple gui utilities installed as well, but we will visit those later) there is no application you can double-click on to access these tools. You will need to run these tools from Terminal.

Apple Tools - ftxinstalledfonts

The first tool we are going to look at is ftxinstalledfonts. The title of the utility pretty much says it all. It is a utility to see what fonts are installed on your Mac and where the fonts are located. This may sound trivial, but this is a very powerful tool for troubleshooting activation issues.

Running ftxinstalledfonts

Next we need to Launch Terminal. This can be found in the Applications/Utilities Folder.


For those who suffer from command-line jitters, Terminal can be a frightening place and there is no shortage of warnings for those who venture there proceed at extreme peril.

Now it is true you can do some real damage through the command line, but the tool I am going to discuss today is basically a harmless one. In fact, the commands I am going to tell you about you will be able to copy and paste right from this blog entry so you won’t need to worry about typos of the disk erasing, never-ever-ever-recover-your-data variety.

To run ftxinstalledfonts type “ftxinstalledfonts” and then, depending on the output you want, add a number of operands to the command.

For example, if you copy and paste the line below into Terminal and hit return you will be given a list of the active fonts on your Mac.

ftxinstalledfonts -f

Your returned information in the Terminal, depending on the activation state of your fonts, should look something like this below:


The information returned can be somewhat confusing because this command will also list fonts on your system that will never appear in your font menus such as Keyboard or AquaKana. But if you are aware that this can be the case (these fonts are found in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder and are fonts your OS needs) you can get some really useful information form the output.

Now if we run the command below you will be given a list of the active fonts and their locations.

ftxinstalledfonts -fl

This information is especially valuable if you are using a third-party font manage as it will be easy to determine what fonts are activated by that application and what fonts are active because they are in a system fonts folder.

I use FontAgent Pro to manage my fonts. If, for example, I want to find out what fonts are activated from within FontAgent Pro, I can type the line below and only the fonts activated by FontAgent Pro will be returned.

ftxinstalledfonts -fl | grep FontAgent

Note: The vertical line in the above command is called a “pipe” which takes the results from the first command and feeds it into the next command, in this case grep, which filters all the lines that contain the text “FontAgent.” If you want to learn more about the command command line, just Google “unix command line tutorial” and you will get a bunch of sites that can shepherd you along to command line guru status.

The result appears in the screenshot below:


From this we can determine that I have five fonts activated by FontAgent Pro (highlights mine) and that Terminal allows you to select non-contiguous text to copy and paste (way cool!).

You can also learn additional information about a font. Copy and paste the following command into Terminal:

ftxinstalledfonts -flrq

This will give you a list of all fonts in the system, showing their full name, FOND (QuickDraw) name, version name and directory location.

And if you would like to get a report of active fonts, you can take that the information into a text file and save it to your desktop using the command below.

ftxinstalledfonts -flrq > ~/Desktop/report.txt

ftxinstalled fonts can be used for troubleshooting as well. If you have a font that keeps appearing in your menus, although you never activated it in your font manager, it has to be somewhere. ftxinstalledfonts can tell you where it is.

For example, suppose we have a font appearing in our font menu in Flash named DINEngschrift, but we have not activated it in our font manager. With the command below we can find the location of the font.

ftxinstalledfonts -fl | grep DINEngschrift

After we hit enter we will get the information returned like in the screen shot below.


As we can see in the highlighted area, the font in question is installed in the home user font folder buried in a folder called “hidden font.”

These are just a couple of uses for ftxinstalled fonts. There are lots of other options you can find out about by reading the documentation and tutorials provided with the Apple Font Tool Suite.

Keep an eye out for future articles where we will discuss some of the uses for the other utilities that come with the Apple Font Tools Suite.