Note: I’ve included the original article text to describe the background issues about XML editing in macOS, but to retain your sanity, be sure to follow the May 2016 and July 2018 updates at the end and use a text editor that doesn’t require unzipping and rezipping the files
When you’re hand-editing Office files in Windows, it’s pretty straight-forward: unzip file > edit > rezip, you’re done. Editing in macOS requires a couple of extra precautions. This is because the graphical user interface adds Mac attributes to files and plants hidden files in folders. Office will not tolerate either of these:
XML error message in 2008
XML error message in 2011
XML error message in 2016
If you use macOS’s Archive Utility to unzip or zip the files, Word will refuse to open the resulting file. On top of that, if you look in any of the folders using the Finder, a hidden .DS_Store file will be created in the folder. When re-zipped, Word will not accept the extra file and again report an XML error. The solution to these issues is to use the command line, like the Unix warrior you want to be! Remember to run each Terminal command by pressing the Return key after typing the command.
A valuable utility for this is OpenTerminalHere. Open any Finder window, click on OpenTerminalHere and a terminal window opens pointed to the Finder window. So download and install it, then follow these steps to open, edit and re-zip Office files:
- Move a copy of the Office document (let’s call it TestDoc.docx) to a separate folder and open that folder in the Finder.
- Click on OpenTerminalHere to open a copy of Terminal aimed at the folder.
- In the Terminal, type
then press Return. The file is unzipped into several folders plus a file called [Content_Types].xml.
- Do not look in any of the folders using the Finder, or you’ll have to start over. To examine a folder’s contents, use the Terminal to change the folder, then list the contents:
- To go back up to the previous folder, type:
- To edit the files, open your text editor, then navigate using the File>Open dialog to find the file. Edit the file, then save and close.
- When you’re all done, double-check that terminal is pointing at the original folder holding the documents and the expanded folders. If you’re unsure, close terminal, then click on OpenTerminalHere to reopen in the right spot.
- In Terminal, re-zip the files with this style of command:
zip -r RevisedDoc.dotx [Content_Types].xml _rels docProps word
This example is for Word, but the correct syntax after zip -r is to type the name of the final document, followed by the file and folders, each separated by a space. The file is reassembled into an Office file.
- Test that you can open it. If you get an XML error notice, re-read the above steps and try again.
Please note: these editing techniques are required when editing in macOS with Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents and templates, plus Office Theme files (the kind exported from PowerPoint that combine all Theme elements.
If, on the other hand, you are editing a Font Theme or a Color Theme, those are simple XML files. They don’t need to be unzipped or re-zipped and Office doesn’t seem to care about macOS attributes attached to them. These plain XML files don’t need to be handled through the terminal, just use the Finder.
Next time, we’ll be looking at managing Word styles in macOS. Finally, a way to get rid of the zombie styles automatically created by Word! Happy hacking!
March 2016 Update
An (somewhat lame) alternative to working entirely in Terminal is to work on a network disk. Then you can open Terminal in your choice of folder and run the command:
defaults write com.apple.desktopservices DSDontWriteNetworkStores true
While this will prevent future generation of the .DS_Store files in that folder and any subfolders, it’s very likely you already have such files, since they’re created almost as soon as you view a folder’s contents in the Finder. So I recommend that while Terminal is open, you also run:
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles YES
The second line restarts the finder to force a refresh of the view. Now you can see any .DS_Store files and delete them before re-zipping the files into an Office document. You’ll have still have to do the zipping in Terminal. Also, no .DS_Store files means OpenTerminalHere doesn’t work, so you’ll have to navigate manually via Terminal commands. Now you know why this is a lame alternative.
If you try this technique, you can always restore the clean file view by running:
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles NO
Editing in macOS – May 2016 Update
BBEdit 11 now has the ability to open and edit Office files directly, avoiding all of the above hassle when editing in macOS. While older versions of BBEdit used Tidy to format text, that utility has been retired. The BBEdit programmers have written a script to format XML in human-readable form. You can download it from here, please be sure to read the installation instructions first: Click to download XML Tidy Script for BBEdit
Here’s your working procedure:
- Open your Office file in BBEdit 11 or later. In the left-hand pane, you’ll see a folder tree of the files contained within, so no unzipping is required
- Select the file you want to edit. The file opens in the main BBEdit window, displaying two lines. The first is the XML header, the second is the actual content.
- Click at the left end of the second line.
- Choose Text>Apply Text Filter>run_tidy.
Make your edits and save. It’s not necessary to linearize the XML. The Office program will do that anyway the first time you save it. However, if you like to leave things exactly the way you found them, click in from of the first line of content (after the header line), choose Markup>Utilities>Format…, change the Mode to Compact and click on the Format button. Save the file and test your editing in macOS.
Editing in macOS – July 2018 Update
Technology marches on! If you use the Chrome browser, there is a free XML editing alternative that avoids unzipping and rezipping files. Open this link in Chrome: OOXML Tools and download the free plugin. After installation, click on the OOXML icon to the right of the browser address bar. Drag your Office files onto the browser window to begin editing. When you’re finished, click on the Save button, then the Download button in the upper left corner and give the new file an appropriate name. Chrome will place the new file in your Downloads folder and leave the original file untouched. Important Note! As of August 2018, I found that OOXML tools does not recompress EMF or WMF files correctly. They will become boxes that say “This picture can’t be displayed”. This includes EMFs or WMFs that you have inserted and automatically generated EMFs when you place an Office file in another, like embedding an Excel file in a Word document. I’ve notified the developer of this bug, but proceed with caution until it’s fixed.
Thanks to Bram Alkema of the Netherlands for informing us about OOXML Tools, it should be a great utility when the EMF problem is solved.