Vincent Danen introduces his favorite tool for automating text in Mac OS X. Typinator allows you to save time typing and will also correct oft-misspelled words.


If you type the same thing over again, or are prone to making the same spelling or text mistakes over and over, a text expansion and correction utility may be exactly what you need. With Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard), you can get this feature for free, but there are other alternatives that are much more flexible and powerful.

With Mac’s built-in Symbol and Text Substitution (see the Text tab in the Language & Text Preference Pane), it isn’t automatic; you have to select Edit from the menu bar and then Substitutions, and then you can perform the substitutions from there. As well, this will only work in Cocoa apps and, even then, not in every application. So the usage of this will be limited.

Instead, an automatic text tool like Typinator will do this for you, as you type, in nearly every application. The only thing you have to do is type, and it will perform the expansion for you.

Unlike the small number of expansions that OS X comes with, Typinator has support for a number of expansion sets from when you first install it. This includes auto-correction sets that will fix typos and common spelling mistakes (such as spelling “wierd” instead of “weird”). It also comes with HTML snippets, which are expansions that are meant for writing HTML code. For instance, typing <<tt will auto-expand to <tt></tt>, with the cursor positioned between the two HTML tags. Below is an example of snippet abbreviations and their expansions in Typinator.

Figure A

You can use text expansion for anything. You can use it for UNIX commands on the command line; you can use it to insert the current date and time; you can insert plain text or rich text. You can even have it insert pictures as an expansion, such as writing in a document and typing +mysig and having it expand by inserting an image of your signature.

The nice thing about the built-in OS X expansions is that they support special characters; for instance typing (c) would expand to the unicode © character. The same can be done with Typinator as well by just adding it to your personal snippets.

Finally, Typinator supports enabling different snippets on a per-application basis. So if HTML snippets should only be expanded in TextMate or any other text or HTML editor, it can be defined so that <<tt does not expand in Xcode or the Terminal. This allows you to re-use expansions or customize them slightly on a per-application basis (i.e., using +mysig in a word processor may expand to an image of your signature whereas in email or a plain-text editor it may expand to a text representation of your name).

Typinator is a solid productivity booster. Because you can define snippets of any length you can take a sentence or two that would cause you to type 25 characters and reduce it to 2 characters. With on-the-fly corrections to words you may misspell often, reduce the time spent editing and never spell that word wrong again (well, on a Mac, at least).