Where Automator Actions and Workflows Live

http://www.tuaw.com/2012/12/17/where-automator-actions-and-workflows-live/

Where Automator Actions and Workflows Live

Automator’s great for streamlining some of the repetitive things you do each day on your Mac. With Automator, you can create your own custom plugins for the Services menu, Folder Action workflows that run when files are placed into a folder, add-ons for the print window’s PDF menu, and more. In most cases, when you save a workflow, Automator puts it where it needs to go automatically. But, where do your workflows actually live? If you want to remove or edit one, you’ll need to know. In this post, we’ll take a look at the various places workflows are found on your Mac.

Actions

Before exploring the different resting places for workflows, let’s discuss actions. Actions are the building blocks of your workflows. To use them, they need to be installed somewhere Automator can find them. There are four places actions can reside on your Mac:

  • Apps — Often, an app that supports Automator contains embedded actions. When Automator launches, it scans the apps on your Mac, loads their actions (if they have any), and displays them in the action library.

Aperture is an app that contains embedded Automator actions

  • /System/Library/Automator — This is where Apple puts all of the standard actions that come with OS X, such as actions for Calendar, Mail, and Safari.
  • /Library/Automator — Here, you may find some non-embedded third-party actions. The Microsoft Office actions, for example, are installed here. Actions in this folder are available to all user accounts on your Mac.
  • ~/Library/Automator — If you double-click action files you’ve downloaded or choose File > Import Actions… in Automator, the actions are installed here automatically. These actions are available to you, but not to other users on your Mac.

Actions are installed into one of the three /Library/Automator folders

Note: To access the Library folder in your home directory, press Option and choose Go > Library from the Finder’s menu bar.

Workflows

Automator’s template chooser panel gives you lots of choices when creating workflows

Automator allows you to construct workflows in a variety of formats, each of which has its own benefits and use cases. When you build a workflow, you choose the most appropriate format for your needs. Then, when you save the workflow, Automator either asks you to choose an output folder, or it saves it automatically into a specific location based on the workflow’s format.

Applications

Automator workflow applications are just like other apps. You double-click them and they run. When you save a workflow as an application, Automator allows you to choose its location. You can put it anywhere, such as your Applications folder, Documents folder, etc. Once saved, you can even drag it to your Dock for quick access.

Workflows

A workflow file is a saved Automator document. Double-click it to open it in Automator for editing. Like applications, workflow files can be saved anywhere you wish.

Calendar Alarms

A Calendar alarm workflow is a specifically configured application, that is intended to be run from a Calendar event’s alarm at a scheduled date and time. These types of workflows are saved into the ~/Library/Workflows/Applications/Calendar folder in your home directory.

A Calendar Alarm workflow is configured to run from an Open File alarm

Automator installs Calendar alarm workflows into your ~/Library/Workflows/Applications/Calendar folder

Services

Service workflows appear in the Services menu and contextual menus throughout OS X. They’re typically used to perform some automated function on selected text, files, images, and more. These types of workflows are saved into the ~/Library/Services folder in your home directory. You can move a saved Service into the /Library/Services folder to make it accessible to all users on your Mac.

Service workflows appear in the Services menu and contextual menus throughout OS X

Service workflows are saved into the ~/Library/Services folder

Service workflows can also be enabled/disabled or be assigned to hot keys in System Preferences, under Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts > Services.

System Preferences provides a place to manage your service workflows

Print Plugins

Print plugins appear in the PDF menu of the print dialog throughout OS X. They’re used to process printed PDFs. For example, you might create a print plugin that renames a printed PDF and uploads it to your FTP server. These workflows are installed into the ~/Library/PDF Services folder in your home directory. Like Services, you can move print plugins into the /Library/PDF Services folder in order for all users of your Mac to access it.

Print plugin workflows show up in the print window’s PDF menu throughout OS X

Print plugin workflows are saved in the ~/Library/PDF Services folder

Folder Action Workflows

Folder actions are workflows that are attached to folders and configured to run when new files are placed into the folder. Folder actions are saved into the ~/Library/Workflows/Folder Actions/ folder in your home directory. Folder actions can be configured using the Folder Action Setup app, which you can access by Control+Clicking on a folder and choosing Services > Folder Action Setup.

You can access Folder Actions Setup via the Finder’s contextual menu

Folder Action Setup allows you to enable, disable, and edit Folder Action scripts and workflows

Image Capture Plugins

Image Capture plugins are workflows that appear in the Image Capture app. They can be configured to run to process images as you’re downloading them from a camera. For example, you might make an Image Capture plugin that adds copyright metadata to your images, backs them up to an offsite server, and then imports them into iPhoto automatically as they are downloaded. Image Capture plugins are saved into the ~/Library/Workflows/Image Capture folder in your home directory.

Image Capture plugins can be set to process your downloaded camera images

Script Menu Workflows

Finally, although Automator doesn’t presently include an option for saving workflows in the OS X script menu, you can place them there yourself. Just save your workflow as a Workflow file or application and move it into the ~/Library/Scripts or /Library/Scripts folder. The script menu offers a nice location for organizing and gaining quick access to scripts and workflows. You can turn on the script menu in the preferences window of AppleScript Editor in /Applications/Utilities.

The script menu in OS X also allows you to run Automator workflows

You enable the system-wide script menu in AppleScript Editor’s preferences window

So, now you should have a pretty good handle on where your various Automator workflows reside. If you’re still getting started with Automator, this information will no doubt come in handy soon, as you follow along with some of my future posts.

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