A good text editor is essential for anyone who wants to build websites or get into coding. If you’re a Mac user, you’ve got a huge range of options in this field.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best free HTML text editors for Mac, as well as the top choices for those that prefer a paid app instead.
Best Free HTML Text Editors for Mac
The following is a list of completely free text editors for Mac, with no paid upgrades or extra purchases. You might think that free means “lacking in features,” but that’s not the case with these.
Atom makes a strong claim as the best free text editor for Mac. It’s an open source project from hosting and version control maestro GitHub. Don’t let the lack of a price tag put you off; Atom has some serious potential under the hood.
Describing itself as “a hackable editor for the 21st century,” Atom is a great starting point for beginners. It’s a basic text editor out of the box, with optional packages that add more complex functionality.
There’s support for Git and GitHub, with no need for additional packages. When you want to add features and language support, there’s a package manager that makes this easy. You can also customize the interface to your liking.
One standout package is Teletype for Atom, a real-time collaboration feature that allows you to work on projects with others. Atom is also cross-platform, so you can switch operating systems while maintaining familiarity with your favorite editor.
Download: Atom (Free)
Visual Studio Code
Like Atom, Visual Studio Code is a comprehensive app that excels as an HTML editor. Not to be confused with Visual Studio, Microsoft’s full-power IDE, VS Code is a lightweight text and script editor built around the concept of expanding support with plugins.
There are plugins for writing and running shell scripts in Code, for penning Markdown documents, and even writing AppleScript. That’s right; you can use Microsoft’s text editor to create scripts that will only work on Apple machines.
The Visual Studio Code marketplace turns the app into a Swiss Army knife of code, text, and script editing. A reliance on plugins means the app is lightweight and responsive from the start, as you won’t lug around features and functionality you’re never going to use.
Which plugins are worth getting? Our roundup of the best Visual Studio Code plugins will answer that for you. Also check out our top tips for boosting productivity in Visual Studio Code to learn more.
Download: Visual Studio Code (Free)
TextWrangler is one of the most user-friendly examples of a free HTML editor for Mac. Hosted on the Mac App Store, TextWrangler offers an old-school feel and rock-solid performance.
It’s another great entry point for anyone learning to code or use text editors in general, whether you’re writing simple AppleScript projects, editing CSS, or building a website in HTML. It’s also a good alternative to macOS’ built-in editor TextEdit.
The app isn’t just a stripped-down freebie though. It offers a wealth of powerful tools like grep pattern matching, multi-file search and replace, varied themes, and syntax coloring options. You can also work on files remotely via FTP and SFTP.
It lacks some of the fancier features seen in the premium packages, notably a preview pane to view changes in real time. It feels and behaves like a native macOS app, which makes it particularly user-friendly compared to some of the other choices here.
Download: TextWrangler (Free)
Next up is something completely different. Vim is a command line-based plain text editor that comes with macOS. Simply open Terminal, type vim, and hit Enter. You’re now using one of the most respected text editors of all time, but it has a steep learning curve.
Fortunately, Vim comes with a stack of documentation to help you learn how to use it. This includes quick reference and help documents, plus a 30-minute tutorial to get you up and running. Be warned: even figuring out how to access the tutorials is a lesson for those unfamiliar with the command line.
You can add new features to Vim and accomplish a lot with it if you know how to use it properly. This knowledge won’t come overnight, but in a few years you’ll likely be able to accomplish more than in a comparable GUI-based application.
Despite Vim being built into the OS, you might also be interested in MacVim. This is a slightly more user-friendly port, with full menu bar controls for functions and a more up-to-date version of Vim than that maintained by Apple. It’s slightly less intimidating for newbies.
Download: MacVim (Free)
Another great free option with an off-putting learning curve, GNU Emacs is the “free as in libre” version of the Emacs text editor. First released in 1976, Emacs is one of the longest-running open source projects, and it still receives updates today.
Emacs is known for its unique methods of getting work done. It relies on a programming language known as Emacs-Lisp, a fork of the Lisp language that was originally specified in 1958. You’ll need to use Emacs-Lisp for even the most basic functions of editing, but it’s also used to expand the editor beyond its humble text-based roots.
These expansions include an email client, news reader, file manager, and games like Snake and Tetris. Under the hood, though, it’s still a basic text editor with features like context-aware editing and support for syntax coloring. There’s full Unicode support and a packaging system for adding new features.
Like Vim, Emacs requires a commitment to learning how to use it long before you’ll understand why so many people swear by it.
Download: GNU Emacs (Free)
Best Premium HTML Text Editors for Mac
If you’re looking for a text editor to use at work, or you’re at a stage where your tools can have a serious impact on your productivity and paycheck, you should consider one of these. They all come with a decent free evaluation period, so you can try before you buy.
Sublime Text markets itself as a code, markup, and prose editor. It’s pricey, although the never-ending trial period lets you make sure it’s right for you before you buy.
For those who need a powerful tool, Sublime Text delivers a wealth of features and functions. Some of these are hallmarks of the app, like Goto Anything, which lets you open a file and quickly navigate to the relevant line in record speed.
The app creates a project-wide index of all classes used for references, plus it supports multiple selections so you can change more than one element at a time. To cut down on the time you spend in menus, developers devised the Command Palette for rarely-used functions, and fast project switching with no save prompts.
There’s a vast amount of customizability at your fingertips. Many favor the app for its smooth performance under load and attractive UI. It’s also cross-platform, and you only need a single license to use the app across all your machines and platforms.
Download: Sublime Text ($80)
Powerful, simple, and lightweight, TextMate is the preferred choice of many Mac professionals, and it’s not hard to see why. This editor has support for a range of languages and syntax, tabs, and a language-specific approach that can save you time and effort.
TextMate incorporates snippets, macros, and scoping features that vastly speed up workflow without stepping into full IDE territory. The developer aimed to bring “Apple’s approach to operating systems into the world of text editors” and that’s a fairly good summation of why so many love TextMate.
Despite development stalling from time to time, TextMate maintains a die-hard following of professional users. This has given way to an extensive database of TextMate documentation and screencasts for TextMate, which should help new users get up to speed.
It’s a simple tool to start using, with a clean UI and fair price point. TextMate is actually open source and free to use, though you should buy a license if you want to use it long-term.
Download: TextMate ($56)
BBEdit wouldn’t have earned a place on this list if it weren’t for a large userbase that defends it to the death. And that’s just fine, since BBEdit is a mature and powerful plain text editor that prioritizes performance and reliability above all else.
It’s the quintessential Mac text editor and comes from the same developers as TextWrangler. Despite lacking the freshness of Atom or the crisp UI seen in Sublime Text, BBEdit is built from the ground up for macOS, optimized for the platform, and takes a Mac approach to text editing.
That means keyboard shortcuts that make sense to the average Mac user, as well as an approach to text editing that follows many of Apple’s design sensibilities. It also bakes in support for Mac technologies like Bonjour. This removes some barriers for entry seen in other apps, but results in a slightly more cumbersome UI than its rivals.
BBEdit is perfect for HTML and text editing, with support for remote editing via FTP/SFTP. The app is highly customizable, from syntax coloring to menu options, user-defined functions, keyboard shortcuts, and macOS Terminal support right in the app.
Download: BBEdit ($49.99)
Not everyone uses their text editor for building websites, but many who do gravitate toward Espresso. It’s an editor aimed squarely at web developers, and it’s got powerful features to make creating websites a more productive experience.
There’s a laundry list of features that keeps people coming back. These include customizable snippets and UI, a clean modern design, custom spacing and indentation to keep your code clean, support for tabs, templates and custom templates, powerful find and replace, and multi-line editing for making changes in multiple locations at once.
It’s not cheap at $99, but you can download a trial and see how it works before you commit. It’s a great tool for web developers, but lacking in other areas like scripting and coding.
Download: Espresso ($99)
More Mac Text Editors to Consider
There are so many text editors available that we couldn’t possibly include them all, but we thought these were worth a mention if you’re still on the hunt:
- Brackets (Free): Adobe’s free text editor is worth a look if neither Atom or VS Code work out for you.
- Sandvox ($80): A WYSIWYG HTML editor for Mac that’s both accessible and more affordable than pro tools like Dreamweaver.
- RapidWeaver ($80): Another WYSIWYG tool that allows you to quickly build good-looking websites.
- Smultron ($10): A better-than-free text editor with a tidy interface that won’t break the bank.
What is the best HTML text editor? It isn’t necessarily the one with the most features; it’s the one that fits best with how you work. We’d recommend testing out a few before you settle on a decision.
Once you’ve picked out an app, you might want to start brushing up on your HTML. Take a look at our guide to HTML code samples you can learn quickly, then download our essential CSS cheat sheet for free to get your sites looking better than ever.
Read the full article: The Best HTML Text Editors for Your Mac
The Fairphone 3 is a great all-round, affordable Android smartphone. Although, it's the company's ethical and environmental credentials that make this phone worth the investment.
It’s no secret that smartphone production is not an ethical or sustainable industry. From the workers who mine the materials, all the way through to the factory line staff, modern electronics manufacturing is rife with issues.
As a conscientious consumer, you may have been looking for a better option, but found yourself lost in a sea of marketing and unproven claims. However, there is an alternative out there.
Environmentally and ethically-minded manufacturer Fairphone has been making devices since 2013, and recently launched the latest iteration of their flagship smartphone, the Fairphone 3.
- Operating System: Android 9.0
- CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 632
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 64GB, expandable
- Battery: 3,000mAh
- Display: 5.65-inch Full HD+ with Gorilla Glass 5
- Camera: 12MP front, 8MP rear
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, NFC, Dual SIM
- Ports: 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C charging port
- Price: €450 (currently available in the EU & UK only)
Most smartphones come in a rectangular package, roughly the size of the palm of your hand. The display dominates the front of the device. In this respect, the Fairphone 3 is no different.
At first glance, the unassuming device looks much like any other mid-range phone. However, look a little closer, and the unique details begin to show.
The front of the Fairphone 3 is covered edge-to-edge by the display, aside from small segments at the top and bottom. The top of the phone houses the speaker and front-facing camera, while the bottom displays the Fairphone logo. The speaker seems unusually prominent, and that’s intentional.
This smartphone is designed to be easily repairable, so many standard components are replaceable with minimal effort, and can even be purchased from Fairphone’s website. This is part of the company’s commitment to environmental concerns. Many people upgrade their phones when they become damaged—like a broken speaker or damaged charging port—as the cost of repairing them isn’t economical.
Fairphone devices are designed to last, and the company eschews annual upgrades and releases. In fact, four years separated the release of the Fairphone 2 and Fairphone 3. Being able to service your device not only increases its lifespan but also keeps costs down, too. In keeping with this ethic, it is possible to pop-off the back of the phone to access the battery compartment and the SIM card and SD card slots.
The back is the device isn’t colored, with Fairphone opting for a translucent effect, allowing you to see an outline of the electronic components below. The 12MP camera is located on the upper left, while the fingerprint reader is slightly lower in the middle of the phone.
The placement of the fingerprint reader is a little awkward, as it’s too high up the back of the phone for your finger to land on it comfortably. Unlike many of their peers, Fairphone hasn’t removed the 3.5mm headphone jack, which can be found on the top of the phone.
On the underside, there is a single USB-C charging port. You’ll also find all the device’s buttons on the left-hand side, including options for volume up, volume down, and power.
Operating System and Software
The Fairphone 3, like the company’s previous models, runs Google’s Android operating system. While some manufacturers layer their own software atop Google’s platform, Fairphone uses stock Android in their smartphones. The device ships with Android 9.0 Pie pre-installed, which was released in 2018. Google follows an annual upgrade schedule, so in 2020 Android will be again updated to Android 11.
There was a time when OS updates used to be feature-heavy releases, but these days most updates are relatively minor. Android 9 supports many of the same everyday apps and services that you’d expect from your smartphone. But it is worth considering if you feel like this would be an important factor to you, especially if you intend to keep the Fairphone 3 for around four years.
The Fairphone 2 supported two operating systems; Android and Fairphone OS, the company’s open-source Android platform. Android, as most of us know it, is heavily focused on Google services, with this software deeply embedded into the OS. However, Android is actually open-source software, allowing anyone to customize their own variations. Fairphone OS was designed to provide a Google-free Android experience for the Fairphone 2.
Unfortunately, Fairphone OS is not currently available for the Fairphone 3, although it may be an option in the future. That the company is committed to a Google-free Android experience is evidence of their ethical stance. Google, as the world’s largest ad-provider, comes with many ethical and privacy-related problems. Generally speaking, those who care about repairability, ethical consumerism, and environmental impact are likely to embrace ways to minimize Google’s presence in their lives.
Fairphone 3 Performance
While ethics and environmentalism are crucial considerations, so, too, is the performance of the Fairphone 3. After all, you wouldn’t want to be lumbered with a sub-par device for the next few years. Fortunately, that won’t be the case if you opt for this smartphone.
As is to be expected for a phone at this price point, you won’t get flagship-level performance. However, unless you produce professional video or photo content with your smartphone, or hope to play the latest mobile games, the Fairphone 3 will be more than enough for most other uses.
Compared to similarly priced alternatives, the camera is lacking. In theory, the Fairphone 3 has a similar sensor to the Google Pixel 3a. However, it is the power of Google’s software that polishes average snaps into something worthy of your favorite social network. There’s nothing wrong with the Fairphone 3 camera, but it’s not spectacular either. This will become more evident over the phone’s lifetime, too.
If you’re transitioning from a flagship device from the past few years, the Fairphone 3 will feel slow. There is a slight lag when opening or switching between applications. It’s not enough to be annoying, but you’ll notice it all the same.
That said, the point of the Fairphone 3 isn’t necessarily to make the highest-performing device; it’s about rethinking how we approach electronics. Although it would be easy to dismiss the phone when comparing it against other recently-released smartphones, that would be to miss the Fairphone’s difference. This isn’t an excuse, either, but is the reality of choosing an ethical smartphone.
Fairphone 3 Battery Life
Given the specifications of this phone, I wasn’t expecting much when it came to battery life, either. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it lasted about a week in standby—powered on, with apps running in the background, but no regular use—and easily made it through a day’s worth of regular use. The Fairphone 3 doesn’t come with a charger in the box.
As the phone uses the now-common USB-C charging port, it’s likely you already have a suitable charger. If not, they are easily found in most retailers. This decision reduces the amount of e-waste generated by the Fairphone 3. Most of us also carry portable chargers around, too, reducing the need for a wall socket charger. As you can easily access and remove the battery, you could also keep a charged spare with you to swap out as needed.
Apple, generally regarded as the most principled of all the large tech companies, uses a company called Foxconn to manufacture their iPhones. Since 2010, there have been ongoing worker welfare issues in these factories, and in some cases, becoming a contributing factor in several suicides.
Apple is certainly not alone, of course: Doro, Google, HMD Global (Nokia), HTC, Samsung, Sony, TCL, and ZTE have all received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for supply chain management. In the same rankings, Fairphone was the only company to be awarded the best rating.
It’s a similar story for toxic chemical management. However, in this category, Fairphone received the worst rating as they failed to provide relevant information to Ethical Consumer. Their last known award, in 2016, was a middle rating. The fact that Fairphone, a company striving to produce the most ethical and environmentally-friendly devices, achieved merely a middle rating, shows how complex this area is.
In the EU alone, there are over 211 million new smartphones sold each year. In a 2019 Coolproducts study, it was estimated that Europe’s phones had an annual climate impact of 14.12 million tonnes of CO2, with 72 percent of that attributable to production and disposal. That tremendous impact is fueled by the tech industry, who market the slightest improvements as revolutionary, must-have new features.
The Fairphone 3’s Ethical Credentials
The Fairphone is a reaction against that industry. It is an alternative for those who don’t want to give up smartphones, but take issue with the way manufacturers run roughshod over the planet. The phone is easily repairable—there’s even a screwdriver included in the box—and if the past two Fairphones are an indication, it will be supported for years to come. That’s not to say that this is a 100 percent ethical and environmental phone.
Given the complexity of modern manufacturing, it would be unrealistic to expect this phone to achieve all of those goals. However, the past seven years have seen the company steadily improve their credentials and make significant inroads towards a better future. It’s also important to remember this isn’t a zero-sum game; some progress is better than none at all.
For example, the company found they weren’t able to identify the source of the gold used by many components manufacturers. Instead of abandoning their position, they now buy “fairtrade” gold and sell it on exchanges to compensate for the lack of traceability, acting almost like a carbon offset, but for gold.
Should You Buy the Fairphone 3?
Ultimately, the Fairphone 3 is a decent phone. But it’s the company’s ethical and environmental credentials which are its key selling points. It’s not an easy phone to compare against the competition, either. It lacks some of the specifications of the latest phones and even runs an older variant of Android.
However, it is easily the most repairable phone around, with iFixit rating it a perfect 10 out of 10. Fairphone’s commitment towards fairer worker rights, improved supply chain management, reduction of electronic waste, product longevity, and carbon impact are a significant part of the reason you’d buy the Fairphone 3. It may not be the fanciest phone around, but it doesn’t need to be.
This is a phone you’ll be able to keep for years, and can even repair yourself. As awareness grows of the impact humans have on the planet, the best choice you can make is obvious; the Fairphone 3.
Read the full article: The Fairphone 3 is an Affordable, Ethical, Sustainable Must-Have
The Apple Watch introduced a fundamentally new way of interacting with a smartwatch. This means there are a whole lot of new tricks to learn about, of course.
While you may have discovered some of these Apple Watch tips on your own, others might be totally new to you. So take a look through these cool Apple Watch features and you’ll hopefully spot something you want to try out.
1. Set a Photo as a Watch Face
For a great way to personalize your Apple Watch face, why not use a photo from your library? It takes only a minute to pop a picture of your pet, child, or favorite vacation spot on your Watch.
Here’s how to do it:
- Launch the Photos app on your iPhone.
- Open the particular picture you want to set.
- Tap the Share icon and select Create Watch Face.
- Select the Photos Watch Face. If you’re feeling fancy, try the Kaleidoscope Watch Face instead.
- Tap Add.
Your Watch should now rock the custom picture on its face.
If you don’t see the change reflected, you need to manually update the Watch face. Swipe all the way to the right until you find your custom photo face.
2. Save Music Locally to the Apple Watch
Listening to music while you’re hitting the gym or heading out for a run can be exhilarating. But having to carry around your iPhone during such intense activities isn’t convenient.
Fortunately, you can sync music from your iPhone to your Apple Watch. The music is stored locally on your Watch, so you can leave your iPhone behind.
Here’s how to sync music:
- Launch the Watch app on your iPhone.
- Select Music.
- Tap Add Music and select the playlists you would like to sync.
Note that the sync begins only when you place the Watch on its charger. The wireless transfer takes some time, so be patient while the sync completes.
Once it’s done, you can play music locally on your Apple Watch by opening the Music app. Just pop in your AirPods or any other good AirPods alternative.
3. Use Apple Watch to Locate Your Misplaced iPhone
This is one of the most useful Apple Watch tricks, especially if you regularly misplace your iPhone in the house. Your Apple Watch can help you locate your paired iPhone.
Simply swipe up on your Apple Watch to open the Control Center, then tap the ping icon. Your iPhone should make a loud sound to help you locate it. You can also long-press the ping icon and your iPhone’s LED will flash briefly to help you locate it in the dark.
Note that you need to long-press the ping icon, not Force Touch it. This trick also works when your iPhone is on silent mode.
4. Eject Water From Apple Watch After a Swim
The Apple Watch Series 2 and later has a water resistance rating of 50 meters, which means you can wear it while swimming. However, water can get inside the speaker or the microphone port, leading to temporary muffling or less accurate barometer altitude measurements.
Thankfully, the newer watch versions come with a Water Lock feature that locks your screen automatically when you start a swimming workout. When you’re done, unlock the screen by spinning the Digital Crown. The screen will unlock and your watch will force water out of the speaker.
You can also eject water manually. To do so, swipe up to access the Control Center on your Apple Watch. Tap the water droplet icon to initiate the process.
Speaking of water, if you’re wondering how to clean your wearable without damaging it, check out these tips for cleaning your Apple Watch safely.
5. Take Photos With Your Apple Watch
The Apple Watch doesn’t come with a dedicated camera, but it can act as a remote for your iPhone’s camera. This remote capture feature is particularly useful if your iPhone is mounted on a tripod afar. It can be also helpful if you want to take large group selfies and make sure everyone fits within the frame.
Open the Camera app on your Apple Watch and the Camera should automatically open on your iPhone. If it doesn’t, just open it up manually.
Position the iPhone and frame it to get the perfect shot. From there, tap the shutter button on your Watch to take a picture remotely. To give yourself time to prepare for the shot, you can tap to set the timer which will count down from three seconds.
You can view the pictures in the Photos app on your iPhone.
6. Set Your Apple Watch a Few Minutes Fast
If you use the old-school trick of setting your watch’s time a few minutes ahead so you aren’t late, the Apple Watch has you covered.
Here’s how to set your Watch a few minutes fast:
- Open the Settings app on your Apple Watch.
- Tap Clock.
- Here, you can choose to set the time up to 59 minutes ahead by turning the Digital Crown.
- Tap Set when you’re done.
Note that events and reminders will still notify you at the actual time, rather than this “fast time.”
7. Get the Time Without Looking
While you can obviously look down at your Apple Watch to catch the time, there are a few handy features for telling you the time without looking.
Hear a Sound on the Hour
You can set your Watch to have a bird chirp or a bell ring at the top of every hour:
- Open Settings and select Clock.
- Enable the toggle for Chimes.
- Tap Sound and select Birds or Bells.
Feel the Time on the Hour
If you enjoy getting that tap on the wrist your Apple Watch can give, you can receive taps for the time too:
- Open Settings and select Clock.
- Tap Taptic Time.
- Enable the toggle for Taptic Time and then choose a style from Digits, Terse, or Morse Code.
Hear the Time Anytime
Maybe you use a Watch face like the flower or butterfly, where seeing the exact time isn’t an option. If you need to get the time down to the minute, you can have your Apple Watch announce it:
- Open Settings and select Clock.
- Enable the toggle for Speak Time.
- You can choose from Control With Silent Mode or Always Speak.
To hear the time announced aloud, just hold two fingers on your Watch face.
8. Use Nightstand Mode on Apple Watch
You may like to charge your Apple Watch instead of wearing it when you sleep at night. And if you do, your wearable can double as an alarm clock in Nightstand Mode. To use it:
- Open Settings and select Nightstand Mode.
- Enable the toggle for Nightstand Mode to turn it on.
Now when you charge your Watch, it will not only display the battery status, but the time and date as well. Plus, once you set the alarm, you’ll see the time it’s set for too.
If you put your Watch on its side, you can use the Digital Crown as a snooze button and the side button to turn off your alarm when you wake up.
9. Cover to Mute Your Watch
This is probably the simplest trick on the list, but many aren’t aware of the Cover to Mute feature.
If you’re sitting in a meeting or classroom and your Watch starts alerting you with a noise, you can just cover the face with the palm of your hand for three seconds to mute it. To make sure this is enabled:
- Open Settings and select Sounds & Haptics.
- Enable the toggle for Cover to Mute to turn it on.
The next time you forget to silence your Watch and it sends you a loud notification at an inopportune moment, just cover it with your palm and you’ll receive a tap to confirm you’ve muted it.
10. Clear All Notifications With a Tap
Here’s one more simple but super handy Apple Watch tip: did you know that you can quickly clear all of your notifications at once?
When you see that small red dot at the top of your Watch face, you know you have at least one notification. And after you view it, the red dot disappears, but the notification does not.
To clear all of your alerts in one fell swoop, open your notifications, use Force Touch on the screen, and tap Clear All.
More Tricks to Level Up Your Apple Watch Game
Hopefully, you’ve learned some new Apple Watch tips and tricks that aren’t fairly obvious. There’s definitely a lot to unpack in this handy little device.
Amidst all the eyeball-grabbing features, it’s easy to miss out on the little-known uses for your Apple Watch. Take a look at those to get even more use from your wearable.
Read the full article: 10 Apple Watch Tips and Tricks Everyone Should Know
Do you need a firewall on your Mac? Well, yes and no.
Chances are that your computer is behind the firewall that’s part of your router, so having macOS’s firewall turned off makes it easier to set up connections with other Apple devices. But if you use a laptop and hop onto untrusted networks frequently, you should enable the firewall.
macOS also includes an assortment of shared network services to remotely access your content. If you keep those services enabled or use third-party apps, that could make your Mac vulnerable to a network attack. We’ll show you how to configure your firewall and when you need to use it.
Setting Up Your Mac’s Firewall
The importance of a firewall as a part of a security strategy cannot be underestimated. We have already discussed in detail why you should use a firewall.
In macOS’s case, there are two components of the software firewall.
Application Layer Firewall (ALF)
This component of the firewall will allow or deny access for an app to establish communication over the network. It is not based on the ports used. The built-in macOS firewall offers this, and by design, it’s simple and intuitive. You can specify, for each app, whether to allow or block incoming connections.
To turn on the firewall on your Mac, open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall. Click the lock icon in the lower-left of the window, enter your administrator password, and click Unlock.
If the window doesn’t already say Firewall: On, click the Turn On Firewall button. The green circle lights up, and your Mac will only allow incoming traffic for established connections, signed software, and enabled services. You can later turn off your Mac’s firewall using the corresponding button.
Packet Filter (PF) Firewall
This component of the firewall is embedded deep in the operating system kernel. PF is the OpenBSD packet filter. Its primary function is to filter network packets by matching the properties of individual packets (and the network connections built from them) against the filtering criteria defined in the ruleset.
With a PF firewall, you can control network traffic based on virtually any packet or connection type. This includes source and destination address, interface, protocols, and ports. Based on these criteria, you can let the packet pass, block it, and trigger events that other parts of the operating system can handle.
A PF firewall came into effect on macOS starting with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion. While ALF is easy and intuitive to use, setting up a PF firewall requires a thorough knowledge of syntax, logic, and network configuration. You must edit the configuration files manually, and the packet filter monitoring is entirely done from the command line.
Configure Apple Firewall Settings
macOS includes many built-in services to share files, printers, access resources remotely, and more. To enable a service, navigate to System Preferences > Sharing and tick the box next to each service you want to use.
Since the firewall works on the per-application basis, you’ll see these services listed by name rather than a port number. For example, you’ll see File Sharing on the pane instead of port 548.
To customize the firewall, head back to the Firewall panel and click the Firewall Options button. This will reveal more firewall configurations. Use the Plus and Minus buttons to add or remove apps as needed. You can also choose to check some additional options below.
Any services you’ve checked in the Sharing panel as above will automatically appear in the list of allowed connections. But if you disable any of the services, they’ll no longer appear in the firewall options pane.
When any third-party app starts listening for incoming connections, you’ll see a message asking “Do you want the application “[App]” to accept incoming network connections?” Click Allow or Deny to modify the firewall settings. Apps you allow access will appear on the list.
Should the Outbound Firewall Be On or Off?
The built-in firewall gives you the ability to monitor and block incoming connections. However, you can monitor outgoing connections as well. How can an average user utilize outgoing traffic data? Let’s illustrate with some examples.
- Most apps that you use on your Mac have a visible interface and continuously exchange data between your machine and servers located elsewhere. But many processes running in the background also send and receive data.
- Take a look at all the processes in the Activity Monitor > Network tab. How can you be sure that all those connections are genuine?
- Apps partake in activities all the time: your email app downloads new messages, apps periodically check for updates, and Dropbox syncs newly changed files. These activities are fine, but if you download a malicious app that secretly logs your keystroke and sends sensitive data to a malicious actor, that’s a problem.
- Premium apps routinely “phone home” to check your license data, but some developers may collect sensitive personal information without your consent. These apps may also sniff or broadcast over your network, copy the configuration details of your Mac, and monitor how you use a particular app.
From these examples, it’s clear that a two-way firewall offers protection from both inbound and outgoing traffic. They can help identify the activity of malware (if it’s installed and running), but they’re less concerned about security than privacy.
Third-Party Firewall Apps for Mac
Many third-party firewall apps provide control over both incoming and outgoing connections. We discuss a few popular ones below.
LuLu is a free, open source firewall that aims to block outgoing traffic unless it’s explicitly approved by the user. Once installed, it will alert you about new or unauthorized attempts to create an outgoing network connection. Click the Allow or Block button to handle the connection.
The alert window displays a process icon and code-signing status of an app. The built-in VirusTotal integration can help you check if an app is malicious or not. Along with it, you can see the hierarchy of the process (this helps you to understand the main culprit process), process details, and more.
Download: LuLu (Free)
Radio Silence is the simplest firewall app for your Mac. After installation, the app automatically runs in the background without any menu bar icon or other visual indicators. Navigate to the Firewall tab and click the Block Application button. Once you add an app to the blacklist, it’ll no longer connect over the internet.
Since you’re manually adding these apps, you won’t see any annoying popups. The Network Monitor tab provides you with real-time data for a particular process or an app. You can find hidden helpers, in-memory processes, daemons, XPC services, port numbers, and host IP addresses. While the app comes at a small fee, you can try it before you buy.
Download: Radio Silence ($9, free trial available)
Little Snitch is a host-based application firewall for Mac. The app provides detailed reports on processes, outgoing and incoming connections, ports, and protocols. It also shows the complete traffic history down to a one-minute interval time range.
By default, the Silent Mode feature allows all network access not explicitly forbidden by a rule. Since you’re not deny anything, you’ll have time to learn the ins and outs of the app. Behind the scenes, the app records every connection. From there on, you can start creating rules.
The Network Monitor shows a global map of the active connections from your system to the IP-derived or probable locations around the world in real-time. The left panel displays a list of apps sending and receiving data, while the right panel gives you a detailed summary.
The Automatic Profile Switching feature allows you to create filtering profiles based on the network. You can create separate profiles for home, work, the coffee shop, and more. There are many more features, though the software doesn’t come cheap. For enthusiasts, however, Little Snitch is a hard firewall to beat.
Download: Little Snitch ($45, free trial available)
Murus is a graphical frontend for the PF firewall. It packs an intuitive interface and lets you configure the app using the built-in presets. It also gives you a ruleset editor to create and manage rules. You can create complex rules with advanced options like port knocking, accounting, and more.
Murus Lite is a basic firewall with only inbound filtering and logging capabilities. For $10, you’ll get outgoing filtering capabilities, custom rules, port knocking, customization related features, and a lot more.
Download: Murus (Free, premium versions available)
A Layered Defense Offers the Best Protection
A firewall is not a magical solution to problems such as malware and spam. But its importance may vary in different use cases. For an standard user, the built-in firewall, along with Little Snitch, is more than enough. If you work for a business that uses all Macs, then having a different layer of firewall protection makes sense.
A combination of an ALF and PF firewall can work well without any major issues. However, their approach to network filtering is different and covers distinct layers of the network stack. The same is true for third-party firewall apps. Every third-party ALF can work with the PF firewall.
Read the full article: Does Your Mac Really Need a Firewall? What You Need to Know