It is a property list whose key-value pairs specify essential runtime-configuration information for the application.
The elements of the information property list are organized in a hierarchy in which each node is an entity such as an array, dictionary, string, or other scalar type.
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Plist are XML files in a specific format. Prior to XML, they had a custom format now called 'old plist'.
Foundations collection classes automatically generate XML files in the plist format when you use their serialization methods to write them to disk. They also automatically read them back. You can also write your own serializers for your own custom objects. This allows you to persistently store complex objects in a robust format.
One use for plist for programmers is that it is easier to use the plist editor to input and manage a lot of data. For example, if you have an class that requires setting a large number of ivars, you can create a plist, read it into an NSArray or NSDictionary and then initialize the instance by passing it the dictionary.
I use this technique when I have to use a large number of paths to draw complex objects. You define the path in the plist file instead of the code and edit the path in the plist editor.
It's also a handy way to create a large amount of detailed test data.
Rather like NSUserDefaults it can be used to persist users data. The other useful thing is that Plist files can be used to pre-populate your application with default data, and they can be easily generated from CSV files.