iOS and OS X Tip: Creating Text Shortcuts

Updated 4/27/16

Being able to type in a short phrase and have it expanded is a great productivity tool. Fortunately you no longer have to buy a third party application to have this ability, it is built into iOS and OS X.

On your iOS device, shortcuts can be created through the Settings App. Launch Settings >> General >> Keyboard >> Text Replacement. This page will show all of your currently defined text replacement strings. As you can see in my example below, the default “omw” for “On my way” is defined, as is also “sfv” which I added that will display the emoji for Spock’s “Live long and prosper” hand sign.

text shortcut
To add a new replacement string, click on the “+” in the top right corner. In the “Phrase” field type the phrase that you want the shortcut expanded into, and into the “Shortcut” field type the text shortcut you want to use. Then click on “Save”. As shown below I
want to use the shortcut phrase “*jb” to expand into “http://johnpurvis/”. Now anytime I type “*jb” it will get expanded into the full URL of my blog site.


I use the splat (*) as the first character of the shortcut to differentiate the expansion string from regular text. You can go through this same process to edit existing text strings as well. When creating the text shortcuts, you should in general:

  • avoid dictionary words
  • keep the length to 4-5 characters
  • use a special character as the first character


Now that I have defined the new text expansion string on my iPhone, it is automatically synced over to my iPad as well. Even better, the text shortcuts are also synced with my Mac. On a Mac if you go to System Preferences >> Keyboard >> Text you will see the
defined text shortcut strings as well. To add a new phrase there, use the “+” at the bottom left of the screen.

When using on the Mac, you may need to enable text replacement in some applications. Usually that is done, if needed, by going to the menubar within the App >> Edit >> Substitutions >> Text Replacement.


Using that approach you would need to go through
each application and enabling Text Replacement. There is a Command Line (CLI) alternative that can be used to enable Text Replacement for all supported Apps. Open a Terminal (Go >> Utilities >> Terminal) then type in:

defaults write -g WebAutomaticTextReplacementEnabled -bool true

Not all third party Apps support Text Expansion. One such is the Chrome web browser.

Even though there are occasional synchronizationproblems, I find having this text expansion feature very helpful.

– –

1 Sync is supposed to work between devices, but doesn’t always. As you can see from my example above, my Mac has more text strings than my iPhone. From what I have read, syncing is sometimes a problem between devices for some reason. Some trouble shooting
steps to try if iCloud is not syncing your text shortcuts:

  • Tun off iCoud Drive in Settings, reboot the device, then turn iCloud Drive back on
  • Try a hard reset of your iOS device (hold Home and Power buttons down)
  • Log off of iCloud, then back in

If you want to backup, then restore your text substitution strings you can do that too

See my other iOS and Mac OS X articles


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