Abusing Emoji in iOS and Your Mac 👑💩

September 20, 2012 holman
Quick Insightful Tip: There should be a little lady with her arms in the air between these two brackets: [🙆]. If your machine doesn't display that, well, this post probably wouldn't make sense to you anyway. Just imagine I'm discussing an impending dolphin takeover scenario.

You may want to make sure you're on Safari; Chrome doesn't appear to appreciate emoji like the rest of us.

Like most fourteen-year-old Japanese schoolchildren, my social circle in Silicon Valley has embraced the usage of emoji, a subset of Unicode that uses pretty pictures as letters.

You can easily tell a story with emoji:

🎅 🚀 👬 🐟 🍕 🏩 🎥 🎧 🍉 🚲 🐓 🙈

For example, this string of emoji means “Let’s go meet at Chipotle and build a nuclear fallout shelter out of pinto beans and discarded burritos”. See? Emoji is efficient.

Apple’s support for emoji in the last few years has been admirable. You can add an emoji keyboard to your iPhone or iPad by tapping through Settings ➡ About ➡ General ➡ International ➡ Keyboards ➡ Add New Keyboard….

On OS X Lion or Mountain Lion, just hit option + command + T in most text boxes and text areas and you’ll be able to drag and drop from the character viewer.

Naturally the next step is to see how far we can take this.

Your computer’s name and hostname

I don’t know about you, but my computer is a dick. It keeps not doing all of my work for me. What a piece of shit.

So what better way to show our affection to your hunk of metal than to rename it as a literal steamy pile of shit? 💩

In the “Sharing” preference pane, you can set the computer name of your machine. Let’s set it to a piece of poo:


If you have File Sharing turned on, your machine will proudly display its emoji in the Finder’s sidebar on other OS X machines on your network:


But this is where we run into our first problem. OS X is smart enough not to set emoji as your actual hostname; it keeps a separate internal plaintext hostname alongside the emoji name. Unfortunately it sets that plaintext to Macintosh.local. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time attracting potential mates once they discover I have such a boring hostname. After setting your emoji computer name, be sure to click Edit and change it to something sure to entice potential partners, like i-smell-like-cheetos.local.

AirPort Extreme

They say the two hardest problems in computer science are cache invalidation and naming things, but they must not have had emoji.

I have an AirPort Extreme at home, along with an AirPort Express attached to some speakers. I decided to emoji those, too.

In AirPort Utility, you can rename your router as you see fit:


You can also name your actual wifi network as emoji, too:


There’s some serious problems here, though:

Other clients: You can use emoji names for your wifi network and it works great if you connect to your base station with OS X Lion (and above), iPhone, or iPad. But if you run a more diverse network you’re going to run into problems. Snow Leopard and earlier, for example, renders emoji as square boxes since the OS just didn’t understand emoji until Lion. Your Xbox 360 also won’t render emoji, but it seems to connect just fine. It appears that Windows clients will refuse to connect to any emoji network name at all. Might be a feature instead of a bug, though.

Time Machine: If you have a hard drive attached to your AirPort Extreme for use with Time Machine, you shouldn’t name that drive with emoji characters. Your Mac will mount it correctly, but it’ll spin indefinitely at the “preparing backup” phase. You’ll likely run into the same problem if you instead use a Time Capsule, too.

iPhone, iPad, and iOS

In a few keystrokes you can turn your shiny, expensive Apple device into a shiny, expensive Apple device with an emoji name. Just go into Settings ➡ About ➡ Name and adjust it there:

iOS rename

This’ll show up neatly on your iTunes sidebar:

iTunes Sidebar

While you’re there, use emoji to name your iTunes playlists. For example, I use 🆕 for the last 100 songs added to my library, and 🔝 for my top 100 most-played songs.

Don’t be stingy, now. You can use emoji as iOS folder names, too. Here I use a big ol’ warning sign as a reminder to myself to avoid showing a couple of our internal GitHub apps publicly:

iOS Folder

Wait, ignore that last bit.


Turns out, you can use emoji as your OS X user password. It’s probably not a good idea, but then entire civilizations have been built on bad ideas before. Oddly enough, if you drag emoji into the password box, a single emoji shows up as two characters:


You can’t bring up the character palette at the password prompt, though, and you can’t paste from the clipboard, so you’d never be able to log into the account. In other words, it’s perfect security.

OS X Home Directory

Sure, this can’t go wrong.

Let’s create a new user:


By this point, OS X has figured out what you’re up to and probably thinks you’re a moron, so it stops you. You can’t drag or copy and paste emoji into the “Account Name” box, so there’s no way to create a home directory with non-legal characters.

Time to force the issue. After you create a user with a vanilla account name, you can right click it on the sidebar and select “Advanced Options”. From here, OS X is apparently cool with emoji:


I chose a dress shirt with a nice necktie (👔). No one suspects the mild-mannered office worker.

Surprisingly enough, OS X takes one look at that respectable necktie and says “YEAH SURE LOOKS GOOD TO ME! IS THAT A FULL WINDSOR???”


Click OK, because this is certainly something that can’t go wrong.

At this point OS X chugs along and creates the user. Log out, switch users, and behold, the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen: emoji in your menu bar.

Menu Bar, somehow

ls has some issues with emoji files, but bash seems to handle things okay-ish (and note that Terminal.app supports emoji, which is new in Mountain Lion):


Finder, in contrast, seems not to care one bit:


After playing around with it for a bit, it looks like OS X handled it like a champ. Nothing overtly crashed, no processes were amuck in Activity Monitor. I recommend all serious technologists move their home directory at their earliest convenience.

🎊🎈 HOORAY 🎁🎉

I really hope with this newfound knowledge that you now feel confident enough to go venture out into the world and accomplish nothing of value.