Configuring Other Preferences

Not all user preferences are managed through policy, typically because they do not need to be managed centrally.

Preferences vs. Policies

Preferences and policies are two different methods for controlling the browser's behavior.  They have different purposes, however:

  • Keep state of a user's personal browsing experience.
  • Are usually unique to each user.
  • Are writable by the user, as they live in the user's directory in a text file.
  • Are often under-the-hood, technical settings that don't necessarily make sense to pre-set per user or lock in with policy.
  • Use the master_preferences file as a template if no Preferences already exist.  Preferences are copied from master_preferences only once; changes to the master_preferences file made after that are not respected!
  • Are rules that the user's browsing experience must abide by.
  • Do not keep state of the user's experience.
  • Are usually applied to groups of users; they are not necessarily unique to each user.
  • Are not (typically) writable by the user.
  • Are clearly enumerated and are intended for the admin to use & set.
  • Are set only by the admin in special locations (registry, MCX, /etc/...).
  • Policies that should be editable by the user are called "recommended policies" and offer a better alternative than the master_preferences file. Their contents can be changed and are respected as long as the user has not modified the value of that preference themselves.
There are several notable preferences that are also policies, "homepage" being the most common.

Policies take precedence to preferences and preferences take precedence to recommended policies.  If "homepage" is specified in both the policies, and in the "master_preferences" file, policies will always override.

Should I use a Preference, or a Policy?

Prefer policies to configure Chrome on managed computers. Use recommended policies for settings that users should be able to change, and use mandatory policies for settings that users should not be able to change. A master_preferences file may be used to make default settings for new users, though doing so has some drawbacks:
  • The contents of a master_preferences file are copied once per profile at profile creation. As a result, it is not possible to automatically propagate modifications to a master_preferences file to users.
  • The preferences that may be set via master_preferences are not guaranteed to work in the future. It is possible that preferences may change or be removed such that values in master_preferences files would be ignored.

The Gritty Details

Preferences are kept in a file named "Preferences", which every Chromium / Google Chrome user will have in their own user directory.  This Preferences file is a text file that contains JSON markup.  Going through and editing every user's Preferences file to deploy a behavior change is really cumbersome and some preferences are protected by cryptographic hashes and can not be manually edited, so there are easier ways to manage this:
  • When users start Chromium / Google Chrome for the first time, they don't yet have any Preferences file.  
  • A file named "master_preferences" located next to chrome.exe or chromium executable, is used as a template for what becomes users' Preferences file.  On a system with Chrome installed from an MSI, this will be C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\master_preferences
    • On Mac OS X, for Google Chrome, this file is either of ~/Library/Application Support/Google/Chrome/Google Chrome Master Preferences or /Library/Google/Google Chrome Master Preferences
    • On Mac OS X, for Chromium, this file is either of ~/Library/Application Support/Chromium/Chromium Master Preferences or /Library/Application Support/Chromium/Chromium Master Preferences
  • You only need to create and populate the master_preferences file when you deploy Google Chrome, and all users on that machine will get those settings when they first start Chromium / Google Chrome.
The master_preferences file, like each user's Preferences file, is simply a text file that contains JSON markup, and will look something like this:

  "homepage" : "",
  "homepage_is_newtabpage" : false,
  "distribution" : {
      ...more stuff here ...

Some of the preferences should be obvious, but some are not entirely clear -- they are described at the end of this document.

Moreover, you'll notice that some of these preferences are managed by policy.  Note that no matter what is in the master_preferences or Preferences files, policy always takes precedence. Setting the home page in both the Preferences file and policy means that the home page in policy will be the one that Chromium / Google Chrome uses, and the user will not be able to edit it.

Preferences List

So, what preferences should you actually use?  There are actually lots and lots of preferences, most of which you won't really care about.

Here is a sample master_preferences list that may be of interest (this is a fully-functional master_preferences file):

  "homepage": "",
  "homepage_is_newtabpage": false,
  "browser": {
    "show_home_button": true
  "session": {
    "restore_on_startup": 4,
    "startup_urls": [
  "bookmark_bar": {
    "show_on_all_tabs": true
  "sync_promo": {
    "show_on_first_run_allowed": false
  "distribution": {
    "import_bookmarks_from_file": "bookmarks.html",
    "import_bookmarks": true,
    "import_history": true,
    "import_home_page": true,
    "import_search_engine": true,
    "ping_delay": 60,
    "do_not_create_desktop_shortcut": true,
    "do_not_create_quick_launch_shortcut": true,
    "do_not_create_taskbar_shortcut": true,
    "do_not_launch_chrome": true,
    "do_not_register_for_update_launch": true,
    "make_chrome_default": true,
    "make_chrome_default_for_user": true,
    "system_level": true,
    "verbose_logging": true,
    "browser": {
      "confirm_to_quit": true,
  "first_run_tabs": [

Most of these settings should be self-explanatory. The most interesting settings are:
  • import_bookmarks_from_file: silently imports bookmarks from the given HTML file.
  • import_*: each of these import parameters will trigger automatic imports of settings on first run.
  • ping_delay: RLZ ping delay in seconds.
  • do_not_create_any_shortcuts: suppress creation of all shortcuts (including the Start Menu shortcut)
  • do_not_create_taskbar_shortcut: only supported on Windows 8 and below -- TaskBar shortcuts are never created on Windows 10
  • do_not_launch_chrome: doesn't launch chrome after the first install.
  • do_not_register_for_update_launch: does not register with Google Update to have Chrome launched after install.
  • make_chrome_default: makes chrome the default browser.
  • make_chrome_default_for_user: makes chrome the default browser for the current user.
  • system_level: install chrome to system-wide location.
  • verbose_logging: emit extra details to the installer's log file to diagnose install or update failures.
  • first_run_tabs: these are the tabs & URLs shown on the first launch (and only on first launch) of the browser.
  • sync_promo.show_on_first_run_allowed: prevents the sign-in page from appearing on first run.
  • browser/confirm_to_quit: Supported only on MacOS can be used to prevent the confirmation prompt on quitting the browser. Note that it needs to be in the "distribution" section of the file.

Pre-installed Bookmarks

To add pre-installed bookmarks, you have to create a file that contains all of your bookmarks, then give the right signals for a Chrome install to import them when a user runs Chrome for the first time.
  1. First, set up bookmarks in Chrome as you'd like them to appear to the end-user
  2. Go to the Wrench Menu -> Bookmark Manager -> Organize Bookmarks -> Export Bookmarks
  3. The file that is saved/exported contains all of the bookmark data that will be imported.
To instruct an end-user's Chrome to import these bookmarks, include these elements in your master_preferences:
   "distribution": {
      "import_bookmarks": false,
      "import_bookmarks_from_file": "c:\\path\\to\\your\\bookmarks.html"
   "bookmark_bar": {
      "show_on_all_tabs": true

The relevant entries are:

  • "import_bookmarks_from_file": needs to have the path to bookmark file. The backslashes in the path must be escaped by a backslash; use double-backslashes.  Also be sure that this file exists at the point that the user first runs Chrome.
  • "import_bookmarks" should probably be false, so your imported bookmarks don't get overwritten.
  • "show_on_all_tabs": can either be true or false, whether we've promised the partner to show the bookmarks bar on by default or not.