How can you debug an Automator action? (and any app protected by SIP)

Automator is really one, of the many, forgotten children of Apple Inc. and macOS.

It’s clear that Automator has not evolved since too many OS release.

It’s even more obvious when you try to implement a simple action for Automator. Can you imagine that Xcode template is still using springs and struts? Yes, still no autolayout by default.

Is anyone coding for Automator in Cupertino? I think not.

So long for UI minor issue… here come the fun part.

How can you debug you AMAction implementation?

The old way of doing so was simply to build your action plugin, install it and debug by attaching Xcode to Automator application process.

Simple, easy and straightforward.

Here comes High Sierra and SIP…

What’s the point with SIP?

System Integrity Protection is an additional security layer for your Mac to avoid compromising system processes by other user level processes.

When so many security threats from the internet are trying to attempt corrupting our computers, SIP appears to be a perfect brick in the protection wall built around our systems.

Getting around SIP for debug

You could choose to simply disable SIP. But this is not an optimal solution when my goal was simply to debug my action in Automator.

So what?

I could build my own Automator environment and debug my action in that specific shell application.

We can go faster and better.

Just clone Apple’s Automator and make it look it is no more a system application.

This can be done in two steps:

  1. duplicate application
  2. change its signature to make it appear to be developed by you.

For this last step you need to have your developer certificate is available in your keychain.

Doing this will lure the OS and you will be able to attach Xcode debugger to this specific Automator instance.

What are the steps?

  • From the Finder, in the Applications folder, just duplicate Automator application and give it a different name. Mine is “AutomatorDEBUG.”
  • Open a terminal to get a shell.
  • Go to the “/Applications” folder.
  • Change the application signature:
  codesign -s _AppleId@Company.com_ -f

Of course you need to replace with your real Apple Id of your developer account.

You can verify that signature was properly changed by calling again ’codesign’:

codesign --display --verbose=4

When you need to debug an Automator action, you now need to launch you customized AutomatorDEBUG application that will be visible in the menu “Debug/Attach to Process.”

I hope this trick will help you to develop new Automator actions. Those are really the easiest way to provide simple automation for your Mac applications.

Let’s hope Apple will bring Automator back on the front for the next macOS 10.14!