Show Long File & Folder Names on the Mac OS X Desktop

Nov 25, 2011 - 12 Comments

Show long file names in Mac OS X

Recently we covered how to show full file names on the Mac OS X desktop, avoiding the abbreviated labels that occur when a file or folders name is too large to fit in the allowed character count limit. That trick was done by increasing the desktops grid size, but as one of our readers pointed out in the comments, you are still limited to a maximum of 20 characters in a file name. Using a defaults write command, this can be adjusted to display very long file names without shortening them. As you may have guessed, this is achieved by increasing the desktops grid size even further.

Increase the File Name Displayed Character Limit in Mac OS X

The displayed character limit can be increased to virtually any number, for the purpose of this tip we’ll increase the file names character limit from 20 to 50.

Launch the Terminal from /Applications/Utilities/ and enter the following command.

defaults write com.apple.finder FXDesktopLayoutGridCharCount 50; killall Finder

Entering this command will change the count and immediately restart the Finder so changes take place. If you want fewer or more characters, adjust the number on the end accordingly. The screenshot at the top of this post shows a 100 character limit, but too large a number can look strange, making 50 a good compromise for showing long file names and not making a disaster of the desktop.

Restore the Default File Name Character Limit
defaults write com.apple.finder FXDesktopLayoutGridCharCount 20; killall Finder

Using the above command, the Finder will also restart and the desktops file name limit will be restored to the default setting of 20 characters.

Thanks to Brah for the great tip left in our comments

Update: Additional testing and user feedback suggests the defaults write trick may work in Mac OS X 10.6 only. For OS X 10.7 Lion users, increasing grid space works to the same effect but doesn’t require Terminal intervention.

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Posted by: William Pearson in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

12 Comments

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  1. Applephoria says:

    Mm…In OS X Lion don’t working :(
    Nothing happened after entering this command. Still displaying ~20 char.

    • peter says:

      I thought I had it working in Lion but now I am second guessing myself because it’s still shortening with 100 count

      • Brah says:

        may need to killall Dock after applying the command to see the effect. also works in conjunction with increasing your grid size.

  2. I Ruined Thanksgiving says:

    Definitely Snow Leopard only, but Lion allows you to show longer file names with a maxed grid.

  3. Kicker13 says:

    Works for me in Lion

  4. Brah says:

    woo. thats hot. Nice to see this was helpful to some. i spent a lot of time and research looking for this as the long file names “issue” has always driven me nuts for years.

    Also… this does work in lion btw. has to be used in conjunction with the grid size. increase grid size and apply the write command and desktop is actually usable.

    I noticed it right away when i did a clean installation of Lion to see if they finally got around to fixing the issue and they haven’t.

    someone at apple os x development team really should take notice of these things and apply them by default.

    it’s unrealistic expectation to the end user to try and name everything under 20 characters.
    ;P

    k later guise.

  5. Billy says:

    Doesn’t work in 10.7. All you losers who are saying it does work probably don’t have a file name longer than 20 characters. Try it, doesn’t work.

    Can anyone get this to work in 10.7? No? Lame.

  6. Hakuna Matata says:

    Does not work for me in 10.6.8

    I have tons of files and I need to see at a glance what each one is. With this the ellipses (…) I really cannot make sense of the files that I have.

    Steve Jobs, please tell your engineers to fix this annoying and important issue. I thought you were all about computers being human friendly.

  7. Craig says:

    +1: I, too, am frustrated by this limitation, and would really like a fix that allows 3 or 4 rows of characters instead of two, & an option to truncate what’s visible instead of wasting characters on …+last few characters.

    I wonder if some hacker could find where in the code it’s being limited to 2 rows-worth and change that to a 3 or 4?

  8. abdulrahman says:

    It does not work for 10.8.2 it’s really disappoint me

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