9 Simple Tricks to Improve the OS X Finder

Mar 1, 2013 - 31 Comments

Get a better OS X Finder with these options

The OS X Finder is how most of us interact with the filesystem on our Macs, and while the default settings are user friendly, there are some additional options that can be configured to make the Finder a much better experience. From the simplest things like showing the extension of documents, to revealing the status bar and having invisible items become shown again, you’re sure to get more out of the Mac Finder by making a few of these adjustments.

1: Always Show File Extensions

Tired of not knowing what’s a .jpg, .png, .gif, or whatever else just by looking at the extension? Show those file extensions and you can easily identify file formats just by looking at the name:

  • Go to the “Finder” menu, then choose “Preferences”
  • Back in Finder Preferences, go to the “Advanced” tab and check the box next to “Show all filename extensions”

Show File Extensions in Mac OS X

2: Forget All My Files, Open New Windows to Home Directory

All My Files can be nice, but if you actually sort files by the folders yourself it’s usually just an extra step before you get to your home folder, let’s change that back:

  • Open Finder Preferences by going to the “Finder” menu, then choosing “Preferences”
  • Under the “General” tab, pull down the menu next to “New Finder windows show:” and select your home directory

Open Finder windows to the Home folder

3: Show the Status Bar

The Finder window status bar displays important information ranging from how much space is available on a Mac to how many files are in the current directory. This should be shown all the time, and it’s easy to do:

  • From any Finder window, pull down the “View” menu and select “Show Status Bar”

Finder status bar shown

4: Show the Path Bar

Ever wanted an easy way to see exactly where you are in the file system? Show the Path Bar, and you can not only see your full path but instantly jump forward and back by selecting the appropriate parent and child directories. This may be best for advanced users who are often digging around deep in the file system, but it’s so useful it must be included:

  • From any Finder window, go to the “View” menu and choose “Show Path Bar”

Finder Path bar

Remember, the Path bar is interactive! You can click on it to jump to locations, and even drag and drop things into it.

5: Show Your Home Directory in the Sidebar

With how often things are stored in the Home directory, it should probably be visible in the Finder window sidebar all the time. That’s an easy option to set:

  • Open Finder Preferences from the “Finder” menu, choose the “Sidebar” tab
  • Check the box next to your username and the home icon

See the Home folder in the Sidebar

Now use drag & drop to arrange your Home folder in the sidebar to somewhere that makes sense, somewhere near the top works for me.

6: Customize the Tool Bar

The Finder window toolbar can be modified to add or remove frequently used Finder features. The back/forward buttons, arrange, and sharing features are great, but don’t forget to adjust this yourself if you want some more quick options:

  • Go to the “View” menu and select “Customize Toolbar…”
  • Drag commonly used actions into the toolbar (Path and Connect to Server are great additions)

A custom Finder toolbar

7: Always Show the Users Library Folder

The Library folder is where preference files, caches, and user data is stored, but it’s now hidden by default. With a quick visit to the command line you can have the ~/Library/ directory always be shown again in OS X.

  • Open Terminal and type the following command:
  • chflags nohidden ~/Library/

  • Exit Terminal

Show the Library folder always

8: Always Show Hidden & Invisible Files

Perhaps best reserved for advanced users and web developers, setting hidden files to always show in the OS X Finder is a huge time saver for anyone who frequently needs to access files that start with a . or are otherwise hidden.

  • Open Terminal and enter the following defaults string:
  • defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles -bool YES && killall Finder

  • Exit Terminal

Invisible files now showing in the Finder

Yes, this also reveals the Library if you haven’t set it to be visible with the prior command. Note that hidden files icons are slightly opaque compared to a normally visible file.

9: Show Item Info of Files & Folders

Having Finder tell you item info is incredibly useful, you’ll suddenly see how many files are in directories and image dimensions will become visible right from the Finder. This is a must-have option for anyone who works with graphics or images in particular.

  • Right-click on any Finder window and go to “View Options”
  • Check the box next to “Show Item Info”
  • Optionally (but recommended) select “Use as Defaults” to apply the item info change to all Finder windows

Show item info

Anything Else?

Did we miss something? What are ways can the Finder be modified to be even better and more useful? Let us know in the comments. And if you’re looking for some more advanced options to improve Mac OS X, check out this list of the best defaults write commands too.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

31 Comments

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  1. bad_r0b0t says:

    Thanks for the recap, but Customizing the Tool Bar could be improve by dragging common folders and app too, useful !

  2. a_ says:

    Useful tips.
    But for many people the Path Bar is just annoying.
    Fortunately, OSXDaily has a very good suggestion. ;)

    In this old post (http://osxdaily.com/2007/12/02/show-full-directory-path-in-finder-window-title-bars/) there’s a way to show the full path in the Finder windows Title bar.
    Of course it isn’t interactive, but in my opinion is a more elegant way to know “where” you are.

    The trick is fully working in every O.S. (I’m using it on Mountain Lion right now in my computer).
    Thank again! (twice)
    a_

  3. Doug says:

    IS there any way Finder can display Folders first alphabetically, followed by files alphabetically?

    Thanks!

    Doug

    • Scott G. says:

      I do that by selecting the View by Kind. It groups all the folders at the top, alphabetically, and then the files below that, also alphabetically.

    • Paul says:

      Sort by Kind should come close, folders always go on top alphabetically followed by file groups

  4. Chase says:

    When viewing in list mode, go to view options, then check “calculate all sizes.” then “set as defaults.” This will calculate the size of the contents of your Finder window and show each one.

  5. BuzzLightyear says:

    Hi. Could anyone tell me how to apply settings to all Finder folders? When I change the icon size in one folder and then open another folder, the icon size is different. If I open another, it is usually different again. And is there any way to extend this to how I can sort all folders as well? Many thanks.

    • Kr00 says:

      You have to select “use as default” when you make changes in the finder preferences, then all windows should act the same. Best to logout then log back in to makes sure the changes stick.

  6. James says:

    I have found that XtraFinder is a great (and free) add-on for Finder that gave me the options I’d been wanting in Finder for a long time. Things like:

    -Cut and Paste files
    -Show folders at the top all the time
    -Rename with F2
    -Open files with Return/Enter
    -”Automatically adjust width of Name column”
    -Sort Recent Folders menu by last opened date
    -Middle-click to open folder in new window or new tab
    -Right-Click > New File… option
    -New Terminal Here option
    -Show Hidden Items toggle (no messing with the Terminal or command line for this)
    -Tabs

    XtraFinder integrates with Finder instead of replacing it, which I like. You can download it here: http://www.trankynam.com/xtrafinder/.

    I’m not associated with XtraFinder, I just really appreciated learning about it because I had been wanting some of the features for so long.

    • heavyD says:

      Unfortunately, because it is free – the developer does not keep it current. There are long periods of time between updates and bugs crop up causing frustration…

  7. Steve strum says:

    I would really like to fave my search in Finder be FILENAME by default or a finder preference. Yes, I know keyboard shortcuts like command-shift-F but I prefer to have by default or some setting what I use 90% of the time. Also, the App called TotalFinder is far better than Finder. Am surprised that Apple just does not listen to its devotees; that’s probably why Apple stock dropped so much.

  8. Howard says:

    No. 9 only works when in ‘View … as Icons’ format.

  9. Tommy says:

    I suggest using “Path Finder” instead of Finder. It’s really worth the money as it is more compact, lists folders at the top automatically, supports tabs, etc.

  10. Jane Eade says:

    Showing the path bar has been a complete revelation to me, this is definitely not solely applicable to advanced users …. I am dyslexic & have always struggled to understand/work with paths ….. Suddenly with one click of a button I understood the whole thing in the blink of an eye. Thank you so very much for helping in this way.

  11. Donatello says:

    I made a simple Toolbar App to open a file with sublime text. You can download it here. Just download and drag-n-drop in toolbar http://donatellosantoro.com/script/

  12. John says:

    Note, a Dashboard widget is available to show/hide hidden files.

  13. Grammar Troll says:

    (FYI, in item 8, by “slightly opaque” you meant “slightly transparent”—its exact opposite.)

  14. Kr00 says:

    Dragging commonly used items, apps, folders or utilities into the sidebar is a useful tip, instead of cluttering up the dock. Hold the command key, then drag your item into the finders sidebar. Sidebar effects is a great little tool to bring color and graphics back to the ugly, grey sidebar.

  15. Kr00 says:

    Totalfinder is a must have. No more multiple windows hogging the screen. Tabbed finder windows, I just cannot live without.

  16. Avenged110 says:

    If by “improve” you mean “clutter,” then yes.

  17. cversion7 says:

    #8 – Note that hidden files icons are slightly opaque compared to a normally visible file.

    Shouldn’t this say “translucent” or “slightly transparent?”

    Good writeup. I have implemented a few of these changes on my Air.

  18. Bdub says:

    How do you still have icons in the sidebar? I thought they were extinct as of Lion?

  19. Grappagourmet says:

    For those who don’t want to mess with line commands, there’s another way to always show the hidden User Library. Show it, by clicking Option-Go To > Library, and create an Alias to it. The Alias will be always visible.

  20. Thanks for all the tips, and the comments too

  21. Fred says:

    I currently keep stuck on Tiger on a brave old iMac G5 and I use to watch the paths of my the folders, and browse through them, by clicking and pulling down the path-button of the toolbar of the window. Isn’t this available in earlier versions (I tried Leopard but had to give it up since I couldn’t the images of my scanner) ?

  22. Greg says:

    As a reformed Windows user, one thing that constantly drove me crazy about finder was the absence of an “up” directory button. I realize this can be done other ways (i.e. with the path) but the up button was kind of a deal breaker for me. I then found a genius script on how to make your own. Simple, clean, supported by Apple and works fantastically well.

    1) Copy the text below and save as a .scpt file:
    tell application “Finder”
    set the target of Finder window 1 to (container of target of Finder window 1)
    end tell

    2) Compile and save the script. This basically turns it into an application

    3A) Optional – Find a nice up arrow icon on google and copy it
    https://www.google.com/#q=up+arrow

    3B) Change the icon on for the compiled script by going to ‘get info’ – right click file in finder, highlighting the icon (upper left), then pasting.

    4) Open finder and drag the icon for the app to the toolbar while holding down the apple key. I recommend the far left. (FYI you can do this for any application)

    Once done you will have a very useable up arrow function right where it is easy to access.

  23. Manisha Vyas says:

    thank you very very much.. made my life easier..

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