Window Snapping on Mac: How to Use It

Dec 6, 2016 - 19 Comments

Window Snapping on Mac

Mac users now have a window snapping feature built directly into Mac OS, which allows users to easily snap windows to aspects of the screen or against one another. This offers a nice way to quickly and precisely align windows, and it’s more or less the Mac equivalent feature of window snapping from the Microsoft Windows world.

Window snapping is a helpful but fairly subtle feature, we’ll show you how it works in MacOS.

You’ll need a modern version of Mac OS system software to have the window snapping feature introduced in Sierra, anything beyond 10.12 will include the ability natively and not require any third party apps or utilities. Earlier versions of MacOS do not have the feature but could rely on third party utilities to gain similar functionality if desired.

How to Use Window Snapping on Mac

Window snapping on the Mac will snap windows to any of the following targets: edges of other windows, the menu bar, the top of the Dock (if visible), and the sides of the screen.

  1. With several windows open on the Mac display, grab one and drag it against a snap target
  2. You’ll “feel” the dragged window snap to place, repeat with additional windows as desired

The window snapping ability in MacOS is a bit more full featured than what is offered in the Windows world, with a broader range of snap targets.

Use Window Snapping on Mac OS

It’s one of those features that’s best tried out yourself than explained, but the brief demonstration video below shows the MacOS window snapping feature in action:

You can snap however many windows together that you can fit on screen, regardless of their size. If you’re using window snapping on the Mac specifically to hold two windows side-by-side, you might appreciate the split view feature on Mac OS too, which is aimed at dual-panel usage.

Disabling Window Snapping in Mac OS

While you can’t completely turn off window snapping, you can temporarily disable window snapping in Mac OS with a keystroke action when moving windows around on the screen.

To temporarily disable window snapping, hold down the Option key when you’re dragging and moving windows around.

Holding Option key will prevent the window being dragged from snapping to any on screen element. Do be aware that when dragging windows with Option held and window snapping disabled it’s fairly easy to accidentally send a window off screen which can be a bit of it’s own nuisance requiring moving back onto the display, and sometimes requiring the off-screen window in question to be resized.

For users with older versions of MacOS who want a window snapping ability, the free utility BetterTouchTool will fit the bill, and there are several other tools that can accomplish similar functionality as well.

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

19 Comments

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  1. Ogles of Kansas says:

    Good feature. Surprised it wasn’t around a long time ago on mac really.

    • nospam says:

      I HATE windows snapping on Windows it drives me bonkers.

      I try moving a web browser window to the top right corner on my 27″ monitor then it automagically resizes the window to full screen.

      WTF – a major source of frustration and time waster. If I wanted to full screen something I’ll click the maximize button.

  2. junebeetle says:

    This is literally the best part of Sierra, but I’ve hardly seen anything about it online. Glad you guys realize how cool it is :)

  3. Ted says:

    This reminds me of the “resize window from any corner” feature.

    Windows always had the feature where you could resize the window from any corner or edge. It took Y-E-A-R-S for Apple to implement this feature on the Mac. I refused to buy a Mac just for this reason. I used Windows for 16 years before I was willing to buy a Mac again when finally Apple decided to incorporate this feature into their OS. Unbelievable!!!

    And now this window snapping feature reminds me of all this. Once every blue moon, Apple comes up with a feature that is actually useful. There could be hundreds of them, but Apple decides not to implement them but one feature per human generation.

    • Alex says:

      “I refused to buy a Mac just for this reason.”

      I’m surprised you bought a Windows PC, then. I can name a dozen UI features on the Mac that Windows still doesn’t have.

      (Do you still have to raise a window in order to move it, in Windows 10?)

      “There could be hundreds of them, but Apple decides not to implement them but one feature per human generation.”

      Apple tends to hold off until they can do it right. As you can see in the other comments here, it’s really easy to implement edge-snapping in a way that annoys half your users. Most of the top google hits for the Windows version are how to “disable aero snap”.

      I’ve been using window-snapping since the early 1990’s (fvwm had it), and Apple has the nicest implementation I’ve seen. It takes into account not just position, but speed.

  4. cashxx says:

    My favorite thing is double clicking when the double arrows show. It expands to full screen. (Not Apple’s version of fullscreen)

  5. Jim Parr says:

    Good feature. I also use Breeze, which has a lot more flexibility. I have windows that I want in certain locations, and Breeze will memorize those locations and snap each window to its location at a keystroke.

  6. It is cool but it takes so much time to align all windows in appropriate place. Thats why I created a easy AppleScript tool that works as a Alfred workflow to help you with that.

    Have a look at the full tool docs:
    https://pawelgrzybek.com/div-simple-alfred-windows-manager/

    Download workflow from Packal:
    http://www.packal.org/workflow/div

  7. Shirley says:

    I use my Dock on the side, but couldn’t get this feature to work. Dragging to an edge just makes part of the window disappear except for the top edge.

    • Ron says:

      It’s a subtle snap, it’s not a hard stick. If you’re overly aggressive with the mouse cursor it will go beyond the edge, of either a window, menu, dock, or side of the screen. Be delicate with the dragging and it will catch.

      It took me a few times to get used to it, there should be a key command to hold down to make it more obvious in my opinion.

  8. Brian says:

    I can not get this ‘snapping’ function to work as described! I’m using Sierra, moving various windows (i.e. two browsers, couple of Office windows, a picture) nothing ‘snaps’ together as it apparently should. Colour me stupid, I must be doing something wrong…Any comments welcome (helpful ones please!

    • Mark says:

      I have the same experience, Brian. Using various browsers and applications but not seeing the snap. Once I was able to get a Chrome window to snap to a screen corner. Otherwise, no. Using latest version of Sierra.

  9. Ken says:

    I have used a tool called Better Snap Tool. It is really great esp. for multiple monitors and even more for when you use a laptop that you are plugging/unplugging. You can easily drag windows around to convenient locations and get full screen, half screen a other sizes. You can also make shortcut keys like Cmd-Option-B for to resize the current window into the bottom half. No more trying to get to the part of the screen that has ended up off screen. Sounds like Apple is doing something but not quite the productivity-focused one BetterSnapTool. I use it daily.

  10. Dan says:

    BetterTouchTool and BetterSnapTool do a much better job than the built-in offerings on macOS.

  11. John says:

    Hate it! It totally breaks the UI paradigm, and drives me nuts. I want it gone. I would settle for preference to turn it off.

  12. chris says:

    To call what I just watched in that 22 second video more full featured than Windows 10 window snapping is an insane joke.

  13. Rick Anderson says:

    I hate hate hate HATE this feature. It drives me up the freaking wall. I like to position windows very near each other but not touching and I constantly have to work against this stupid, useless, moronic feature.

    Apple really needs to give users the reasonable option to turn this annoying and unwanted feature off.

  14. Lars says:

    I find this snapping really annoying as well, and it’s very frustrating that you can’t turn this feature off. I work with multiple monitors and lots of big windows from multiple applications, that now just tend to get stuck to each other every time I try to move them. I thought this was some sort of weird bug in the OS or with my mouse before I realized it was a new “feature”.

    I realize some people might like it, and that apple wants to enable it by default to show it off. But why oh why is there no way to turn it off?!?

  15. Zorglub says:

    I want windows to go where I put them. Why does Apple think they know more about what I want than I do? I’ve been living without this “feature” quite happily since the original Mac in the mid 80’s. Please give us a way to turn this off.

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