The Finder Toolbar: Add Files, Folders, and Apps

The Finder Toolbar Can Hold More Than Tools

The Finder's toolbar customized with apps
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Finder has been with us since the first days of the Macintosh, providing a simple interface to the Mac's file system. Back in those early days, the Finder was pretty basic and used most of its resources just to produce a hierarchical view into your files.

That hierarchical view was an illusion, as the original Macintosh File System (MFS) was a flat system, storing all your files at the same root level on a floppy or hard drive.

When Apple moved to the Hierarchical File System (HFS) in 1985, the Finder also received a huge makeover, incorporating many of the basic concepts we now take for granted on the Mac.

Finder Toolbar

When OS X was first released, the Finder gained a handy toolbar located across the top of the Mac’s Finder window. The Finder toolbar is usually populated with a collection of useful tools, such as the forward and back arrows, view buttons for changing how the Finder window displays data, and other goodies.

You probably know that you can customize the Finder toolbar by adding tools from a palette of options. But you may not know that you can also easily customize the Finder toolbar with items that aren’t included in the built-in palette. With drag-and-drop simplicity, you can add applications, files, and folders to the toolbar, and give yourself easy access to your most commonly used programs, folders, and files.

I like a tidy Finder window, so I don’t recommend going overboard and turning the Finder toolbar into a mini Dock. But you can add an application or two without cluttering things up. I frequently use TextEdit for jotting down quick notes, so I added it to the toolbar. I also added iTunes, so I can quickly launch my favorite tunes from any Finder window.

Add Applications to the Finder Toolbar

  1. Start by opening a Finder window. A quick way to do this is to click the Finder icon in the Dock.
  2. Expand the Finder window horizontally to make room for new items by clicking and holding the bottom right corner of the window and dragging it to the right. Release the mouse button when you’ve enlarged the Finder window by about half of its previous size.
  3. Use the Finder window to navigate to the item you want to add to the Finder toolbar. For example, to add TextEdit, click the Applications folder in the Finder sidebar, and then follow the instructions below, depending on the version of OS X you're using.

OS X Mountain Lion and earlier

  1. When you locate the item you want to add to the Finder toolbar, click and drag the item to the toolbar. Be patient; after a short time, a green plus (+) sign will appear, indicating that you can release the mouse button and drop the item onto the toolbar.

OS X Mavericks and later

  1. Hold down the option + command keys, and then drag the item to the toolbar.

Rearrange the Toolbar if Needed

If you dropped the item into the wrong location on the toolbar, you can rearrange things by right-clicking any blank spot in the toolbar and selecting Customize Toolbar from the drop-down menu.

When the customization sheet drops down from the toolbar, drag the misplaced icon in the toolbar to a new location. When you’re satisfied with the way the toolbar icons are arranged, click the Done button.

Repeat the above steps to add another application to the toolbar. Don’t forget that you're not limited to applications; you can add frequently used files and folders to the Finder’s toolbar as well.

Removing Finder Toolbar Items You Added

At some point, you may decide you no longer need an application, file, or folder to be present in the Finder’s toolbar. You may have moved on to a different app, or you're no longer working actively with the project folder you added a few weeks ago.

In any case, getting rid of a toolbar icon you added is simple enough; just remember, you're not deleting the app, file, or folder; you're just deleting an alias to the item.

  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. Make sure the item you wish to remove from the Finder’s toolbar is visible.
  3. Hold down the command key, and then drag the item from the toolbar.
  4. The item will disappear in a puff of smoke.

Adding an Automator Script to the Finder Toolbar

Automator can be used to create custom apps built on scripts that you create. Since the Finder sees Automator apps as applications, they can be added to the toolbar just like any other app.

A handy Automator app I add to my Finder toolbar is one to show or hide invisible files. I show you how to create the Automator script in the article:

Create a Menu Item to Hide and Show Hidden Files in OS X

Although this guide sets out to create a contextual menu item, you can modify the Automator script to become an app instead. All you need to do is select Application as the target when you launch Automator.

Once you finish the script, save the app, and then use the method outlined in this article to drag it to your Finder toolbar.

Now that you know how to add files, folders, and apps to your Finder toolbar, try not to get carried away.