Assign Mac Apps to Open in a Specific Desktop Space

Control where your Mac apps open

MacBook Pro

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The Mac operating system contains one desktop space by default, but users can establish multiple desktop spaces that are identified as Desktop 1, Desktop 2, and so on. All the desktop spaces are accessible through the Mission Control icon on the Dock. You can opt to designate which of the desktops (or all of them) each application opens in. This feature is helpful for people who use multiple spaces for specific uses. For example, a desktop used primarily for working with correspondence might have Mail, Contacts, and Reminders open. Perhaps a space for working with photos would be the home for Photoshop, Aperture, or Apple's Photos app.

The way you organize and make use of your desktop spaces is up to you, but as you work with the desktops in Mission Control, you're likely to run into apps that you want to have opened in all of your active spaces. You can set apps to open in all the spaces so that when you switch between desktops, the same apps are available on all of them, in addition to the ones you assigned to specific desktops.

Information is this article applies to the following operating systems: macOS Catalina (10.15), macOS Mojave (10.14), macOS High Sierra (10.13), macOS Sierra (10.12), OS X El Capitan (10.11), OS X Yosemite (10.10), OS X Mavericks (10.9), OS X Mountain Lion (10.8), and OS X Lion (10.7).

Setting Up Multiple Desktop Spaces

Being able to assign an app to a space first requires setting up multiple desktop spaces. You do this using Mission Control. To add multiple desktop spaces to your Mac:

  1. Click the Mission Control icon in the Dock to open the Spaces bar at the top of the Mac display.

    MacDock showing Mission Control icon
  2. Click the plus sign to the far right of the Spaces bar to add additional desktop spaces.

    Spaces bar at top of Mac display

To switch between multiple desktops, click the Mission Control icon in the Dock and select the preferred desktop in the Spaces bar that appears at the top of the screen.

After you set up multiple desktop spaces, you can assign an application to appear on one or all of your desktops when it opens. Its icon must appear on the Dock for you to assign it, but it doesn't have to stay on the Dock after it is assigned. You can remove an assigned application from the Dock, and it still opens in the desktop space or spaces you assign it to, regardless of how you launch the application.

Launch an Application in All Desktop Spaces

If you want an application to appear on all your desktop spaces whenever you open it:

  1. Right-click the Dock icon of the application you want to be available in every desktop space you use.

  2. From the pop-up menu, select Options and choose All Desktops in the menu.

    Pop-up windows for adding an app to all desktops

The next time you launch the application, it opens in all your desktop spaces.

If you change your mind later and want to remove the chosen application from all the desktop spaces, right-click the Dock icon for the app and select Options > None to remove it. Then, the next time you launch the application, it opens only in the currently active desktop space.

Assign an App to a Specific Desktop Space

When you want to assign an application to a specific desktop space, rather than to all of them:

  1. Go to the desktop space where you want the application to appear. If it isn't the current desktop you are using, open Mission Control and click the desired desktop space in the Spaces bar near the top of the screen.

  2. Right-click the Dock icon of the application you want to assign to the current desktop space.

  3. From the pop-up menu, select Options and then click This Desktop in the menu.

    Pop-up menu for placing an app on all desktop spaces

Assigning apps to specific spaces or to all spaces can help you keep a tidy desktop, and create a better workflow.