View Hidden Files in Mac Open and Save Dialog Boxes

Open Hidden Files With Ease

Open/Save dialog box with hidden files displayed
The files in the red outline are just some of the hidden files. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Your Mac has a few secrets up its sleeve, hidden files and folders that are invisible to you. Apple hides these files and folders to prevent you from accidentally changing or deleting important data your Mac needs. You may occasionally need to view or edit one of these hidden files. To do so, you must first make it visible again.

You can use Terminal to show or hide your Mac's files, but Terminal can be a bit daunting for first-time users. It also isn't very convenient if all you need to do is open or save a file from within an application.

Accessing hidden files in Snow Leopard or later is a lot easier than in previous versions of the Mac OS now that the Open and Save dialog boxes in any application can display hidden files and folders. What’s that you say? You don’t see an option to display hidden files and folders in the aforementioned dialog boxes? I forgot to mention that the option is hidden, too.

Fortunately, there's now a simple keyboard trick that allows hidden files and folders to display in almost any Open or Save dialog box. The almost part in the above sentence is there because some apps use their own version of an Open and Save dialog box. In that case,there is no guarantee this tip will work. But for any app that uses Apple's APIs for displaying an Open and Save dialog box, this tip is a go.

However, before we get to the super-secret keyboard shortcuts, a word about a bizarre bug with showing and hiding files in an open or save dialog box. The keyboard shortcut won't work in the Finder's Column view mode in the following versions of the Mac operating system:

The remaining Finder views (icon, list, cover flow) work fine for displaying hidden files in the above versions of OS X. All Finder views work for displaying hidden files in any version of the Mac OS not listed above.

View Hidden Files and Folders in an Open or Save Dialog Box

  1. Launch the application you wish to use to edit or view the hidden file.
  2. From the application’s File menu, select Open.
  3. An Open dialog box will display.
  4. With the dialog box as the front-most window (you can click once in the dialog box to make sure it’s in front), press the command, shift, and period keys at the same time.
  5. The dialog box will now display any hidden files or folders within its list items.
  6. You can toggle between the hidden files and folders being displayed by pressing the command, shift, and period keys again.
  7. Once the hidden files and folders display in the dialog box, you can navigate to and open the files just as you would any other file in the Finder.

This same trick also works for Save and Save As dialog boxes though you may need to expand the dialog box to see the full Finder view. You can do this by selecting the chevron (upward facing triangle) at the end of the Save As field.

Hidden Files in OS X El Capitan macOS Sierra and High Sierra

Our super-secret keyboard shortcut for showing hidden files in Open and Save dialog boxes works just fine in El Capitan as well as macOS Sierra, however, there's one additional little detail. Some Open and Save dialog boxes in El Capitan and later don't display all of the icons for the Finder views in the dialog box toolbar.

If you need to change to a different Finder view, try clicking the Sidebar icon (first one on the left) in the toolbar. This should cause all of the Finder view icons to become available.

The Invisible File Attribute

Using the open or save dialog box to view hidden files does not change the files invisible attribute. You can't use this keyboard shortcut to save a visible file as an invisible one, nor can you open an invisible file and then save it as a visible one. Whatever the files visibility attribute was set to when you started working with the file, is how the file will remain.