Duplicate Files in the Mac's Finder With These Tricks

Add Version Numbers to Duplicate Files

Duplicate Files in the Finder
You can duplicate files in the Finder using the contextual popup menu. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.
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Duplicating files in the Finder on your Mac is a fairly basic process. Just select a file in the Finder, right-click it, and choose ‘Duplicate’ from the pop-up menu. Your Mac will append the word ‘copy’ to the duplicate’s file name. For instance, the duplicate of a file named MyFile would be named MyFile copy.

That works fine when you want to duplicate a file in the same folder as the original, but what if you wish to copy the file to another folder on the same drive?

​If you simply select the file or folder and drag it to another location on the same drive, the item will be moved, not copied. If you really want to have a copy in another location you need to make use of the Finder's copy/paste capabilities.

Using Copy/Paste to Duplicate a File or Folder

As is the case with most things involving the Mac, there's more than one way to duplicate a file or folder. We already mentioned using the duplicate command, available from the contextual pop-up menu. You can also use the standard copy/paste process to create a duplicate.

  1. In the Finder, navigate to a folder containing the item you wish to duplicate.
  2. Right-click or control-click the file or folder. A pop-up menu will appear that will include a menu item named Copy “Selected File Name”, where the quote will contain the name of the selected file. For example, if the file you right-clicked was named Yosemite Family Trip, then the pop-up menu would contain an item named Copy “Yosemite Family Trip”. Select the Copy item from the pop-up menu.
  1. The location of the selected file is copied to your Mac’s clipboard.
  2. You can now navigate to any location in the Finder; the same folder, another folder, or a different drive. Once you select a location, simply right-click or control-click to bring up the Finder’s contextual menu, and then select Paste from the menu items. One tip to make this task easier to perform is to be sure and pick an empty area in the Finder when you bring up the contextual menu. If you are in List view, you may find it easier to change to Icon view if you have problems locating an empty area within the current view.
  1. The file or folder you previously selected will be copied to the new location.
  2. If the new location doesn't have a file or folder with the same name, the pasted item will be created with the same name as the original. If the selected location contains a file or folder with the same name as the original, the item will be pasted with the word copy appended to the item name.

We've seen how duplicating a file or folder is a pretty simple task, but what if you want to duplicate an item in the same folder but don’t want the word copy appended to the item name?

You can force the Finder to use a version number instead.

Use a Version Number When Duplicating a File

There are various ways to append a version number to a file you duplicate. Many applications, such as word processors and image manipulation programs, can be set up to do that automatically. There are also a number of third-party utility apps for the Mac that offer impressive abilities to add and manage file versions. But we're going to focus on how to use the Finder to append a version number to a duplicate.

Working directly in the Finder may cause you to pause and wonder how a version number can be added, short of duplicating a file and then manually renaming it.

Thankfully, there's a somewhat hidden option in the Finder to perform this very task.

If you use OS X 10.5 (Leopard) or later, try this simple tip to duplicate a file and append a version number all in one step.

  1. Open a Finder window to the folder that contains items you wish to duplicate.
  2. Hold down the option key and drag the file or folder you wish to duplicate to a new position within the same folder.

Your Mac will dutifully add a version number instead of the word copy to the file’s name. Each time you create a new duplicate, your Mac will add an incremental version number to the copy. The Finder will keep track of the next version number for each file or folder allowing for each file to have an appropriate version number added.

The Finder will also decrement the next version number should you delete or rename a versioned file.

Bonus Tip

If you’re in list view when you create versioned duplicates, you may have a little trouble dragging the file to an empty place in the list. Try dragging the file until you see a green + (plus) sign appear. Make sure no other folder is highlighted as well; otherwise, the file will be duplicated to the selected folder.