How to Use Column View Options in Finder on the Mac

Control Column View’s Appearance

Item arrangement option in the Mac's Finder
Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

The Finder window's column view is a way to quickly see where an item exists in the hierarchical view of Mac's file system. Column view shows the parent folder and any subfolders a file resides within, each represented in its own column.

Although all Mac operating systems contain a version of the Finder, the information in this article applies specifically to Finder windows in macOS Catalina (10.15) through OS X Mountain Lion (10.8), except as noted.

Column view options are surprisingly limited. You can select a sorting option, which applies to all columns, text size, and how icons display.

Opening a Finder Window

Open a Finder window by one of several methods:

  • Click the Finder icon in the Dock.
  • Use the keyboard shortcut Command + N.
  • Select File > New Finder Window from the menu bar after clicking on the desktop.

The icons in the View section at the top of the Finder window control the format of the window. You can choose to view files from left to right as icons, a list, in column view, or (beginning with macOS Mojave) a gallery.

Finder window on a Mac computer in Column view

Column View Customization Options

When you view a file or folder in the Finder in Column view, you have a few options for customizing it.

To control how Column view looks and behaves, open a Finder window and click the Column view icon at the top of the screen. Right-click in any blank area of the window and select Show View Options. If you prefer, you can bring up the same view options by selecting View > Show View Options from the Finder menu bar.

Floating menu for Founder window options

The options screen includes these choices:

  • Always open in column view: Place a check mark next to this option to cause the Finder window to always use Column view when you first open it. You can, of course, use the Finder view buttons to change the view type after you open a folder in the Finder.
  • Group By: You have the option to group by None, Name, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, and Tags.
  • Sort By: The Sort By default is Name, but you can choose other options, including Date Last Opened, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, and Tags.
  • Text size: Use this drop-down menu to specify the text size used for an item's name and the attributes that display in each column.
  • Show icons: This option enables or disables the display of icons in Column view. When this option is checked, a small icon displays to the left of an item's name.
  • Show icon preview: This option enables or disables the ability of icons to show a thumbnail preview of their contents. With a check mark in place, the icons show a preview. With the check mark removed, the file's default icon displays.
  • Show preview column: Column view can dedicate the last column in its display to showing detailed information about a selected file. This information is similar to the data you see when you use the Get Info command in the Finder. The preview column only displays when a file is selected. It does not appear when a folder is the only item selected.
Finder window options on a Mac

In addition to these options, you can resize Finder windows and use the familiar red, yellow, and green buttons to close, minimize, and maximize the window.

Any settings you change for the Finder window apply until you change them again.