Mac Finder — Understanding the 'Arrange By' Option

Arrange your Finder view to improve access to files in Mac

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The Finder comes with a couple of ways to organize your Mac's files. One of these features is the Arrange By option. Besides letting you arrange the Finder view by various categories much like what you can do in List View, it also brings the power of arranging by category to all the other Finder view types.

Instructions in this article apply to Mac OS X Lion (10.7) and later.

How to Use the 'Arrange By' Options

Item Arrangement works with all four of the standard Finder views to give you some additional control over the order in which items display within a Finder view. For instance, the default Icon view displays items in an alphanumeric organization, but you can also drag the item icons around to arrange them as you wish.

The Item Arrangement button is located just to the right of the Finder view buttons, which offer the four standard ways of displaying items in a Finder window: by Icon, List, Column, or Cover Flow.

In macOS Mojave (10.14), Apple replaced Cover Flow with Gallery View. Arrange By options aren't available in Gallery View.

Arrange By icon

The Arrange By option takes the List view's ability to organize how items are presented, adds some new capabilities, and provides the option to control how items are arranged in any of the Finder views.

Arrange By supports sorting items in a Finder view by:

  • Name
  • Kind - Items are organized by file type, which is defined by the file extension; for instance, all PDFs will be together, as will all text files, all image files, and so on.
  • Application - Sorting is performed by the default application used for accessing a document.
  • Date Last Opened - Items are organized by the date you last used them.
  • Date Added - Items are organized by the date you added them to a folder.
  • Data Modified - Items are organized by the date you last made a change to them.
  • Date Created - Items are organized by the date you first created a file or folder.
  • Size - Items are sorted by their physical file size.
  • Label - Items that have had labels applied to them will appear first in the sort order.
  • None - No additional sorting beyond the basic Finder view is performed.

Newer versions of macOS replace Labels with Tags.

How to Use Categories

Depending on which Arrange By method you select, the Finder will display the sort results by categories. Categories appear as horizontal stripes in Icon view, or as labeled sections in any of the other Finder views.

For example, if you arrange by size, the categories will include ranges of sizes.

File size categories in Finder

In the Icon view, each category takes up a single horizontal line. When the number of items exceeds what can be displayed in the window, a cover flow view is applied to the individual category, letting you scrub through the category quickly while leaving the other displayed categories alone. In essence, each category can be manipulated independently of the others.

Additionally, when a category has too many items to display in a single horizontal row, there will be a link on the right-hand side of the window to expand the category to show all. Likewise, once expanded, you can collapse the category back down to a single row.

Arrange by in Icon View

How to Change the 'Arrange By' Direction

In List view, you can choose the direction of the sort order by clicking the column header you wish to sort by. Each column head includes a chevron that toggles to point up or down each time you click the column head, thus controlling the sort direction.

When you've already arranged files, sorting will put them into order within the categories.

Sorting chevron

How to Arrange Applications by Type

Normally, Arrange by Application uses the default application associated with a document to create the sort order and the category titles.

This default behavior changes when you use the Arrange by Application option on your Mac's Applications folder. In that folder, the Application option becomes Application Category. When you use it, categories appear for any application that is available from the Mac App Store.

Application Category arrangement in Finder