How to Set Finder Views for Folders and Sub-Folders

Control how you browse files and directories on your Mac

View finder frame from hands with view to sea and mountains

sduben / Getty Images 

Maybe you want your folders to display in the Finder in List view, but want the Pictures folder to display in Cover Flow view, and when you open the root folder of a hard drive, you want to see Column view. You can use Automator or menu items to define which view appears in particular windows as soon as you open them.

Instructions in this article apply to Mac OS X 10.4 and later.

How to Set the Default Finder View

Setting the Mac Finder view default is a simple task: Open a Finder window, select the view you want, and then set it as the default for your system. Once you've done that, all Finder windows will open using the default view you set, unless a specific folder has a different preset view.

  1. Open a Finder window by clicking the Finder icon in the Dock, or by clicking on an empty space on the desktop and selecting New Finder Window from the Finder's File menu.

  2. In the Finder window that opens, select one of the four view icons in the Finder window toolbar, or select the Finder view type you want from the Finder's View menu.

    Use your keyboard to switch Finder views by holding Command and pressing the numbers 1 through 4.

    View options in the Finder
  3. After you select a Finder view, choose Show View Options from the Finder's View menu.

    The keyboard shortcut is Command+J.

    Show View Options in Finder
  4. In the View Options dialog box that opens, set any parameters you wish for the selected view type, then click the Use as Defaults button near the bottom of the dialog box.

    The "Use As Defaults" button won't appear if you're currently using Column View.

    Use as Defaults
  5. That's it. You have defined the default view for the Finder to display whenever you open a folder that hasn't had a specific view assigned to it.

How to Permanently Set a Folder View in Finder

You've set a system-wide default to using for Finder windows, but that doesn't mean you can't assign a different view to specific folders.

  1. Open a Finder window and browse to a folder whose view option you wish to set.

  2. Use one of the four view buttons at the top of the folder window to set the view for the folder.

  3. To make it permanent, select View, Show View Options from the Finder menu or press Command+J on your keyboard.

  4. Place a checkmark in the box labeled Always open in X view (where X is the name of the current Finder view).

  5. This folder will always use the view you just selected whenever you open it.

How to Automatically Assign a Finder View to All Sub-Folders

The Finder has no method for easily setting a group of subfolders to the same Finder view as the parent folder. If you want all subfolders to match the parent folder, you could spend a few hours manually assigning views to each of the sub-folders, but luckily, there's a better way.

You can do this quickly using Automator, an application Apple includes with macOS to automate workflows, set folder view options for the Pictures folder, and propagate those settings to all of its sub-folders. Here's what to do.

  1. Start by browsing to the parent folder whose viewing options you wish to set and propagate to all of its sub-folders.

    Don't worry if you already set the parent folder's view options earlier. It's always a good idea to double-check a folder's settings before you propagate them to all of its sub-folders.

  2. Use the view icons to set the view you want to use for this folder and its subfolders.

    View options
  3. Open the Show View Options window by selecting it under the View menu or pressing Command+J on your keyboard.

  4. Place a checkmark in the box labeled Always open in X view.

  5. Once the parent folder's Finder view is set, launch Automator, located in the /Applications folder.

    Automator in Finder
  6. Click New Document when Automator opens.

    In Automator for earlier versions of the Mac OS, this window doesn't open. You can skip this step.

    New Document in Automator
  7. Select the Workflow template from the list, and click the Choose button.

    Application in Automator
  8. Select the Files & Folders item in the Library of available actions.

    Files & Folders under Library
  9. In the second column, grab the Get Specified Finder Items action and drag it to the workflow pane.

    Dragging command in Automator
  10. Click the Add button in the Get Specified Finder Items action you just placed in the workflow pane.

    Rename Finder Items in Automator
  11. Browse to the folder whose view settings you wish to propagate to all of its sub-folders, then click the Add button.

    Add button
  12. Return to the Library pane and drag the Set Folder Views action to the Workflow pane. Drop the action just below the Get Specified Finder Items action already in the Workflow pane.

    Set Folder Views
  13. Use the options displayed in the Set Folder Views action to tweak how you want the specified folder to display. It should already show the current folder's configuration for views, but you can fine-tune some parameters here.

    Set Folder Views
  14. Place a checkmark in the Apply Changes to Subfolders box.

  15. Once you have everything configured the way you want it, click the Run button in the top right corner.

  16. The Finder View options will copy to all sub-folders.