Setting Finder Views for Folders and Sub-Folders

Configuring Finder Views

Application Folder Icon View mac screenshot


One area where OS X leaves a bit to be desired is in the setting of folder views. If you want every folder to open in one type of Finder view, you're all set; you can use or set the default Finder view.

But if you want to set different folders to different views, then you're in for a headache. 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.

In this guide, we're going to look at how to use the Finder to set specific Finder view attributes, including:

  • How to set a system-wide default for which Finder View to use when a folder window is opened.
  • How to set a Finder view preference for a specific folder, so that it always opens in your preferred view, even if it is different from the system-wide default.
  • We will also learn how to automate the process of setting the Finder view in sub-folders. Without this little trick, you would have to manually set the view preference for each and every folder within a folder.
  • Finally, we will create some plug-ins for the Finder so you can set views more easily in the future.

Set the Default Finder View

Configuring Finder Views Screenshot


Finder windows can open in one of four different views: Icon, List, Column, and Cover Flow. If you don't set a default view, then folders will open depending on how they were last viewed, or to the last view that was used.

That may sound fine, but consider this example: You like to see your Finder windows use List view, but every time you install an application from a CD/DVD or disk image, the Finder views get set to Icon, because that was the view used for the CD/DVD or disk image you opened.

Setting the Finder View Default

Setting the Mac Finder view default is a simple task. Just open a Finder window, select the view you want, and 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.
  3. After you select a Finder view, choose Show View Options from the Finder's View menu.
  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.

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.

Permanently Set a Folder's Preferred View

Configuring Finder Views Screenshot


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.

Permanently Set a Folder View in Finder

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

That's it. This folder will always use the view you just selected whenever you open it.

There's one small problem. What if you want all of this folder's sub-folders to use the same view? You could spend a few hours manually assigning views to each of the sub-folders, but luckily, there's a better way; read on to find out what it is.

Automatically Assign a Finder View to All Sub-Folders

Set Finder Sub-Folders Using Automator Screenshot


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.

That's not a productive use of time. Instead, we'll use Automator, an application Apple includes with OS X to automate workflows, to set folder view options for the Pictures folder and propagate those settings to all of its sub-folders.

Permanently Set All Sub-Folder Views

  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 steps outlined previously: Permanently Set Folder View Options.
  3. Once the parent folder's Finder view is set, launch Automator, located in the /Applications folder.
  4. When Automator opens, select the Workflow template from the list, and click the Choose button.
  5. Automator's interface is broken into four primary panes. The Library pane holds all of the actions and variables that Automator knows how to use. The Workflow pane is where you build a workflow by connecting actions. The Description pane provides a short description of the selected action or variable. The log pane displays the results of a workflow when it is run.
  6. To create our workflow, select the Actions button in the Library pane.
  7. Select the Files & Folders item in the Library of available actions.
  8. In the second column, grab the Get Specific Finder Items action and drag it to the workflow pane.
  9. Click the Add button in the Get Specific Finder Items action you just placed in the workflow pane.
  10. Browse to the folder whose view settings you wish to propagate to all of its sub-folders, then click the Add button.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Place a checkmark in the Apply Changes to Subfolders box.
  14. Once you have everything configured the way you want it, click the Run button in the top right corner.
  15. The Finder View options will be copied to all sub-folders.
  16. Close Automator.

Create Folder View Presets

Automator Service to Set Folder Settings Screenshot


One of the nice features of Automator is that it can create services. We will use Automator to create a contextual menu that will apply a pre-defined Finder view to a selected folder and all of its sub-folders.

To create this contextual menu item, we need to open Automator and tell it to create a service.

Creating a Finder View Service in Automator

  1. Launch Automator, located in the /Applications folder.
  2. When Automator opens, select the Service template from the list, and click the Choose button.
  3. The first step is to define the type of input the service will receive. In this case, the only input the service needs will be the folder selected in the Finder.
  4. To set the input type, click the Service Receives Selected dropdown menu and set the value to Files or Folders.
  5. Click the In dropdown menu and set the value to Finder.
  6. The end result is that the service we are creating will take as its input the file or folder we select in the Finder. Since it's not possible to assign Finder view properties to a file, this service will only work when a folder is selected.
  7. In the Library pane, select Files and Folders, then drag the Set Folder Views item to the workflow pane.
  8. Use the dropdown menu in the Set Folders Views action to select the Finder view you want the service to apply to the selected folder.
  9. Set any additional parameters desired for the selected Finder view.
  10. Place a checkmark in the Apply Changes to Subfolders box.
  11. From Automator's File menu, select Save.
  12. Enter a name for the service. Since the name you choose will show up in your Finder's contextual menu, short and descriptive is best. Depending on which Finder view you're creating, we suggest: Apply Icon, Apply List, Apply Column, or Apply Flow as appropriate names.

Repeat the above steps for each type of Finder view service you wish to create.

Using the Service You Create

  1. Open a Finder window, then right-click on a folder.
  2. Depending on how many services you've created, the right-click pop-up menu will either display the services at the bottom of the menu or in a Service sub-menu.
  3. Select the service from the menu or sub-menu.

The service will apply the assigned Finder view to the folder and all of its sub-folders.

Removing Automator Service Items From Contextual Menus

If you decide you no longer want to use the service, here's how to delete it:

  1. Open a Finder window and browse to your Home folder/Library/Services.
  2. Drag the service item you created to the Trash.