Use Dock Menus to Manage Mac Applications and Stacks

Right-Click an Apps Dock Icon to Reveal Commands

Safari Dock Menu
Safari's Dock menu can let you quickly switch between open browser windows. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Dock menus give you access to commonly used functions of applications that are currently active in the Dock. Active applications can be identified by a dark triangle on their Dock icon in Tiger, a bluish dash in Leopard, a black dot in Yosemite, and later. Most active applications allow you to exert some level of control directly from the Dock, instead of bringing the application to the front and accessing its menus.

Access an Application's Dock Menu

  1. Place your cursor over the application's icon in the Dock.
  2. Right-click, click and hold, or control + click the icon.
  3. A menu of available commands will display.

You can select any of the available commands and the application will dutifully perform the selected action, just as if you had taken the time to bring the application window to the foreground and access its menus.

In many cases, accessing basic application commands from the Dock menu can be extremely handy, such as opening a new Safari window without having to bring the app to the foreground first.

Types of Commands

An application's developer determines which commands are available for activating from the Dock. Some applications only provide the bare minimum of commands that Apple requires them to support, including:

  • Remove from Dock / Keep in Dock
  • Open at Login
  • Show in Finder
  • Hide
  • Quit

Each active application's Dock menu will also include a list of open windows owned by the application.

For instance, if you have five Safari web browser windows open, each window will be listed in the Dock menu, making it easy to quickly switch between them.

Beyond these basic commands, developers can add functions as they see fit. Here are some examples of what you can do from the Dock menu with a few selected applications.

(You may or may not see these options, depending on which version of the application you're running.)

Dock Menu Command Examples

iTunes

  • Now Playing
  • Rating
  • Love
  • Show in iTunes Store
  • Repeat
  • Shuffle
  • Play
  • Next
  • Previous
  • Play Recent

Apple Mail

  • Get New Mail
  • New Viewer Window
  • Compose New Message

Messages

  • New Message
  • My Status

The My Status item in Messages Dock controls lets you select and set your online status from one of many options.

Microsoft Word

  • Open Recent

The Open Recent command displays a list of the most recently viewed Word documents; you can select one and open it directly from the Dock.

Dock Menus for Other Items

So far, we've been looking at Dock menus for running applications on your Mac, but there's another common Dock item that has its own submenus: the stack.

Dock Menus for Stacks

Stacks display the contents of folders that are added to the Dock. These can be a simple folder, such as your Downloads folder, or more elaborate, such as a smart folder that contains the results of a spotlight search.

There are also some special stacks that Apple makes available, including a recent apps stack, a recent documents stack, and others.

Stacks have their own types of Dock menus. Just like the running apps in the Dock, you access the Stacks menus by simply right-clicking or command + clicking on the Stacks Dock icon.

When you do, you'll likely see the following items:

Sort by

Defines the order the items in the folder will be displayed in:

  • Name
  • Date Added
  • Date Modified
  • Date Created
  • Kind

Displayed as

Lets you select the style the container will use:

  • Folder
  • Stack

View content as

Controls how the items in the container are displayed:

  • Fan
  • Grid
  • List
  • Automatic

Go ahead and try the various options; you really can't harm anything. You'll probably find the 'View content as' option the most useful since it's similar to how you set Finder views. In this case, Grid is similar to Icon view, while List is like the Finder's List view. Fan uses smaller versions of the icons and displays them in a curve, similar to a fan.

The Dock is more than just an application launcher or a way to organize often used applications. It’s also a shortcut to commonly used commands available in applications and settings used in stacks.

Give Dock menus a try. They can help you be more productive, especially when you're working with multiple applications simultaneously.