Using the Finder on Your Mac

Make the best use of the Finder

The Finder is the heart of your Mac. It provides access to files and folders, displays windows, and generally controls how you interact with your Mac. Open a Finder window by clicking the Finder icon on the Dock or by selecting New Finder Window in the File menu at the top of the screen when you're on the desktop.

If you're switching to the Mac from Windows, you'll discover that the Finder is a way to browse the file system, similar to Windows Explorer. The Mac Finder is more than a file browser, though. It's a road map to your Mac's file system. Taking a few minutes to learn how to use and customize the Finder is time well spent.

Information in this article applies to macOS Big Sur (11) through OS X Mavericks (10.9), except as indicated.

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Make the Most of the Finder Sidebar

Finder sidebar showing app being added

The Finder sidebar, which is the pane on the left side of every Finder window, provides quick access to common locations, but it's capable of much more.

The sidebar offers shortcuts to areas of your Mac that you likely use the most. It's a helpful tool that can help you navigate to important folders quickly without opening a bunch of windows unnecessarily.

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Use Finder Tags

Finder with Tags displayed in sidebar

Long-time users of Finder labels may be a bit put off by their disappearance with the introduction of OS X Mavericks, but their replacement, Finder tags, is more versatile and is an excellent addition for managing files and folders in Finder.

Organize similar files by applying a Finder tag. Once tagged, you can quickly view and work with the files that use the same tag.

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Use Finder Tabs

Finder Tabs

Finder tabs, ushered in with OS X Mavericks, are similar to tabs you see in most browsers, including Safari. Their purpose is to minimize screen clutter by gathering what used to be displayed in separate windows into a single Finder window with multiple tabs. Each tab acts as a separate Finder window but without the clutter of having multiple windows open and scattered around your desktop.

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Configure Spring-Loaded Folders

Finder Preferences for Spring-Loaded folders

Spring-loaded folders make it easy to drag and drop files by automatically opening a folder when your cursor hovers above it. This makes dragging files to a new location within nested folders a breeze. Enable spring-loaded folders for the Finder in the Mac's System Preferences.

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Use the Finder Path Bar

Path bar in macOS Finder

The Finder Path Bar is a small pane located at the bottom of a Finder window. It displays the current path to the file or folder shown in the Finder window. To turn it on, open any folder, click View and select Show Path Bar. After you do this once, you'll see the path to your file at the bottom of the folder you have open.

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Customize the Finder Toolbar

Customize the Finder Toolbar

The toolbar, a collection of buttons located at the top of every Finder window, is easy to customize. In addition to the Back, View, and Action buttons already present, you can add functions such as Eject, Burn, and Delete. You can also choose how the toolbar looks by displaying icons, text, or icons and text. Select Customize Toolbar in the Finder View menu to personalize your Finder.

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Use Finder Views

Finder views are selected by four buttons in the toolbar

Finder views offer four ways of looking at the files and folders stored on your Mac. Most new Mac users tend to work with only one of the four Finder views: Icon, List, Column, or Gallery.

Working in one Finder view may not seem like a bad idea. You become adept at the ins and outs of using that view. Still, it’s more productive in the long run to learn how to use each Finder view, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each view.

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Quick Look at a Finder Preview Image

Quick View in Finder

When you have the Finder view set to Column display, the last column in a Finder window displays a preview of a selected file. When that file is an image file, you will see a thumbnail of the image.

It's convenient to see what an image looks like quickly. Still, if you need to see details in the image, open a larger version using Quick Look (macOS High Sierra through Big Sur). Select an image or file in Column view in Finder and press the space bar to open a larger version of the thumbnail image in a separate window, which can be enlarged further if needed without opening an application.

In earlier versions of OS X, use the Zoom option in the Finder View menu to zoom in to the thumbnail image.

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Find Files Faster Using Spotlight Keyword Searches

Spotlight Comments as Keywords

Keeping track of all the documents on your Mac can be difficult. Remembering file names or file contents is even more difficult. If you haven't accessed a particular document recently, you may not remember where you stored it.

Apple provides Spotlight, a fast search system for the Mac. Spotlight can search file names, the contents of files, and keywords associated with a file. You can even create keywords for files.

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Restore Smart Searches to the Finder Sidebar

Adding Smart Folders to the Finders Sidebar

Over time, Apple has refined the features and capabilities of Finder. It seems as if with each new version of OS X or macOS, Finder gains a few new features and loses a few.

One lost feature is the Smart Searches that used to reside in the Finder sidebar. With a click, you could see the file you worked on yesterday, during the past week, display all images, all movies, or whatever else you're looking for. You can still perform smart searches on the Mac, but you won't find them in the Finder sidebar.

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