Use Terminal to Make Translucent Dock Icons for Hidden Apps

Translucent Dock Icons Show Which Apps Are Active But Hidden

Translucent Dock Icons
Translucent Dock icons indicated which apps are hidden. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.
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Hiding active applications is a nice trick for keeping your desktop uncluttered as you work with multiple applications. You can hide any application by clicking in the application and pressing the command + h keys, or by selecting Hide from the application's menu. For example, in Apple's Mail app, you would select Hide Mail from the Mail menu.

I tend to hide the Mail app quite often, but because its Dock icon includes a badge showing unread emails, I can easily keep up with incoming messages.

(A little red badge on a Dock icon indicates an alert for the app, such as a Calendar event reminder, an update in the App Store, or new messages in Mail.)

Once you have a few application windows hidden, it can be tough to figure out which applications are hidden, and which applications are merely covered by another window or have been collapsed (minimized) to the Dock. Fortunately, there's an easy Terminal trick that allows the Dock to use a translucent icon for any application that has been hidden. Once you execute this trick, you'll have a quick visual indication in the Dock of which active applications are hidden. And even though a hidden app will now have a translucent Dock icon, any badge associated with the icon will still function.

Enable Translucent Dock Icons

In order to turn on the translucent Dock icon effect, we need to modify the Dock's preference list. This is easily done with Terminal using the default write command to set preference lists defaults.

If you've been checking out some of our other Terminal tricks, you'll have noticed that we use the default write command quite often.

Apple made a change to the Dock's preference list name when it introduced OS X Mavericks. Because of the two slightly different file names, we need to show you two different methods of turning on translucent Dock icons, depending on the version of OS X you're using.

Translucent Dock Icons: OS X Mountain Lion and Earlier

  1. Launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities/.
  2. In the Terminal window that opens, enter or copy/paste the following command, all on one line. Tip: You can triple-click one word in the line of text to select the entire command:
    defaults write com.apple.Dock showhidden -bool YES

  3. Press the return or enter key.
  4. Next, enter or copy/paste the following command:
  5. killall Dock

  6. Press return or enter.

Translucent Dock Icons: OS X Mavericks and Later

  1. Launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities/.
  2. In the Terminal window that opens, enter or copy/paste the following command, all on one line. Don’t forget that you can triple-click a single word in the command to select the entire line of text:
    defaults write com.apple.dock showhidden -bool YES
  3. Press return or enter.
  4. Next, enter or copy/paste the following command:
  5. killall Dock

  6. Press return or enter.

Now when you hide an application, the corresponding Dock icon will display in a translucent state.

Should you decide you're tired of translucent icons in the Dock, or you simply don't like them, the trick is just as easy to undo.

Disable Translucent Dock Icons

  1. In Terminal, enter or copy/paste the following command, all on one line:

    For OS X Mountain Lion and Earlier

    defaults write com.apple.Dock showhidden -bool NO


    For OS X Mavericks and Later

    defaults write com.apple.dock showhidden -bool NO
  1. Press return or enter.
  2. Next, in all versions of OS X, enter or copy/paste the following command:
  3. killall Dock

  4. Press return or enter.

The Dock will return to the normal method of displaying application icons.

There's a lot more you can do with your Dock to customize how it looks and works, so be sure to check out the articles listed below.

Reference

default man page

killall man page

Published: 11/22/2010

Updated: 8/20/2015