How to Control the 2D or 3D Appearance of the Mac's Dock

Terminal and cDock let you choose your favorite look

The Mac's Dock has undergone quite a few revisions over time. It started life as a basic 2D Dock that was flat and slightly translucent and then morphed into a 3D look with Leopard. With OS X Yosemite, the Dock reverted back to a 2D look. If you became fond of the 3D look and want to experience it in OS X Yosemite or later, or if you have an OS with the 3D look and want the 2D appearance, it's possible to switch between the two Dock looks.

Here's a look at the evolution of the Dock and how to change back and forth between a 2D and 3D appearance using Terminal or the third-party cDock utility.

The information in this article applies to Macs running OS X Leopard and later OS X and macOS versions.

MacBook Pro with 3D Dock
 Flickr

The Evolution of the Dock

OS X Cheetah introduced the Dock, creating the Mac desktop's distinctive look. It was a basic 2D dock with the original Aqua pinstripe interface elements introduced in the first OS X version. The Dock morphed a bit through Puma, Jaguar, Panther, and Tiger, but remained 2D.

With the advent of OS X Leopard, the Dock underwent a dramatic change with a three-dimensional, reflective look. The Dock icons looked like they were standing up on a ledge. The 3D look continued through Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks. With OS X Yosemite, however, came the return of the flat, two-dimensional Dock, which remained through El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, and Catalina.

Use Terminal to Apply a 2D Effect to the Dock

Use this Terminal trick with OS X Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks Docks that are currently sporting a 3D look.

  1. From the Utilities folder, launch Terminal. Or, type Terminal into Spotlight Search.

  2. Enter the following command line into Terminal. Copy and paste the command or type it in exactly as shown in a single line of text.

    defaults write com.apple.dock no-g
    
  3. Press Return.

  4. Enter the following text into Terminal. If you type the text rather than copy and paste it, be sure to match the case of the text.

    
    
  5. Press Return.

  6. The Dock will disappear for a moment and then reappear.

  7. Enter the following text into Terminal.

    
    
  8. Press Return. Terminal will end the current session.

  9. Quit the Terminal application. Your Dock should now revert to a 2D look.

Use Terminal to Switch Back to a 3D Dock Effect

Use this Terminal trick with OS X Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, and Mavericks Docks that are currently sporting a 2D look.

  1. From the Utilities folder, launch Terminal. Or, type Terminal into Spotlight Search.

  2. Enter the following command line into Terminal. Copy and paste the command or type it in exactly as shown in a single line of text.

    defaults write com.apple.dock no-
    
  3. Press Return.

  4. Enter the following text into Terminal. If you type the text rather than copy and paste it, be sure to match the case of the text.

    
    
  5. Press Return.

  6. The Dock will disappear for a moment and then reappear.

  7. Enter the following text into Terminal.

    
    
  8. Press Return. Terminal will end the current session.

  9. Quit the Terminal application. Your Dock should now revert to a 3D look.

Use cDock to Change the 2D or 3D Dock Aspect

A $5 third-party app called cDock will change not only the 2D or 3D aspect of your Dock, but also provide quite a few other customizations, including transparency controls, custom indicators, icon shadow, reflections, and more.

If you have OS X Yosemite, installing and using cDock is a simple process. For OS X El Capitan through macOS Catalina, however, installing cDock requires an extra step that involves disabling your SIP (System Integrity Protection). This security measure prevents potentially malicious software from modifying protected resources on your Mac. While cDock is by no means malicious, the SIP security system prevents cDock's Dock-modification methods.

Disabling the SIP system isn't recommended just to perform cosmetic Dock changes. If you choose to go ahead with the process, cDock includes instructions for how to disable SIP.

How to Use cDock

If you want to go ahead with using cDock to change your Dock's appearance, here's how it works:

These instructions apply to using cDock with OS X Yosemite through macOS Catalina.

  1. Download the latest release of cDock. (A free trial is available.)

    cDock overview
  2. Open the downloaded Zip file.

  3. Open cDock.

    Opening cDock after download
  4. Allow cDock to move itself to the Applications folder.

  5. If you're using a version later than Yosemite, disable System Integrity Protection.

    This isn't recommended. Do so at your own risk.

  6. cDock will install or update its system components.

    Screenshot of cDock installation
  7. Re-enable System Integrity Protection.

    To do this, start your Mac using the Recovery partition. Launch Terminal and enter this command:

    csrutil enable

    Press Return, quit Terminal, and restart your Mac.

  8. Use cDock to change your Dock's appearance. To switch to a 3D Dock, select the Leopard 10.5 theme.

    cDock with Leopard theme selected