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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Navigating Finder Windows

Navigating Finder Windows

The chores associated with Finder—moving and copying files, creating folders, renaming items, and so on—are necessary, but are not among the more exciting features of Mac OS X. Your goal in any Finder session should be to perform your tasks as quickly as possible so that you’re soon back to more productive pursuits. One way to speed things up in Finder is to know how to navigate the interface and the contents of your Mac. The next few sections show you how to do just that.

Using the Keyboard to Select Items in a Finder Window

Although you can use the mouse to point to and click items to select them (or double-click to open them), moving to items and selecting them using the keyboard can be faster. There are two basic ways to navigate inside a window using the keyboard.

You can type an item’s name to move to and select it. The OS matches item names as you type, so most of the time you don’t need to type the item’s whole name to move to it (for example, typing mp3 moves you to the first item whose name begins with mp3). The more of the name you type, the more specific your movement becomes.

You can also move among items using the Tab and arrow keys. How this works depends on the view you are using for the windows.

Selecting Items in the Icon View

When you are in the Icon view, pressing the Tab key selects the next item according to alphabetical order. Holding down the Shift key while you press Tab moves you among the items in reverse alphabetical order.

You can also use the arrow keys to move to and select items. The keys work just as you might expect. The up-arrow key moves you up the window, the right-arrow key moves you right, and so on.

The window scrolls automatically to keep the items you select in view.

Selecting Items in the List View

When a window is shown in List view, you can use the up- and down-arrow keys to move up and down the list of items in the window.

When you select an item, you can use the right-arrow key to expand it and the left-arrow key to collapse it.

Selecting Items in the Column View

In the Column view, the right-arrow key moves you down the hierarchy, whereas the left-arrow key moves you up the hierarchy. The up- and down-arrow keys enable you to move up and down within a selected folder (which appears in a column).

Using these keys, you can move around your folders rapidly. As you move through the structure using these keys, the window scrolls so that you always see the currently selected item. It maintains your view at all times so you can quickly jump into different areas without scrolling manually.

When you get used to it, using the keyboard in combination with the Column view is one of the fastest ways to navigate Mac OS X Finder windows.

Selecting Items in the Cover Flow View

Using your keyboard in Cover Flow view is very similar to List view. In fact, because the List view is present at the bottom of the Cover Flow Finder window, when you use the keyboard you will see the results in that pane as well. Using the right arrow, down arrow, or Tab key will move you to the next item. The left arrow, up arrow, and Shift-Tab will move you to the previous item. If you select a folder and hold the Command key while pressing the down arrow, you will move into that folder.

Selecting Items with the Search Tool

The Finder window toolbar’s Search tool transforms a folder into a smart folder. You can set the criterion used and the smart folder finds all folders and files that meet this criterion and displays them in the folder’s Finder window. To search for files or folders, perform the following steps:

  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. Type the text or numbers for which you want to search in the Finder window Search box. As you type, the Finder starts finding folders and files that meet your search criterion and displays them for you (see Figure 3.8).
  3. Figure 3.8 A smart folder gets its name for good reason; as you type something in the Search tool, files and folders that match what you type are displayed in the Finder window.

    The locations of the items listed can be scoped by choosing the location in which you are interested. These are shown at the top of the window. From left to right they are This Mac, the location you were viewing when you started the search, and Shared.

  4. Select the location in which you want to see items that match your search. For example, to find items anywhere on your computer, click This Mac. To narrow the search to your previous location, click its button. The window is refreshed and you will see items that match your search criterion that are in the location you selected.
  5. When you find an item in which you are interested, click in the Contents pane and use the up- and down-arrow keys to select the item in the upper pane. Its location appears in the lower pane of the window (see Figure 3.8).
  6. To add more criteria to the search, click the Add button (+) next to the Save button. Use the resulting sheet to choose and configure additional search attributes.

To clear the search and return to the previous Finder window, click the Clear Search button, which is the “x” located in the right end of the Search tool.

→ To learn more about Smart folders, see “Searching Your Mac with Smart Folders.”

Navigating Up and Down the Folder Structure

There are several ways to move up and down the folder structure within Finder windows. You can use the keyboard as discussed in the previous section. You can also use the icons in the Sidebar as well as the Path pop-up menu. The Go menu enables you to jump to specific folders quickly.

Changing Folders with the Sidebar

The Finder’s Sidebar is a fast way to change the folder displayed in the current Finder window. The sidebar contains icons that take you to specific folders. As mentioned earlier, the Sidebar contains several sections. In the Devices section are all the volumes mounted on your Mac, including hard disk volumes, disk image volumes, your iDisk, CDs, DVDs, and so on. The Shared section will display icons for the servers that are available on your local area network (LAN). In the Places section of the Sidebar are some of the folders in your Home folder and the Applications folder. You can add any folders, applications, documents, or other files or remove them from this area to completely customize it. Finally, the Search For section of the sidebar allows you to quickly find content base upon predetermined searches, and you can also store smart folders and Spotlight searches here. The purpose of the Sidebar is to enable you to quickly open a Finder window that displays the contents of any item it contains.

→ To learn how to customize the sidebar, see “Customizing the Sidebar.”

To view the contents of an item shown in the sidebar, simply click its icon. The right pane of the Finder window shows the contents of the item you select. For example, if you click your Home folder (the icon with your user account short name as its name), you’ll see the contents of your Home folder in the Contents pane of the Finder window.

Navigating Folders Using the Back and Forward Buttons

Click the Back button on the toolbar to move back to the previous Finder window in the current Finder window chain. You can continue to click the Back button as many times as you want until you reach the first window you viewed using the current Finder window chain; at that point, the Back button is grayed out. Similarly, the Forward button moves you forward in a chain of Finder windows. You can also use the Go, Back and the Go, Forward commands to move back in the chain or forward in the chain, respectively.

→ To learn how to customize the Finder toolbar, see “Customizing the Toolbar.”

If you open a new Finder window, the Back and Forward buttons are grayed out because there is no window to move back or forward to. Opening a new Finder window starts a new chain of windows, so both buttons are disabled. As soon as you open a second window within the same Finder window chain, the Back button becomes active. If you move back along that chain of windows, the Forward button becomes active.

Changing Folders with the Path Pop-Up Menu

The Path pop-up menu enables you to quickly move up and down the folder structure of your Mac. To change folders, hold down the Command key and click the window name in the title bar of a Finder window. When you do so, you see all the folders from the one currently displayed in the window up to the Computer folder (where Computer is the name of your Mac; this is the highest level on your Mac). Select a folder from the menu and the Finder window displays the folder you chose.

You can add the Path button to your toolbar so you can select a folder without using the Command key.

→ To learn how to add buttons to the Finder toolbar, see “Customizing the Toolbar.”

Changing Folders with the Go Menu

The Finder’s Go menu enables you to move into many areas of your Mac. The menu is divided into several areas that contain various kinds of options.

At the top of the menu are the Back and Forward commands, which do the same thing as the Back and Forward buttons on the toolbar.

Just under these commands is the Enclosing Folder command. When you are displaying an item in a Finder window and press Command-up arrow or select Go, Enclosing Folder, the folder that contains the currently selected item is shown in the Finder window.

You can also use the Finder’s Go menu to open specific folders. To do so, open the Go menu and select the folder you want to view. Its contents replace those shown in the active Finder window (if no Finder windows are active, the folder’s contents appear in a new Finder window). For example, to display your Home folder, select Go, Home.

If you select Go, Recent Folders, you can quickly move back to one of the folders you have recently viewed (you can set the number of recent folders on this list using the Appearance pane of the System Preferences application).

You can also move to a folder using the Go to Folder command. Select Go, Go to Folder to see the Go to Folder dialog box (see Figure 3.9). You can type a pathname in this dialog box and click Go to open a Finder window for that folder. Following are some tips on how to type pathnames:

  • Pathnames are case sensitive.
  • A slash (/) separates each level in the path.
  • Almost all paths should begin and end with the slash (/).
  • The exception to the previous rule is when you want to move to a specific user’s Home folder, in which case you can just type ~username/, where username is the short name for the user’s account.
  • If the path begins with the folder on which Mac OS X is stored, you can skip that folder name and start the path beginning with the next level. If it is on another volume, you can include that volume’s name at the beginning of the path.

Figure 3.9 This Go to Folder dialog box shows the path to the iTunes Music folder within my Home folder.

Table 3.1 provides some examples of paths you would enter in the Go to Folder dialog box to move to specific folders.

Table 3.1  Paths to Specific Folders



A folder called Documents on a volume named Mirror


The Documents folder in the Home folder for the user account with the short name paul


The Mac OS X System folder


A folder called Books located in the Documents folder in the user paul’s Home folder


The following are some additional tips for the Go to Folder command:

  • You can open the Go to Folder dialog box by pressing Command-Shift-G. Type the path and press Return to move there.
  • If you are patient when you type, Mac OS X will try to match the path you are typing and complete it for you. This usually takes more time than typing it yourself, but if the path is filled in for you, press Return to accept the path entered for you to move there.
  • The most recent path you have typed remains in the Go to Folder dialog box; you can modify this path to move to a different folder.

→ To learn how to connect to servers, see “Accessing Shared Files from a Mac OS X Computer.”

Changing Folders with the Keyboard

One of the cool navigation features of Mac OS X is the capability to move up and down the folder structure using only the keyboard. Use the previous tips to select an item, and then press Command-down arrow to move into the item, such as a folder, an application, a document, and so on. For example, if you use the Tab key to select an application icon and then press Command-down arrow, that application opens. Similarly, if you press this key combination when you have a folder selected, the contents of that folder are shown in its previous view state.

To move up the folder structure, press Command-up arrow.

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