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Navigating Finder Windows

Mac OS X includes several features that enable you to navigate Finder windows. There are two basic navigation tasks you do: moving around inside windows (to select items for example) or changing the contents of windows in order to view other folders and directories.

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), it can be faster to move to items and select them using the keyboard. 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.

Using the Keyboard to Select 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.

Using the Keyboard to Select 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.


The Option key works with the arrow keys as well. If you hold down the Option key and press the Right-arrow key, all the folders within the selected folder will be expanded as well.

Using the Keyboard to Select Items in the Columns View

In the Columns 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.

Using these keys, you can move around your directories quite 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 that you can quickly jump into different areas without scrolling manually.


When you get used to it, using the keyboard in combination with the Columns view is the fastest way to navigate Mac OS X Finder windows.

Using the Search Tool to Select Items

The Finder window toolbar includes a Search tool you can use to find and move to items within a folder.

  1. Open the window that contains the items you want to locate.

  2. Click in the Search tool and enter the text for which you want to search. The more specific you make the text, the fewer items will appear in the window when you perform the search.

  3. Press Return to perform the search. The window will be refreshed and only the items that met your search criterion will appear in the window. At the top of the window, you will see the search you have performed, including the search criterion and the area in which you searched.

  4. Use the grab handle to expand the window to reveal the path pane. This shows the location of the item selected in the upper pane (see Figure 3.7).

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 You can use the Finder window Search tool to reduce the contents of a folder to only those items that meet your search criterion.

  1. Use the Up- and Down-arrow keys to select the items shown in the window.

  2. If you want to modify the search, change the search criterion and click the refresh search button.

Navigating Up and Down the Directory Structure

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

Changing Directories with the Toolbar

The Finder's toolbar is a fast way to change the directory that is displayed in the current Finder window. The Toolbar contains buttons that take you to specific directories that are on your Mac. To open a directory, click its button on the Toolbar. The Finder window will display the contents of that directory.

Click the Back button on the toolbar to move back to the previous Finder window. 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; at that point, the Back button is grayed out. Similarly, the Forward button moves you forward in a chain of Finder windows.

→ To learn how to customize the Toolbar, see "Customizing the Toolbar," p. 59.


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


You can press Command+[ to move back and Command+] to move forward.

Changing Directories with the Path Pop-Up Menu

The Path pop-up menu enables you to quickly move up and down the directory structure of your Mac. To change directories, hold down the Command key and click the window name in the title bar of a Finder window. When you do so, you will see all the directories from the one currently displayed in the window up to the Computer directory (which is the highest level on your Mac). Choose a directory from the menu and the Finder window will display the directory you chose.


You can add the Path button to your toolbar so that you can select a directory without using the Command key. You'll learn how later in this chapter.

Changing Directories with the Go Menu

You can also use the Finder Go menu to open specific directories. To do so, open the Go menu and choose the directory you want to view. Its contents will replace those shown in the active Finder window (if no Finder windows are active, the directory's contents appear in a new Finder window).


Keyboard shortcuts are available for the specific directories on the Go menu. See the "Mac OS X to the Max" section at the end of this chapter for a list of these shortcuts.

If you choose Go, Favorites, you will see a hierarchical menu containing your favorite items; choose an item to open it. Similarly, if you choose, Go, Recent Folders, you can quickly move back to one of the recent folders you have viewed (you can set the number of recent folders on this list using the General pane of the System Preferences utility).

→ To learn more about setting and using favorites, see "The Favorites Directory," p. 83.

You can also move to a directory using the Go To Folder command. Choose Go, Go To Folder to see the Go To Folder dialog box (see Figure 3.8). You can type a pathname in this dialog box and click Go to open a Finder window for that directory. 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 directory, 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 directory on which Mac OS X is stored, you can skip that directory 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 3.8Figure 3.8 This Go To Folder directory shows the path to the folder called Documents that is located on the volume named Mac OS 9.


Although you should be careful to use the proper case in pathnames, sometimes it doesn't make a difference. For example, the path to the Mac OS X System directory can be /SYSTEM/, /system/, or /System/. Sometimes, the case of the path you type must match exactly, so it is good practice to always match the case of the directory names you type.

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

Table 3.1 Paths to Specific Directories



Directory called Documents on a volume named Mac OS 9

/Mac OS 9/Documents/

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


The Mac OS X System Folder


A folder called Ch_02_figs located in the Documents directory in my User folder


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 to type it yourself, but if the path gets filled in for you, press Enter to accept that 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 directory.


Although pathnames should end in /, you don't really have to type the last /. If it is needed, Mac OS X will add it for you. If not, the path will work without it.


You can use the Connect To Server command to move to directories that are located on your network.

→ To learn how to connect to servers, see "Accessing Shared Files from a Mac OS X Computer," p. 732.

Changing Directories with the Keyboard

One of the cool navigation features of Mac OS X is the ability to move up and down the directory 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, application, 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 will open. Similarly, if you press this key combination when you have a folder selected, the contents of that folder will be shown in its previous view state.


This technique also works in the Columns view to open applications or documents. When you are viewing folders and volumes, you don't need to hold down the Command key because in the Columns view, the contents of a folder or volume are displayed when you select it.

To move up the directory structure, press Command+Up arrow.

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