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Navigating Finder Windows

Mac OS X includes many features that enable you to navigate Finder windows. The two basic navigation tasks you do are moving around inside Finder windows (to select items, for example) and changing the contents of Finder windows to view other volumes or folders.

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.

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 will scroll 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.

Using the Keyboard to Select 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 directories 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 the fastest way to navigate Mac OS X Finder windows.

Using the Finder Window’s Search Tool to Select Items

Under version 10.4, the Finder window toolbar’s Search tool transforms a folder into a Smart folder. You can set the criterion used and the smart folder will find all folders and files that meet this criterion and display 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 3.7). The items listed can be displayed by choosing the location in which you are interested. These are shown at the top of the window. From left to right they are the folder currently selected, your Home folder, or your Computer. The status of the search is shown in the lower-right corner of the window; when the "moving circle" is displayed, the search is underway.

    Figure 3.7

    Figure 3.7 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.

  3. Select the location in which you want to see items that match your search. For example, to find items anywhere on your computer, click Computer. The window will be refreshed and you will see items that match your search criterion that are located in the location you selected.

  4. 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 will appear in the lower pane of the window (see Figure 3.8).

    Figure 3.8

    Figure 3.8 You can use the Finder window Search tool to search various areas of your Mac for files and folders that include specific text in their names.

  5. If you want 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.

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 icons in the Places sidebar as well as the Path pop-up menu. The Go menu enables you to jump to specific directories quickly.

Changing Directories with the Places Sidebar

The Finder’s Places sidebar is a fast way to change the directory displayed in the current Finder window. The sidebar contains icons that take you to specific directories. As you read earlier, the sidebar contains two panes. The upper pane shows all the mounted volumes, including your hard disks, network drives, iDisk, CDs, DVDs, and so on. The lower pane shows your Home folder, some of the folders it contains (such as the Desktop and Documents folders), the Applications folder; and any folders, documents, or applications you have added manually. You can customize the items that appear on the sidebar to suit your preferences.

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.

Using the Back and Forward Buttons to Move Among Finder Windows

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.

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 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 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). Select a directory from the menu and the Finder window displays the directory you chose.

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

Changing Directories 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 (see Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 The Go menu provides quick access to various folders on your Mac.

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 directories. To do so, open the Go menu and select the directory you want to view. Its contents replace those shown in the active Finder window (if no Finder windows are active, the directory’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 3.10). 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 3.10

Figure 3.10 This Go to Folder directory shows the path to the Movies 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 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 the user bmiser’s Home 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 typing it yourself, but if the path is filled in for you, press Return 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.

Changing Directories with the Keyboard

One of the cool navigation features of Mac OS X is the capability 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, 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 directory structure, press Command-up arrow.

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