Mac Basics: The Finder
The Finder in OS X provides you access to your files and folders.
Learn about the Finder, how to get around in the Finder, and how to find your files and folders using the Finder.
(This article applies to OS X Lion and Mountain Lion. For Mac OS X v10.6 information, see this article instead.)
The Finder allows you to visually access practically everything on your Mac, including applications, hard disks, files, folders, and DVDs. You can use the Finder to organize all your files and folders as you want, search for stuff anywhere on your Mac, delete things you don't want, and more.
To see your files, click the Finder icon in the Dock, then click "All My Files" in the sidebar.
Finder windows include a sidebar on the left side. Items are grouped into categories: favorites, shared, devices—just like the Source list in iTunes. The favorites portion contains favorite links to folders which includes Desktop, Documents, Movies, Music, Pictures, AirDrop, and the Applications folder. The shared portion contains computers that are connected to your computer though the network. The device portion contains mounted and accessible volumes you have, such as a hard disk, USB flash drive, network volume, DVD, and so forth.
- Window close, minimize and zoom buttons. To close the window, click the round, red button in the upper-left corner. If you don't want to close the window but want it out of your way, click the round, yellow button to minimize the window to the Dock. If a window is full of stuff, you can resize it by dragging the lower-right corner to make it bigger, or click the round, green button to maximize the window's size.
- Finder window View buttons:
- Icon view - Used to display the contents of your folder as a series of icons. In Icon view, you can view live icon previews that you can use to thumb through a multipage document or watch a QuickTime movie.
- List view - Used to display your folder in a spreadsheet-style manner. Each folder can be expanded by clicking on the disclosure triangle just to the left of the folder. You can easily sort by file name, date modified, and so forth. Choose Show View Options from the View menu to add / remove attribute columns. You can change the sorting from ascending order to descending order and back again by clicking on the attribute column title.
- Column view - Used to display the hierarchy of your folders where each column represents a folder.
- Cover Flow view - Used to display the contents of your folder just like the Cover Flow used in iTunes. You can see live previews of images, documents and movies, and can thumb through documents and movies.
- Action Menu - Quick access to Finder functions for highlighted items, such as Get Info, Move to Trash, and Services.
- Item Arrangement button - In any view, you can organize the window by clicking the item arrangement button and choosing one of the ways to group items.
- Search Field - Start typing a word or phrase and Spotlight will search your Mac for any matches.
- Right pane - The contents of a selected folder are shown in this pane.
- Pane edge - Drag to resize.
- Devices - A device connected to your computer, such as a DVD, USB device, or your Time Machine backup disk.
- Sidebar - Items are grouped into categories: Favorites, Shared, and Devices—the top portion has Favorites which contains quick access to All My Files, Applications, Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, and Pictures.
- Back / Forward buttons - As you move to different places in the Finder window, you can use the back button to return one step back and the forward button to go forward.
The contents of the selected folder or volume appear in the right pane. Depending on what view your Finder window is set to, this pane may look a little different from ours, our window above is shown in Icons view. In Icons view, you can navigate by double-clicking folders to view the contents inside.
Viewing a window as a list or columns
If you'd like to change how folder and volume contents appear in the right pane, click one of the view buttons in the toolbar (item 2 above). For example, when you click the list view button, the Finder window transforms into this:
List view enables you to see more content in the window than icons view, and displays some extra file and folder information, such as the last date the item was modified, the file size, and what kind of item it is. As with Icons view, you can navigate through your stuff by simply double-clicking folders until you find what you're looking for.
If you'd rather see your stuff displayed in a more hierarchical fashion, click the Columns view button. In Columns view, the right pane splits into multiple columns to display your computer's file and folder organization. Instead of double-clicking folders to see what's inside, select a folder in any column, click on it once, and its contents will appear in another column to its right. If you really start digging down deep into your folder, you can drag the bottom-right corner of the Finder window to expand it and see how many layers you've traveled.
When you click All My Files, all files and folders on your computer that you have created or downloaded, such as documents, photos, music, and movies are displayed in a categories list according to the types of files.
The Applications folder contains all the applications installed on your Mac. It also includes a Utilities folder, with apps that are designed to support different functions of your Mac.
When you put stuff on your desktop, technically it's stored in your user account's Desktop folder, even though it appears on your desktop. When you bring music into iTunes, your music files get stored in the iTunes folder in your user's Music folder. Likewise, iPhoto stores pictures in the Pictures folder and iMovie stores movies in the Movies folder. You can get quick access to your folders from any Finder window's sidebar.
The Users folder stores all the content for each user account on your Mac; each user has a separate Home folder that's named after his or her user account name. The Documents, Downloads, Movies, Music, and Pictures in the favorites section of the Sources list are subfolders within your Home folder.
Find stuff fast
You can find stuff quickly using the search field in the Finder window. This field uses the Spotlight technology to scour the disk volume you select. For more information about using it, see Spotlight. Combine Cover Flow with Spotlight and you’ve got an amazingly powerful search tool. Use your mouse pointer and hover over a file to shuffle through them visually.
Just start typing in the search field, and Spotlight dynamically displays results in the Finder window and search suggestions will pop-up below the search field that match your criteria as you type. You can choose where you want Spotlight to look by clicking on an item in the header, such as Servers, This Mac, Home, and more, that appears just below the search field in the Finder window. Spotlight will scour the location you select and organize its search results by kind.
The Finder includes tokens—a smart way to filter your searches. When you select a suggestion, a token is created. Instantly your search is filtered, and you see only the files that meet those criteria. You can change the scope of the token by clicking the arrow. If you want to narrow your search even more, you can use multiple tokens together.
Search for specific file types: For example, if you wanted to find all the JPEG (.jpg) images on your Mac, type .jpg in the search field, and you'll immediately see results pop into the window. Click This Mac in the header to find all JPEGs on your entire hard disk. Not only will Spotlight display thumbnails, small images, of your JPEG images, it'll also list other things that match your criteria, such as documents that contain the word ”.jpg” in them. You can then access the file right from that Finder window.
Tip: Want to learn how you can customize the Finder window for your needs? Be sure to check out Modify your windows.