Mac Basics: The Dock
Learn how to add and remove items from the Dock, and how to use Stacks to unclutter your desktop.
The Dock is the bar of icons that sits at the bottom or side of your screen. It provides easy access to some of the applications on your Mac (such as Mail, Safari, Contacts, and QuickTime Player), displays which applications are currently running, and holds windows in their minimized state. It's also the place to find the Trash (its icon looks like a waste basket). For your convenience, you can add your own applications, files, and folders to the Dock too.
To select an item in the Dock, simply click its icon. For example, if you want to listen to some music, click the iTunes icon (the icon with music notes) to open iTunes. When an application is running, the Dock displays an illuminated dash beneath the application's icon. To make any currently running application the active one, click its icon in the Dock to switch to it (the active application's name appears in the menu bar to the right of the Apple logo).
As you open applications (or open files to launch applications), their respective icons appear in the Dock, even if they weren't there originally. That means if you've got a lot of applications open, your Dock will grow substantially. If you minimize a window (click the round, yellow button in the upper-left corner of any window), the window gets pulled down into the Dock and waits until you click this icon to bring up the window again.
The Dock keeps applications on its left side, while Stacks and minimized windows are kept on its right. If you look closely, you'll see a vertical separator line that separates them. If you want to rearrange where the icons appear within their line limits, just drag a docked icon to another location on the Dock and drop it.
For more information about Stacks, see this article.
The separator line in the Dock separates the application icons from Stacks and minimized windows.
When you quit an application whose icon resides in the Dock (such as Safari or Mail), the illuminated dash disappears, but the icon remains. When you quit an application whose icon doesn't reside in the Dock (for example, you just finished playing Chess), its icon disappears from the Dock.
Tip: Control-click or right-click the a Dock item to see a contextual menu of additional choices.
Adding and removing Dock items
If you want to add an application to the Dock, click the Launchpad icon in the Dock and drag the application icon to the Dock; the icons in the Dock will move aside to make room for the new one. If you want to add a file or folder to the Dock, just drag its icon from any Finder window (or the desktop) and drop it on the Dock. The resulting icon that appears in the Dock is actually an alias of the original item (it's kind of a pointer to your original item). If you drag an application or file onto the Dock, you'll be able to open it anytime by simply clicking its docked icon. If you drag a folder onto the Dock, a Finder window of the folder's contents will display when you click the folder icon in the Dock.
To remove an item from the Dock, drag its icon an inch or more off the Dock and wait a couple seconds, then release; the icon will disappear in a poof of smoke. There are some icons that you can't remove from the Dock, such as the Trash and the Finder.
Don't worry, you aren't permanently removing the item from your computer; you simply got rid of its Dock icon. If you want that item back in the Dock, locate the application, file, or folder in the Finder (or with Spotlight), and drag it back into the Dock.
Tip: You can change where the Dock displays and customize its animation style in Dock preferences. See Customize the Dock.
When you need to delete unwanted files or folders, move them to the Trash and empty it.
This is what the Trash looks like when it's empty.
This is what the Trash looks like when it's got something in it.
You can drag things to the Trash and then open it to see what's inside. However, when you tell the Trash to empty itself, the items are deleted. To get rid of unwanted items, simply drag the item from the Finder and drop it onto the Trash icon in the Dock. The item will remain in the Trash folder (click the Trash icon to view its contents) until you either move it out of the Trash (if you decide to keep it) or empty it. From the Finder menu, choose Empty Trash.
If you're deleting sensitive files, such as electronic banking statements, tax returns, documents that contain social security numbers or passwords, you can choose to have your Mac securely empty the Trash: From the Finder menu, choose Secure Empty Trash. This makes your Mac write over your deleted files, greatly reducing the chances it could ever be recovered. This process can take some time, depending on what you're deleting.