By default, the behaviour of macOS upon saving a file is to open a simple dialog window, with only a single drop-down menu showing possible save locations. These locations can vary based on the program settings, your most-used save location, or your last-used save location.

Although this is fine for quickly saving documents to common folders such as Documents or Downloads, it is cumbersome to use the drop-down menu when saving regularly to multiple hard drives and previously unused nested folders. Luckily, there is a way to always show a full file browser in the save dialog for more granular control.

The default save window on macOS is as in the image below:

It can be expanded manually, on a one-off basis, by clicking the arrow icon highlighted in the above screenshot. But what if you want the save window to appear expanded by default?

How do I show the full size Save dialog by default?

1) Open Terminal, from /Applications/Utilities, or via Spotlight.

2) At the prompt enter the following command:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode -bool true

Please note, the command is all on one line. Hit Enter to issue it.

3) Now enter the following command:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode2 -bool true

Please note, the command is all on one line. Hit Enter to issue it.

4) To check that the defaults have been set correctly, enter the following two commands into Terminal:

defaults read NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode

defaults read NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode2

If the defaults have been set, both commands should return 1, signifying that the expanded panel setting is on.

5) Launch a program, create a new document, and hit cmd-s to save it. The expanded Save dialog should now appear instead of the traditional smaller panel. The screenshot below shows the Terminal commands, as well as both TextEdit and Microsoft Word demonstrating the expanded Save window behaviour.

Reverting your changes

If you decide to put things back the way they were, you have two options. You can completely delete the default settings which you created, or you can simply set them to false instead of true, bringing back the compact dialog. The end result should be the same. I opted for completely deleting them as that was the original state on my machine before setting them.

To delete your changes, enter the following two commands into Terminal:

defaults delete NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode

defaults delete NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode2

To set the defaults to false, enter the following two commands into Terminal:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode2 -bool false

defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode2 -bool false

You can check that the defaults have been reverted correctly by entering the defaults read commands into Terminal again:

defaults read NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode

defaults read NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode2

If you set the defaults back to false, both commands should return 0, signifying that the expanded panel setting is now off again. If you elected to completely delete the settings, these commands should report that no such setting exists, which will also bring back the compact view.

The screenshot below shows the defaults delete commands in action, and two programs demonstrating that the compact Save dialog has returned:

That about does it. This is a useful little customisation for power users, those with custom save locations, and multiple drives. It certainly won’t be for everyone, but you may find that over a long period it can save you a lot of total time, depending on your setup.

Do you have any requests for tutorials or guides? Is there a default setting you would like to have changed? Let me know in the comments section.

  • Anand Kumar

    Thanks! Really helpful.

  • realroz

    THANK YOU!!

  • bradmacpro

    For those averse to using Terminal, you can use the free GUI application TinkerTool. Within the General category, there is the option to just check the box for “Prefer expanded Save dialogs when using new applications” There is version 6 for Sierra and version 5.7 for older OS.

  • MacServiceGuy

    good morning

    behavior is spelled behavior. not behaviour

    • Mr_Coldharbour

      If you live in the United States, maybe, but the rest of the world spell it as “behaviour,” same with “colour” and not “color.” British spelling is the true spelling of the English language, for obvious reasons.

  • Mr_Coldharbour

    I’ve been looking to do this for a longtime. I don’t like the compact version, I always prefer the expanded version.

  • Andrew Swift

    More easily: you can expand or fold the open & save dialog box with cmd = (equals sign).