4 ways to select files on your Mac

finder on mac

Most, if not all file interactions in macOS are handled through the Finder.

The Finder is the default file manager used on Macs. Among other things, the Finder’s graphical user interface shell lets you perform common file actions like moving, copying, duplicating and making other changes to one or more items on your disk(s).

Even the simplest file interaction in a Finder window begins with highlighting one or more items. Like many other computer operating systems, macOS provides a few different ways for selecting one or multiple files at once.

If you’re perplexed by multiple file selection, you’re wholeheartedly recommended to memorize the following Mac selection tips for the sake of your own efficiency and productivity.

4 ways to select files on Mac

macOS supports these basic file selection methods:

  • Click: select a single file
  • Shift-click or click-and-drag: select groups of contiguous files
  • Command (⌘)-click: make a discontinuous selection of multiple files
  • Select All: the name says it all

Each of the methods listed above is supported across all versions of the Macintosh operating system and works in any Finder view, be it Icon, List, Columns or Cover Flow.

Memorize these handy tips so you can select multiple files in Finder windows, Open dialogs (note that some apps may not support opening multiple documents at once), on your desktop and elsewhere where such interactions are allowed.

1. Select a single file

To select a single document, folder, app, disk or other item available through the Finder, click it.

select single file on Mac

A single click highlights the file under the mouse pointer.

2. Select all files in a window

To select everything in a window, click a window to make it active and hit Command (⌘)-A.

select files on Mac

TIP: you can also choose the Select All option from the Finder’s Edit menu.

3. Select multiple nonadjacent files

To select several files that are not alongside each other in a Finder window, press and hold the Command (⌘) key on the keyboard and click each file separately, then let go of the key.

select files on Mac
Don’t forget that you can scroll through a Finder window to select additional items

I often use this method to subtract files from selections. I’d select all files or a group of contiguous files, then Command-click any items that I’d like to exclude from the group.

4. Select a contiguous group of files

To select a range of files that are listed together in a Finder window, do the following:

1) Begin by clicking the first file.

select files on Mac

2) Press and hold the Shift (⇧) key and click the last item to define your range.

select files on Mac

All files in between will be automatically included in your selection. Keep in mind that this method does not work in the Finder’s Icon view which lets you arrange icons in free space as they do not have any particular order to them. However, you can make your selection in the List view, for example, then switch to the Icon view knowing your files will remain selected.

select files on Mac

Alternatively, use the click-and-dragging method. If you prefer to browse your files in the List, Columns or Cover Flow view, be sure to click near the first file, then continue holding the button while dragging over all of the files that you’d like to add to your selection.

The dragging method works in Finder’s other views, but it really shines when you’re in the Icon view due to the large icon size and generous spacing between the individual file icons.

select files on Mac

You must click near the first file to drag the selection, not its icon or name

As you may have noticed, the Finder thoughtfully indents item names a bit for your convenience. Such design consideration lets you click and hold the empty area next to the file name so that you can safely perform dragging action without accidentally moving the item to a new location.

select files on Mac

Click-and-drag to select a contiguous group of items in a Finder window like a pro

The following keyboard shortcuts let you quickly jump between the Finder’s window layouts.

  • Icon view: Command (⌘)-1
  • List view: Command (⌘)-2
  • Column view: Command (⌘)-3
  • Cover Flow view: Command (⌘)-4

Alternatively, use the Finder’s View menu to choose how you’d like to view your files.

view files on Mac

As we’re about to explain in the following section, you can combine the above selection methods to exclude unwanted items from a range of highlighted files and more.

Bringing it all together

The aforementioned file-selection methods can be combined and chained together, making complex selections effortless and allowing you to quickly exclude a single item from the selection, deselect a range of files with a few clicks and so forth.

Did you mistakenly include unwanted files in your selection? Not to worry—as we explained earlier in this tutorial, you can quickly exclude one or more items from the selection by Command (⌘)-clicking a file to subtract it from the highlighted group.

select multiple files on Mac

To adjust a group of contiguous files, click any highlighted item while holding the Shift key to trim your selection accordingly. Another common trick: select some contiguous files with the Shift-click method, then add any number of non-contigious files to the selection using Command-clicking while continuing to hold the Shift key the whole time.

It’s also cool that you can change the Finder’s default highlight color (blue) at will in order to make file and other selections easier to distinguish from other items.

Use System Preferences to customize the highlight color

Open System Preferences, click the General section, then click the menu next to Highlight Color to choose between one of the preloaded colors or define your own by choosing Other.

Before signing off, you will want to turn on the status bar at the bottom of Finder windows (choose Show Status Bar from the Finder’s View menu or press Command-/) that provides helpful information about any selected item(s), including a live count of the selected items.

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