What every Mac user should know about using Finder

In this article, we’ll explore the essential tips and tricks that every Mac user should know about using Finder. From customizing views to organizing files, we’ll cover everything you need to know to streamline your workflow and get the most out of this essential tool.

Mac's Finder icon on a blue background

Finder on macOS is like File Explorer on Windows. It’s the tool you use to find files, folders, and media on your Mac, hence the name Finder. If you’re new to Mac, then knowing the ins and outs of this valuable tool is essential for finding what you need when you need it.

Related: 40+ things to do after setting up a Mac

What is Finder?

Apple best summarizes what exactly Finder is:

The Finder is the first thing that you see when your Mac finishes starting up. It opens automatically and stays open as you use other apps. It includes the Finder menu bar at the top of the screen and the desktop below that. It uses windows and icons to show you the contents of your Mac, iCloud Drive, and other storage devices.

Opening Finder

You can open Finder by clicking the Finder icon in your Dock. If you see Finder in your menu bar, you can also click File > New Finder Window. This will open Finder to your recent items. But you can easily navigate from there.

Finder on Mac's Dock

Finder views

At the top of your Finder window, you have a customizable toolbar. If you don’t see it, click View > Show Toolbar from the menu bar.

You’ll see four buttons that let you display the contents in Finder in whichever way you like. From left to right, they are Icons, List, Column, and Gallery.

Icons, List, Column, and Gallery icons in Finder on Mac

You can choose a different view for every location you navigate to within Finder. By default, items within folders will display in the view you select for the folder. You can change this once you are inside the folder, but the view will change back to its parent the next time you open it.

Grouping and sorting

You can change how items within the Finder window are grouped or sorted. Click that button and choose how to group items, including by name, kind, or application. To change how the items are sorted, hold your Option key, click that button, and make a selection.

Sort by icon in Finder on Mac

Action buttons

Next to the Finder view buttons, you have action buttons that you can use for items you select in the Finder window. These allow you to quickly do things like open, share, copy, tag, or trash items.

Actions, Sharing, and Tags button in Finder on Mac

You can also access these actions by selecting an item and right-clicking or holding Control as you click one.

Item Actions Mac

Search box

All the way to the right of the Finder window you’ll see the Search box. You can enter a word or phrase to find something with Finder, whether it be a document, folder, or file. For more, check out these time-saving tips for using the Finder Search feature on Mac.

Finder Sidebar

On the left side of the Finder window, you have your Sidebar. If you don’t see it, click View > Show Sidebar from the menu bar.

Now you have an easy way to jump to your Favorites, iCloud, Locations, and Tags (tagged items).

You can condense this space if there are certain spots you won’t visit often. Put your pointer to the right of one of the categories, like iCloud or Locations, and click the arrow icon when it displays. Then if you want to expand it again, put your pointer in the same place and click the arrow icon.

Condense space in Finder sidebar on Mac

Once you get used to the items you see in the Sidebar, you can do a little more with it by customizing it. So, take a look at our guide for how to customize the Finder Sidebar if you’re interested.

Finder Preview pane

Using the Preview pane in Finder, you can see a quick view of an item you select. This is handy for working with images but also gives you details for files, folders, and media.

To open the Preview pane, click View > Show Preview from the menu. You’ll then see it display on the right side of your Finder window.

Depending on the type of item you select, you’ll not only see a preview of it, but also details like size, tags, and the dates for created and modified.

Finder Preview pane on Mac

At the bottom of the Preview pane, you’ll notice what are called Quick Actions. These are also convenient for, as the name implies, quick actions. You can do things like rotate images or mark up PDFs. We also have a helpful tutorial for customizing those Finder Quick Actions if you want to give it a try.

If you’re new to Mac and struggling how to do something, we have a series of “New to Mac” articles just for you! So, take a look at how to make Siri work for you or how to change your wallpaper and screen saver.

Other Finder tips: