Useful Finder Shortcuts

by David Czepanski Feb 13, 2006

For sometime now it has been possible to customize your computer with so many extensions, widgets, shareware, freeware, donationware, etc. that your so called “Mac” becomes a very different beast from the one that you pulled, squeaking with newness, out of its box. However, if you try to execute your favorite 19-key keyboard “shortcut” on someone else’s Mac, you are gobsmacked that nothing happens. On your machine that key combo would have opened up your email client, downloaded, read and replied to all the email, loaded all of your favorite sites in your three most preferred browsers, sucked down the latest RSS feeds, resumed that bit torrent download, ripped a CD into iTunes and started the coffee machine perking via your home automation system. I mean, how do people get any work done without (insert your favorite productivity tool here)???

Let’s face it, keyboard shortcuts are faster than mousing around, and thankfully someone at Apple is thinking about that, as evinced by the few shortcuts in the Finder that work out of the box.

Here are a few of those Finder shortcuts that I find myself using everyday. They’re aimed (mainly) at OS X, and as long as no one has customized their Mac with another keyboard macro program, these are certain to speed up how you get around on the Mac. For these shortcuts to work, make sure the Finder is “at the front” ie. it says Finder next to the Apple. You can click on the desktop or the Finder icon in the dock to make that happen.

Typing the first few characters of a file name or application highlights the closest match eg. in typing “c” when in the application folder takes you to the first item starting with “c”. Typing “cal” in quick succession will highlight the calendar. If you don’t land on what you want on the first try, pressing tab will take you to the next closest match. You can also use the arrow keys to move around.

To open or launch what you have just highlighted, press command (Apple) and the down arrow. You can also use command-o (Apple - oh) to open but if you’re already using the arrow keys it makes sense to stick with them.

This is great if you have a really cluttered desktop or a long list of files in a folder and want to find a file fast. Just type the first few letters of the file name and you’ll be there; or very close to it - pressing tab a couple of times should land you on your target. This is much faster than scrolling, and your eye naturally jumps to what is highlighted rather than taking the time to read all the names surrounding what you want.

Both these features have been in the Mac OS since I started using it - circa System 7.01!! I also loved System 6.0.8 but can’t recall if those keystrokes worked.

OS X centric now:

Home - to get to the home folder, use command-shift-h.

Applications - likewise, use command-shift-a to get to the applications folder and (no surprise) command-shift-u to get to Utilities.

Here’s an example of how I use this on a daily basis.

To open Safari - command-shift-a, type “saf” and press command-down arrow when Safari is highlighted.
To open Terminal - command-shift-u, type “ter” and press command down arrow when terminal is highlighted.

Using the arrow keys to navigate is really fast once you become familiar with it. In a folder you can go “up” one level from where you are by pressing command-up arrow.

When a folder opens, you can change between icon, list and column view (my favorite) by pressing command-1 or 2 or 3 respectively.

Using the shortcuts above along with command-tab which switches between open applications (command-~ cycles through them the other way) and pretty soon you are flying around.

Finally, when it comes time to logout or shut down:

Logout - command-shift-q (or hold down they option key as well to avoid the annoying “are you sure?” dialogue)

To shut down - if you have a desktop, control-eject will bring up the shutdown dialogue but don’t touch that mouse!!! When the dialogue appears, pressing return will hit the default button which is shutdown but pressing “s” will sleep your mac and “r” will restart it.

For iBook and Power Book users (Mac Book as well??), pressing the power button will also bring up the shutdown dialogue box.

There are no secrets here really, these are all pretty much documented in the Finder. Take the time to learn one or two every now and then and you’ll soon have them.

Well, there we have it! Go and save some time!!!


  • Have you ever tried a launching utility like LaunchBar (or QS).

    To open Safari I can just type command-space, s, [enter].
    Terminal: command-space, t, [enter]
    TextEdit: command-space, te, [enter]
    Applications folder: command-space, a, [enter]

    And I don’t have to switch to the Finder first, which save even more time and clicks.

    Oliver had this to say on Feb 14, 2006 Posts: 15
  • Hi Oliver - Yes, certainly have tried LaunchBar. I used that and something else in OS 9 (Dragthing???). These sorts of add-ons are fantastic for making things happen faster…..

    My comment still stands though - if you go to another machine (as I do all the time), you feel like your arm has been cut off without that application.

    The short cuts above work on all new macs, straight from the factory.

    David Czepanski had this to say on Feb 14, 2006 Posts: 25
  • The fastest way to sleep, restart or shut down is just to press option+command+eject for sleep, ctrl+command+eject for reboot or ctrl+option+command+eject for shutdown. You don’t need to have Finder on top or remember to press R or S (which won’t even work on the localized versions) after ctrl+eject.

    Rainer Tenhunen had this to say on Feb 14, 2006 Posts: 1
  • “Here’s an example of how I use this on a daily basis.
    To open Safari - command-shift-a, type “saf” and press command-down arrow when Safari is highlighted. “

    Heh, I just click on the Safari icon in my dock smile
    To use the dock, you can just drag an application into it, and it’s like a great shortcut bar!

    (OK, I’ll stop with the patronizing now raspberry) Thanks for telling me about the type-search thing - I didn’t know about that one!

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Feb 14, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Rainer - thanks for those short cuts; much quicker than what I suggested!

    David Czepanski had this to say on Feb 15, 2006 Posts: 25
  • Another Finder shortcut tip is adding the option key modifier to command-down arrow for app launching to close the enclosing folder.

    sjk had this to say on Feb 18, 2006 Posts: 112
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