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How to Show / Hide / Access hidden files on a Mac

How to Show / Hide / Access hidden files on a Mac

When you look at your desktop, or inside any folder for that matter, on your Mac you’ll see a number (one that will vary depending on how well-organized you are) of file and folder icons. What all of us have in common, however, is a huge range of system files that are hidden just out of view.

Those of us who have lived online for long enough will remember the Delete System32 hoax, with which trolls encouraged naive PC users to delete their Windows 2000 system directory. It’s not a shock that, since those days, developers have taken more care to hide away files that are essential to their operating systems.

There are, however, times when you need to access those files. Most of them are hidden away in the ~/Library folder, but the truth is that the average Mac holds a treasure trove of files and folders that you either no longer need or may want to access for troubleshooting purposes.

Is it normal that “System” takes up 90GB+ of storage? What does it contain? How to get your System folder under control? 

Why files and folders might be hidden? 

Those of us who have lived online for long enough will remember the Delete System32 hoax, with which trolls encouraged naive PC users to delete their Windows 2000 system directory. It’s not a shock that, since those days, developers have taken more care to hide away files that are essential to their operating systems.

So some of the files Apple hides on Mac are hidden for a reason — they are essential for your macOS to run smoothly, and you shouldn’t remove hidden files Mac uses to operate properly. There are, however, tons of system files among those hidden items that just eat up your storage space for no particular reason. You’ll find all of them in a ~/Library folder. 

Where and how to find the Library folder? 

Before you decide to go into ~/Library, we have to warn you to be cautious. If you’re not sure what each particular file does, it’s better not to edit them. That being said, it doesn’t hurt to see the ~/Library folder contents.

Here’s how to access ~/Library folder: 

  1. Open Finder
  2. Press and hold the Option key 
  3. In the menu, choose Go > Library

 

1. See hidden files on Mac via Finder

As mentioned above, it doesn’t take much to make the hidden files on your Mac visible. In fact, you can check out all of the hidden files on your Mac by following just three easy steps:

  1. In Finder, open up your Macintosh HD folder
  2. Press Command+Shift+Dot
  3. Your hidden files will become visible. Repeat step 2 to hide them again!

This process will also work elsewhere, including your Documents or Applications folders. However, if you know what you’re looking for is in your ~/Library folder and would rather jump straight into that then you can take the following steps instead:

  1. In Finder, hold down Alt and click Go at the top of your screen
  2. Click on Library to open up the, normally hidden, folder

Be prepared for one very cluttered looking Desktop if you decide to uncover all the hidden files there. If you’re anything like the average Mac user, most of what you’ll find will be made up of system files and autosaved Microsoft Word documents!

Some users have reported success finding documents that they thought were lost forever after their Mac crashed without saving, which is always a useful tip to have in the back pocket.

2. Unhide files on Mac with Terminal commands

Terminal, a Mac command-line interface, is included in macOS by default and allows you to use command prompts to control your Mac instead of following a potentially complex series of instructions to do the same thing in Finder.

If you’re already familiar with using Terminal, then you might prefer to run the following script to reveal your hidden files:

See Also

  1. Open Terminal
  2. Enter the following: defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles true [Press Return] killall Finder
  3. To hide files again, change the “true” in the step above to “false”

It doesn’t matter too much whether you use Terminal or Finder to make the hidden files on your Mac visible, though you might prefer the latter if you’ve never run scripts on Terminal before, as both routes accomplish the same thing.

One reason you might opt to use Terminal is that it allows you to hide any file or folder on your Mac, which is a great way to avoid that sense of residual curiosity felt by others should they come across a password protected .rar on your desktop! To hide files, just:

  1. Open Terminal
  2. Enter the following: chflags hidden [Press Space]
  3. Drag files or folders to be hidden from Finder into the Terminal window, which will display their paths in Terminal
  4. Press Return to hide

To make your files visible again, just repeat the above steps using “chflags nohidden” in place of “chflags hidden.” Of course, the fact that anyone else who knows this trick can also use it to unhide your files means that this isn’t an adequate substitute for other security measures.

3. How to hide files on a Mac using Terminal

One reason you might opt to use Terminal is that it allows you to hide any file or folder on your Mac, which is a great way to avoid that sense of residual curiosity felt by others should they come across a password protected .rar on your desktop! To hide files, just:

  1. Open Terminal
  2. Enter the following: chflags hidden [Press Space]
  3. Drag files or folders to be hidden from Finder into the Terminal window, which will display their paths in Terminal
  4. Press Return to hide

To make your files visible again, just repeat the above steps using “chflags nohidden” in place of “chflags hidden.” Of course, the fact that anyone else who knows this trick can also use it to unhide your files means that this isn’t an adequate substitute for other security measures.

4. Show hidden files using keyboard shortcuts

If you want to show invisible files Mac folders contain, you can use a quick keyboard shortcut. The hidden files will be greyed out but you’ll them — which is a great way to analyze which fraction of space hidden files actually occupy. 

Here’s how to display hidden files Mac with a shortcut:

  1. Open any folder in Finder
  2. Press Command + Shift + Period
  3. See the hidden files appear in the folder
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