Cre­ate su­per-smart fold­ers

Un­leash the power of a lit­tle-known au­to­ma­tion fea­ture built into OS X

Mac Format - - IMPROVE - Christo­pher Phin

Un­leash the power of a lit­tle-known au­to­ma­tion fea­ture that’s built into OS X


Could be tricky


As lit­tle as 10 min­utes

for a sim­ple one


OS X 10.4 or higher

For a long time OS X has had Smart Fold­ers, whose con­tents dy­nam­i­cally up­date to match cri­te­ria you set, such as ‘Pages doc­u­ments opened in the last month’. But those fold­ers are dum­ber than a bag of rocks com­pared to what you can do with Folder Ac­tions.

Au­toma­tor is one of the un­sung he­roes of the Mac; few peo­ple know what to do with it, and even fewer use it to make Folder Ac­tions. Let us in­duct you into this most spe­cial of in­ner in­ner cir­cles, and share with you the se­crets of un­lim­ited power. Well, so far as it ap­plies to au­tomat­ing some tasks in your Mac.

A Folder Ac­tion is a script – you could also think of as a mini-app – built in Au­toma­tor or us­ing Ap­pleScript, which you at­tach to a folder on your Mac. Any file you add to that folder trig­gers the script to run, ap­ply­ing the ac­tions you spec­i­fied in it to that file.

What’s in a work­flow?

As with Au­toma­tor it­self, while it might be easy to grasp in the ab­stract the flex­i­bil­ity of Folder Ac­tions, it can be hard to work out ex­actly what you can do with them – why, in other words, it mat­ters – so on the op­po­site page, we’ve given ex­am­ples of Au­toma­tor work­flows you can cre­ate your­self!

On this page, though, we ex­plain the ba­sics of how to set up a work­flow in Au­toma­tor, at­tach it to a folder, test it, and man­age your Folder Ac­tions. Open Au­toma­tor (it’s in your Ap­pli­ca­tions folder), cre­ate a new work­flow and, from the range of dif­fer­ent types of­fered, pick Folder Ac­tion. The only thing that makes the process of cre­at­ing a Folder Ac­tion work­flow dif­fer­ent to any other – in case you’re al­ready an Au­toma­tor whizz – is that you don’t need to add any file‑spec­i­fy­ing ac­tions such as Get Se­lected Fin­der Items or Get Spec­i­fied Fin­der Items to tell it what to process. Once the work­flow is at­tached to a folder, it will au­to­mat­i­cally act on any items dropped into that folder, so you don’t need to do any­thing else to tell the work­flow what to process. (On old ver­sions of OS X, you have to save the work­flow as a plug-in, spec­ify its type as Folder Ac­tion, then tie it to a folder.)

In­stead, note the drop-down menu at the top of the work­flow, which al­lows you to spec­ify which folder it should be at­tached to; you can set this at any time dur­ing the build­ing of your work­flow.

Now, to build your work­flow, browse the list of ac­tions in the pane on the left of the Au­toma­tor win­dow, and drag the ones you want into empty pane on the right. These ac­tions ‘click to­gether’ in that right-hand pane, so that if, for ex­am­ple, you want to cre­ate a Folder Ac­tion that both re­sizes screen­shots and con­verts them from PNG to JPEG, you can drag in the Scale Im­ages ac­tion and then drag and drop the ‘Change Type of Im­ages’ ac­tion be­low it. The files are first re­sized as spec­i­fied, then the re­sized ver­sions are passed to the next ac­tion to be con­verted to your re­quested for­mat.

Folder Ac­tions are easy scripts that act on any files added to fold­ers they are at­tached to

Man­age Folder Ac­tions

Once you’re happy with the struc­ture of the work­flow, and have spec­i­fied the folder it should be at­tached to, close and save it, then add a copy of a file – in case any­thing goes wrong – to that folder and check it does what you ex­pect; you’ll see a cog ap­pear in the menu bar while the work­flow is run­ning in the back­ground. If not, go back to Au­toma­tor, open the work­flow un­der File > Open Re­cent… and check its con­fig­u­ra­tion again.

To man­age your Folder Ac­tions – to see which fold­ers have them at­tached, and to re­move them if nec­es­sary – right-click any folder and choose Ser­vices > Folder Ac­tions Setup. The work­flows them­selves are stored in ~/ Li­brary/Work­flows/Ap­pli­ca­tions/Folder Ac­tions.

Easily snap to­gether ac­tions which will act on any files you drop into a folder of your choice.

OS X in­cludes some built‑in Folder Ac­tions, such as this one to get an alert when a file is added.

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