I’ve lost track of my files

Dis­cover how to find miss­ing files and fold­ers with our guide to smarter search­ing


The old days of re­mem­ber­ing where you stored ev­ery cre­ated file are long gone. For most of us this is a good thing, as we rarely re­mem­bered where ev­ery­thing was and wasted time search­ing for files.

Mod­ern ver­sions of OS X aug­ment files in the Fin­der with a huge amount of meta­data – ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion that de­scribes a file’s data. A photo will have a name and a file type, but also all kinds of other in­for­ma­tion: when it was taken, what cam­era was used, where it was pho­tographed, the cam­era’s aper­ture set­ting, di­men­sions, colour space, and so on.

All this in­for­ma­tion can be used to find files, no mat­ter where they are lo­cated, us­ing Spot­light. So if you want to get bet­ter at find­ing files, you should learn to spot the meta­data at­tached to each file. Select a file and choose File > Get Info. Look un­der the More Info sec­tion of the Info win­dow to see what meta­data is at­tached to that file. This is the sort of thing you can search for in Spot­light. If you want to view all the meta­data for a file, open a Ter­mi­nal win­dow and type

mdls fol­lowed by a space, then drag a file onto the win­dow to add its path to the com­mand and press ® .

Yosemite em­pha­sises Spot­light’s ease of use in search­ing, as­sum­ing you would pre­fer to type what you’re look­ing for into a search field, rather than lo­cate it in a fa­mil­iar folder. So if you can’t find a spe­cific file, press ç+[ Space­bar] to call up the Spot­light search bar and type the file or folder name or a word it con­tains. Select a file in the re­sults and hold down the ç key to view the path to where it’s stored. Click a re­sult with ç held to open a Fin­der win­dow at its lo­ca­tion.

If you’re go­ing to rely on Spot­light to find files, it’s a good idea to start nam­ing files in­tel­li­gently so you can iden­tify them in Spot­light. Try to in­clude a de­scrip­tion, project, ver­sion and even a date in the file’s name.

Get­ting back Fin­der lo­ca­tions

Some­times you still end up dig­ging around for files in Fin­der, though. Re­cent ver­sions of OS X have changed a few things: new win­dows show the All My Files view by de­fault, and a few of the pre-cre­ated fold­ers in your home folder are no longer listed in the side­bar. How­ever, both of these things are cus­tomis­able to help you reach what you need more quickly.

You can drag any folder into the Fa­vorites group in the side­bar to make it reach­able in an in­stant. Fold­ers can be added to the Dock by drag­ging them into the area to the right of the di­vid­ing line, and the ap­pear­ance of these short­cuts, called Stacks, can be cus­tomised by ≈- click­ing them.

To change the folder that new Fin­der win­dows dis­play, go to Fin­der > Pref­er­ences > Gen­eral and set ‘New Fin­der win­dows show’ to any folder.

Files cre­ated in iOS apps are stored in your iCloud Drive, yet you don’t have to open those files from within apps on a Mac, like you would in iOS. Choose Go > iCloud Drive or select the iCloud Drive short­cut in a Fin­der win­dow’s side­bar to browse them. How­ever, be care­ful about mov­ing around files that are still sync­ing to your Mac (in­di­cated by a progress bar) as this can cause them to be lost. Deleted files can be re­cov­ered in Set­tings > Ad­vanced at icloud.com.

Spot­light can search for files in which meta­data matches cer­tain at­tributes, such as type and creation date. If you need to re­in­state some­thing in the side­bar you can do so by delv­ing into Fin­der’s Pref­er­ences where you get choose what items show up there.

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