Did you know that on the Mac there are thousands of files and folders hidden from you to prevent you from messing around with them? Take the Macintosh HD root directory, for example: in the screenshot below you’ll only see four folders and one file. That's a total of five items, compared to the 30 that will be revealed when you’re able to see all files and folders using this simple trick. Read on to find out how hidden files can be viewed and to discover the purpose they serve.
Why Are Files Hidden in macOS?
Commonly used in computing for storing user preferences or preserving a given state of a utility, hidden files or folders don't appear in Finder, for a very simple reason: some things just don't need to be visible to everyone, because messing around with them could put the overall stability of the operating system at risk. Simply put, these files and folders are just too confusing for the average user, so they're better staying hidden until you need them and feel confident enough to deal with their content.
What Kind of Files Are Hidden on macOS
Files preceded with a “.” are hidden from the normal list view, such as .cleverfiles, .TemporaryItems, .feventsd directories, for example. However, folders such as /usr, /bin, and the like are also hidden from sight. There is one folder, though, that users will regularly seek access to, and that is the Library folder (~/Library). This is the place where user-specific app support files and sometimes data are stored.
Why the Need to View Hidden Files?
Sometimes advanced Mac users will turn to these files to tweak the Mac's performance or functionality. Whether it’s due to a Mac optimization tip they've read on Best Reviews or because a troubleshooting process requires deleting a particular user preference or log file that's hidden from sight. Some Mac users may want to remove some unused or redundant hidden files because they occupy precious disk space.
How to View Hidden Files in Modern Versions of macOS
Modern versions of macOS offer a convenient way to reveal invisible files: all you need to know is a keyboard shortcut. Using this key combination will unhide hidden files and folders in an instant, while a second press of the same combination will remove those files from sight again.
This keyboard shortcut works only on macOS 10.12 Sierra or later, so users running an earlier version of the operating system will need to use a Terminal command.
Here is how the key combination works:
- Navigate to the folder containing hidden files, such as Macintosh HD or the user Home folder.
- Press Command + Shift + Period.
- Enjoy the view of all files and folders existing in that directory.
As soon as you press the keyboard shortcut, all files and folders within the chosen directory that are marked as invisible will instantly come into sight. Hidden items will have dimmed, gray names.
To view hidden files on earlier macOS versions, open Terminal and copy and paste the following command:
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE;killall Finder
The “killall Finder” command will relaunch the Finder app with those hidden files now visible. To once again hide invisible files, users on modern versions of macOS need to only press the Command + Shift + Period shortcut once again. On older versions of the Mac operating system use the following command in the Terminal window:
defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles FALSE;killall Finder
As you can see, there is no witchcraft surrounding the viewing and hiding of files on macOS. The only thing that matters is what you do with these hidden files once you find them because novice Mac users can easily end up in places they shouldn't be and may delete system files. Alter hidden files only if you have enough knowledge of what you are doing, otherwise you risk the overall stability of the system and may need to reinstall macOS.
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