Your Mac’s Services menu can be very useful. The Services menu has become a hidden feature used mostly be power-users, but it’s very easy to use. It’s a bit like the Share features on Android or iOS.

The Services menu is present in practically every application on your Mac, although it is easy to miss. Applications you install can add quick actions to this menu.

Services 101

To use a service in an application, click the current application’s name on the menu bar at the top of your Mac’s screen and point to Services. There’s a good chance you’ll see that the Services menu is currently empty, but that’s okay! The Services menu is contextual, so it may just be empty because you haven’t selected anything yet.

Some services may only appear when relevant content is selected. For example, select some text with your mouse in the current application and then go back to the Services menu. You’ll now see more options — specifically, options for working with pieces of text.

For example, you can look up the currently selected text in the dictionary or perform a web search for it. You can start a new email, note, or another document containing the selected text. You could also tweet it or share it on other social media services, if you’ve installed the relevant application. There are entirely different sets of services for working with pictures, files, and more types of content.

Depending on the application you’re using, you can sometimes right-click (or hold Control and click) some selected text or another object and see a Services menu. This menu doesn’t always show every available service, so you may want to just use the Services menu on the menu bar itself instead.

Not every application supports Services, although most seem to. If Services don’t work in a specific application, or if a specific application doesn’t add an option to the Services menu, it’s because that application’s developers haven’t made it work.

Choosing Your Services

You can customize which of your installed services appear in the list. This option used to require a third-party tool, but it’s now integrated into Mac OS X itself.

Click the Services menu in any application and select Services Preferences to open the settings window. You can also open the System Preferences window, click the Keyboard icon, click the Shortcuts tab, and select Services.

From here, you can uncheck services to hide them from the list or activate normally hidden services. This dialog also provides a system-wide list of Services available to you, so you can get a more complete idea of what Services will let you do on your system.

Installing More Services

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Services arrive with applications you install. For example, the Evernote application installs services that let you easily create a note from any bit of text in any application on the operating system without copy-pasting it. It’s a bit like a browser extension, Share button on Android, or Share extension on iOS.

You generally don’t go out of your way to install applications just for their Services, but you can if you like. The idea is that applications you install will provide their own Services to make that application easier to use and integrate it with other applications. Many included Mac OS X applications provide Services too, of course.

Creating Keyboard Shortcuts

You can also set keyboard shortcuts for services from here. That’s why it’s in the Keyboard shortcuts list, anyway. Select a service in the list, click Add Shortcut to its right, and type a shortcut key combination.

For example, if you’re a big Evernote user, you could bind Cmd+Shift+E to the “Add to Evernote” service and press that key whenever you wanted to add the currently selected text to Evernote — anywhere in the Mac operating system.

The Services menu is pretty simple to use, when it comes down to it. This menu originated in NeXTSTEP and became part of the first version of Mac OS X. It’s been around ever since, although it hasn’t really seen the mainstream adoption is creators probably hoped for. But Services are still useful, and you can still make good use of them on your Mac.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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