If you’ve used a Mac, you might have heard of “Finder.” But what is it, why do you need it, and how do you use it? We’ll explain.

Finder Is How You Interact with Files on a Mac

Finder is the basic way that you interact with the file system on your Mac. It allows you to move, copy, and delete files. It also helps you launch applications and connect to network resources. It’s generally equivalent to File Explorer (formerly known as Windows Explorer) on Windows.

The Macintosh Finder originated early in the development of the Macintosh, first named by Bud Tribble. Early Finder co-author Bruce Horn speculates that Finder got its name because it’s used to find documents. Its precursor on the Apple Lisa, Filer, sported a similar-sounding name with a similar purpose: to help you organize files and launch programs with a graphical, mouse-based interface. Horn and others developed the Finder into something similar to what we know today, but it has changed dramatically over time to fit new architectures and operating systems.

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How to Use Finder

Finder is an app on your Mac, but one with special status and privileges in macOS. You can’t delete it, and it’s always available on your Dock. In fact, the easiest way to open Finder is to click its icon in your dock, which looks like a smiling blue face.

After clicking, you’ll see “Finder” in the upper-left corner of the screen, and a Finder window will open. Using this window, you can browse through your files by double-clicking files or folders to open them.

An example Finder window in macOS.

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You click and drag file or folder icons between windows to move or copy them. Generally, if you drag between two Finder windows on two different drives, it will make a copy of the file and keep a copy in both locations. If you drag a file or folder from one window two another on the same drive, Finder will move the item to the new location.

To delete a file using Finder, drag its icon to the trash can icon in your dock.

By default, you’ll see a sidebar in every Finder window that contains shortcuts to important locations such as your Desktop, Documents, Applications, or Pictures folders. If you don’t see the sidebar, choose View > Show Sidebar in the menu at the top of the screen (or press Ctrl+Command+S).

In Finder, use the sidebar for quick navigation.

As you’re browsing in Finder, you can use the breadcrumbs in the Path Bar at the bottom of the screen to see where you are in the file path. If you don’t see the Path Bar, choose View > Show Path Bar in the menu bar at the top of the screen (or press Option+Command+P).

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In Finder, use the Path Bar to see your current path location.

If you’d like to change the way you view files in the Finder window, use the icons that look like groups of squares in the topmost toolbar to change the style of the view (from icons to list, for example) and also how the files in the window are sorted.

And yes, you can find things in Finder too using the Search feature. To do so, click the magnifying glass icon in the upper-right corner of the Finder window (or press Command+F). Type in a search, and you’ll see the results listed below.

In Finder, use the Search bar to look for files and folders.

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There’s a lot more to explore, including ways to tidy your desktop or color-code your files, but now you know the basics.

As a final tip, know that you aren’t limited to working with just one Finder window. Any time you want to open a new (or additional) Finder window, select File > New Finder Window in the menu bar or press Command+N on your keyboard. You can close any Finder window by clicking the red circle in the upper-left corner of the window. Have fun, and happy finding!

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Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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