How to use the Dock with Folders

How to use the Dock with Folders
Mac Tip #427, 10 March 2010

On its right side (or bottom), the Dock holds icons for folders. Add or Remove folders, and set them up to give you the best access to what you need. Here’s how.

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View and empty the Trash

The Trash is a special folder that always appears in the last position on the Dock and cannot be moved. Click once on the Trash icon to see the contents of the Trash.

To empty the Trash either choose Empty Trash… from the Finder menu or do one of the following:

  1. Click and hold on the Trash icon. A menu appears, including the option to Empty Trash.
  2. Control (⌃) click on the Trash icon. A menu appears, including the option to Empty Trash.
  3. Command (⌘) click and hold on the Trash icon. A menu appears, including the option to Secure Empty Trash.
Documents Stack set to Grid view.

Documents Stack set to Grid view.

Document and Download Stacks

On a new Mac the Documents and Downloads folders appear by default on the right-hand side of the Dock. If you set your Dock to be vertical, they appear in the bottom portion.

In Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) these folders are set up as Stacks. When you click on a Stack its contents are displayed as a List, Fan or Grid ‘attached’ to the folder in the Dock. Whatever application is at the front stays at the front. Click on an item to open it.

That’s different from how the Finder icon at the other end of the Dock behaves. If you click the Finder icon in the Dock then the Finder comes to the front, and a folder opens.

The Stack or Folder Options menu.

The Stack or Folder Options menu.

List, Fan and Grid views

To change how a Stack or Folder displays Control (⌃) click on a Stack or Folder icon. A menu appears.

By default Stacks display with the most recent item first. Other Options include Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created and Kind.

Choose whether to display a Stack in a Fan, Grid or List view. If you choose an Automatic view, the Mac will display a small number of contents as a Fan or a larger number as a Grid.

Folder or Stack display

A folder and a Stack are both folders. A Stack though uses the icon of the most recently added item as the icon for the Stack. A folder simply displays a blank folder icon.

Add a folder to the Dock

To add a folder to the Dock drag the folder’s icon from an open Finder window into a position on the right-hand side of the Dock. To move it to a new position drag it sideways. The adjacent items will move to make room for it.

Remove a folder from the Dock

To remove a folder from the Dock drag it away. It disappears in a puff of ‘smoke’. The actual folder is not removed from your computer.

Do you find the Dock the best way to access your folders? Tell us in the Comments how you use folders in the Dock.

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  1. Nicholas Gruen said:

    One of the most useful things in Window’s task bar is that any folder you open turns up on the bar, which is handy for retracing steps etc. How does one get this functionality on the Mac?

      • Nicholas Gruen said:

        Thanks but that wasn’t what I asked. I’m wanting every folder I open to be available in the dock, as it would be in the Task Bar in Windows.

        • Miraz Jordan said:

          Then, No. WHy do you want every folder you open to be in the Dock? There’s probably a different way of giving you the result or ease of access you’re looking for. Sometimes Mac and Windows have different approaches to making life simpler….

          • Nicholas Gruen said:

            Yes, agreed. Happy to find another way, but what is it? If I load a file from a folder, I often want to get back to it. And the way i have to do it now is to clear the stuff I’m working on, go back to the desktop and then look for the relevant folder. Windows is much easier – just duck off to the taskbar with your mouse and click on the folder. I know the Mac way doesn’t sound much more work, but I find it quite a lot more work repeated every hour or so.

  2. Maja said:

    This is wonderful, but I have a small problem. I managed to organise the folder in my Dock via that Stacks option; I wanted all my files to be organized by date modified. My problem is that the folders that are then inside that folder do not get organized the same way. For example, say the folder on my Dock is “My Documents” and inside that are other folders such as “Music” and “Pictures”. The preferences I set for “My Documents” don’t transfer over to “Pictures” or “Music”. Is there a way to fix this?

  3. Miraz Jordan said:

    This comment was emailed in, and I asked permission to add it here. Ross Mxt wrote:

    How do I access applications / utilities / my personal home folder? I use three different methods from time to time for the sake of variety and because they look “pretty”.

    1 I most commonly use two “spaces” – one which has my Application folder open and the other which has my Utility folder open.

    2 I sometimes use the dock icons in grid view. I have tried to separate my applications proper from utilities. It is a little tricky to get a recognisable icon for each of the three grids – the grid uses the icon of the first file but this can be changed via the info panel or using a little trick to bring a chosen icon into first place: rename the file with a leading space.

    3 And thirdly, I sometimes use a menu bar item called “Himmel Bar” which displays applications and utilities as lists with mini icons.

    In the Dock itself (which I keep on the right hand side) I keep icons of those applications that normally reside in my Spaces – very useful when they disappear by accident.

    In addition I keep the icons of one or two extra favourites like “XaoS” and “LimeWire” and my Printer’s icon. I occasionally use [Command - Tab] to access those already open but probably not often enough considering its efficiency.

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