Open and Save can be easier – here’s how

Open and Save can be easier – here’s how
Mac Tip #512, 16 November 2011

It can be a real pain trying to find your way to the correct folder when you use an Open or Save dialog box. With a little bit of inside info though you can zip through folder hierarchies in a flash. Learn the secrets here.

Expand the dialog box

Expand the dialog box by clicking the arrow beside Save As.

Expand the dialog box by clicking the arrow beside Save As.

If you go to Save a file you normally see a dialog box like the one in the screenshot above. You may not have noticed the arrow (▼) to the right of the area where you enter the filename. Click the arrow once to expand the information you see in the dialog box.

Expanded view.

The expanded view shows much more information.

The expanded view gives you quick access to all your folders, and the Sidebar you see in Finder windows.

If you prefer less information click the arrow again to return to the compact view.

The rest of this Tip assumes you’re using the expanded view.

Drag a folder in to the Dialog box

Drag a folder in to the Dialog box.

Drag a folder in to the Dialog box.

Whether you’re opening or saving a file, sometimes you can see the Finder window right there that either contains or should contain your target file. Drag a folder from a Finder window right in to the Dialog box and drop it.

The Dialog box listing immediately changes to show the contents of the folder.

My screenshot shows me dragging a folder named ABB from a Finder window into the Dialog box.

Update: thanks to careful reader @kb, I see I didn’t mention that you can also drag files into a dialog box, as well as folders.

Drag a proxy icon in to the Dialog box

Many files show a small proxy icon beside their name in the Title Bar. To see a proxy icon open a Finder window, such as Documents. At the top of the window, above the Toolbar you’ll see the word Document. Just to its left you’ll see a small icon. That’s the proxy icon.

The proxy icon on my miraz folder.

The proxy icon on my ‘miraz’ Home folder.

That proxy icon comes in very handy, as I explained in The proxy icon is a secret but handy tool.

Drag the proxy icon into the open Dialog box and it works just like dragging in a file or folder as explained above.

The proxy icon is also often visible when you already have a file open. As an example, open a text file in TextEdit and you’ll see the proxy icon in the Title Bar. If it’s an HTML or text file drag that proxy icon right into an open Safari window to have Safari display the file.

This is a handy trick for web developers to view an HTML file or an image in a web browser window.

Shortcut to a directory in the Dialog box

Let’s imagine you have a file open and you want to Save it in the folder whose path is: ~/Documents/projects/2011/November.

That would require a lot of clicking to get to the right sub-folder.

If you already know where you want to Save a file to or Open a file from then you can type that into the dialog box — you just need to know how to get access.

Go to the folder shortcut.

Go to the folder: shortcut.

The trick is to type either / or Command (⌘) Shift (⇧) G. A small text entry area appears where you can type the correct path. For example, I’d type: ~/Documents/projects/2011/November to open the folder several levels deep within the Documents folder in my Home folder.

Here are the exact steps:

  1. Choose File > Save or File > Open. The relevant dialog box opens.
  2. Press Command (⌘) Shift (⇧) and type the letter G. Or simply type a /. The filepath entry box appears. Check to see it’s empty before the next step.
  3. Type the correct path for the folder or file you wish to reach.
  4. Click the Go button. The folder at the filepath you specified is listed in the dialog box.
  5. Click the Save or Open button as relevant.

If you use TextExpander you could set up some shortcuts for favourite filepaths. It works nicely.

Confused about filepaths?

In a future Tip I’ll explain about filepaths and where the mysterious ~ (tilde) character fits in.

Comments please

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Credit where it’s due

This Tip was written by Miraz Jordan,, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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One Comment;

  1. KiwiGraham said:

    I use the Default Folder application/plugin/preference pane to augment and vastly improve the open & save dialogue boxes. It allows you to set a default folder for each application and has favourite & recently used lists of folders. It does this by adding a panel to the side of the standard dialogue box.

    The functionality it provides seems so obvious that for each new OS X release I expect to see that functionality embedded – but so far Default Folder is still a great add on.

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