Finder icons jumping around? Check view settings

While the OS X Finder has options to keep items conveniently sorted, sometimes despite this sorting you may find items jumping around to different locations.

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
2 min read

Keeping items organized within a Finder window is obviously useful and is a reason why Apple has made the Finder simple and straightforward with options to show items in lists, columns, and snapped to a grid in icon views. While these various views should keep items so you can quickly access them, sometimes items may jump around and change locations.

When this happens, it usually is because of a combination of view settings. If you show items in any view, you have the option to arrange or sort them by various file attributes. The default is to use the file name, which will have items sorted alphabetically; however, if you go to the view options (available in the View menu or by pressing Command-J) you can change the sorting to be by attributes including kind, label, size, and date modified. If you use the date modified or size, then the placement of items in the Finder window will change as you edit them.

This may be especially apparent if you have items sorted by size and also have the Finder calculate the size of all files. In this situation files will be immediately sorted by size, but since folder sizes will take a while longer to fully calculate, once the Finder has determined their size they will jump to a different position.

For the Icon and Column view modes, these view settings are only available in the view options window, but in list view you should be able to click the title of any listed attribute to sort by that attribute (clicking again reverses the sort oder by that same attribute). In list view you can add and remove attributes using the view options window, but sorting by them is done in the Finder window itself.

While combinations of view settings may be reasons for files to jump around, there also might be problems with the file that is used to store these view settings. Each folder in OS X that is accessed by the Finder will contain a hidden "Desktop Services Store" (.DS_Store) file, which is used to hold the view settings for that folder. If there is a problem with this file then the system might not display and organize Finder window contents properly.

One approach to correcting this is to locate the specifically affected .DS_Store file, but this can sometimes be difficult because of the way the Finder inherits settings from each of these files as you navigate through files and folders. The easiest approach is to use a program like BlueHarvest to scan for and remove these files from the system. After this is done, the Finder should recreate them from scratch as you access various folders.

Questions? Comments? Have a fix? Post them below or e-mail us!
Be sure to check us out on Twitter and the CNET Mac forums.