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How to use optional list-sorting methods in the OS X Finder

OS X has a few hidden features to help you sort your data in addition to the default sorting criteria.

When you view a Finder folder in both standard lists and the Cover Flow view in OS X, you have the option to sort the list by any of the view's columns.

By default, these are the item's Name, Date Modified, Size, and Kind (for example folder, picture, PDF) which you can click to sort in either an ascending or descending list. However, there are some additional ways to locate the files you need.

  1. Add more columns
    In addition to the default column categories, OS X includes a number of others that can be enabled on a per-folder basis by selecting Show View Options from the View menu (or by pressing Command-J).

    In the panel that appears, you can adjust a number of default options for the window, including adding more types of columns to sort by.

  2. Arranging by size in OS X
    When arranged (in this case by Size), the Finder window's contents will be organized by relevant categories, and the normal sorting columns will become static and cannot be used to change the listings. Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  3. Arrange items instead of sorting
    An alternative is to arrange items -- as opposed to sorting them -- by these same criteria, meaning they will be separated in groups rather than arranged in a single list. To do this, go to the View menu and choose a desired sorting option from the "Arrange By" submenu (or use the Arrange By menu in the View Options panel mentioned above).

    In this mode, while the columns will still be listed, they can't be sorted by. However, you can always set the arranging mode to None if you would like to restore classic column sorting.
  4. Use hidden contextual metadata
    In addition to sorting and arranging by the default (and additional) sorting column options, the Finder supports using common metadata flags for sorting items. In other words, in folders that contain documents with metadata such as picture dimensions, movie duration, and the resolution of media files, among many others, you can sort by these criteria as well.

    To enable these in the sorting columns, first make sure the Arrange By setting for the window is None, thus enabling classic sorting by column, and then right-click the sorting-column titles and you will see any available optional sorting criteria listed under the default ones. Selecting these will create a new column for them that includes this metadata, if present, for the corresponding files.
    Optional sorting columns in OS X
    Right-clicking the sort columns in the Finder will give you some hidden options you can sort by. These are not available if you enable columns in the Finder's View Options panel (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
    Do keep in mind that these optional sorting criteria are contextual, so they will only appear as options if the items in the current folder contain this metadata information.

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