Navigate Finder with arrows

Though the mouse allows for manipulations onscreen to be done easily and quickly, for some tasks, such as navigating the Finder, the use of the mouse is slower than using the keyboard.

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
3 min read

Apple has always been an advocate of the simplicity provided by the computer mouse, and for the longest time provided only one-button mice for use with Macs. Though the mouse allows for manipulations onscreen to be done easily and quickly, for some tasks, such as navigating the Finder, the use of the mouse is slower than using the keyboard.

If you are used to using the mouse for navigating through files and folders, you might benefit from giving the keyboard a try. There are several ways to use the keyboard for navigation, but the most common is the arrow keys in conjunction with modifier keys to move around.

Use arrows
Pressing the arrow keys will move your selection around in a Finder window, though the specific behavior may be slightly different depending on the view you are using. In icon view, pressing any arrow will change the selection to an item in the direction of the arrow, but in any of the Finder's "list" views (including column, list, and Cover Flow), the right and left arrows will only go into or out of folders.

Mac Arrow Keys
Arrow keys are your friend; make use of them, and navigating the Finder will be a lot faster.

Using the arrow keys alone is not enough, because you will need to be able to open and close folders and other items. Therefore, have your other hand ready to press the Command key since holding it and pressing the Down arrow will open the currently selected item. Additionally, you can use the same hand holding the Command key to quickly press Command-W to close inadvertently opened windows, or Command-Q to quit inadvertently opened applications. With this setup, you are now ready to quickly navigate the Finder.

Icon View

  • Arrow keys will move the selection around
  • Command-Down will open the selected item
  • Command-Up will navigate up one directory

List Views

  • Up and Down arrows will move selection around
  • Right arrow on a folder will navigate into that folder
  • Left arrow will navigate up one directory (same with Command-Up)
  • Command-Down will open the selected item

Make use of hot keys
In addition to arrow keys, sometimes you may benefit from quickly accessing key folders on your computer. Some common ones are the root of the system, the home directory, the Applications or Utilities folders, and perhaps your Documents folder. Along with being able to use arrow keys to navigate around, OS X has a number of shortcuts to get to these folders, which can be seen by going to the Finder's "Go" menu:

Computer Shift-Command-C
Home Shift-Command-H
Desktop Shift-Command-D
Applications Shift-Command-A
Utilities Shift-Command-U
Documents Shift-Command-O

There are also commands for accessing the iDisk and Network sections of the Finder.

Combinations are your friend
Though the arrow keys and key combinations are overall fastest compared with using the mouse by itself, you can take advantage of both to make things even faster. This is especially true with the new multitouch mice and trackpads that Apple is including with its machines.

When you open a Finder window, sometimes without the name of your target folder you may be able to recognize it, either by its label, its location relative to other files, or by other means. Regardless, if a visual cue is the quickest way to locate it, you can use a quick two-finger scroll gesture to pan over to the location of the file or folder, and then either double-click it directly or click any file near it and continue using the arrow keys to open.

One use of the mouse that I often use is to quickly switch between two open Finder windows, but then continue using the keyboard to move in and out of folders.

Recommended setup
Granted you will have to find the window view and navigation techniques that best suit you, but if you are exploring new options then I highly recommend you try a setup where you have two Finder windows open in Column view, and use the arrow keys to navigate. The column view allows for a quick back-and-forth navigation through folder hierarchies with the arrows, and items can quickly be moved (or copied) between the two windows.

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