How to Show and Hide Hidden Files on Mac OS X

by Benjamin Aries

OS X is a popular computer operating system included on modern Apple Mac devices. Most files and programs on OS X are easy to find. Some files, however, are deliberately hidden from the user. These invisible files are typically used for system configuration and are not needed by casual users. More advanced OS X owners can display these files using two methods. The first relies on a "Terminal" command, which must be manually entered. The second method can be toggled from the "Finder" utility of the Mac.

Using Terminal

Open the "Applications" folder, select "Utilities" and open the "Terminal" program.

Type this exact command into Terminal: "defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE" and press the "Return" key.

Re-launch the "Finder" application so that the Terminal command can take effect by typing "killall Finder" in Terminal, and press "Return." Open the "Finder" utility and view the previously hidden files.

Hide the files using this Terminal command: "defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE" followed by the "Return" key. Enter "killall Finder" to re-initialize the "Finder" utility.

Using Finder

Open the "Finder" utility. Select the "File" menu, then click "Find." Select the location on the Mac that you wish to search, either the entire computer or just a folder.

Click the menu marked "Kind" in the Search dialog, then select "Other." Double-click the "Find Invisible" option. Open the drop-down menu on the right, and select "Invisible Items." This limits the search process to hidden files. Alternately, choose both if you would like to expand the search to both visible and invisible files. Click "Search" when ready, unless the Search has already started.

Include system files if you wish to broaden the file search. These special files are normally hidden. Click the "+" button on the right side of the search dialog box to again open the drop-down menu.

Select "Kind" from the drop-down menu, and click "Other." Double-click "System Files." On the right side menu, choose to include system files.


  • Use a keyboard shortcut to quickly reveal all hidden files when the "Save" dialog box is open. Press "Command" + "Shift" + "Period" to show every file.
  • In the Terminal, show hidden files by typing "ls -a" at the command line.
  • OS X 10.7 and 10.8 now hide the users Library folder by default, while this was visible in earlier OS X versions. You can change this default behavior. See the Resources for more information.
  • Free software is available to quickly show and hide files. See the Resources.


  • Do not modify hidden system files, unless you are sure how the change will affect the computer.

About the Author

Benjamin Aries has been involved in digital media for much of his life and began writing professionally in 2009. He has lived in several different states and countries, and currently writes while exploring different parts of the world. Aries specializes in technical subjects. He attended Florida State University.

Photo Credits

  • Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images