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Monday, 02 December 2013 20:06

Mac OS X - Everything you wanted to know about Hidden Files

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Are you a Mac OS X user and have hidden files that seem to be a problem to view?  This aticle brings together everything you ever wanted to know about how to deal with these files and viewing them.

Are you a Mac OS X user and have hidden files that seem to be a problem to view?  This aticle brings together everything you ever wanted to know about how to deal with these files and viewing them.

What files are hidden?

On the OS X platform all files that begin with a period are automatically hidden by the operating system.  For example, a file might be called .MyFile.  This can cause all sorts of problems when dealing with files that may have come from Unix or windows since files often begin with a period on other operating systems.  If you run Parallels or VM Ware you will see files that show up on the windows machine but appear to be missing on the OS X machine.  The files are actually there, but the Mac is really good at keeping them hidden.

How to view hidden files in finder

Viewing hidden files in finder is a bit of a challenge and there are limitations.  Turning hidden files on and off requires a configuration change that must be run from a terminal prompt.  The challenge to this is that once you turn on the display of hidden files you will see them all over OS X.  This includes ALL hidden files including system files and files on your desktop and thus it tends to clutter up the machine.  in order to turn on and off the viewing of hidden files you can execute the following commands in the terminal window:

Turn on viewing of Hidden Files:

    defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE; killall Finder


Turn off viewing of Hidden Files:

    defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE; killall Finder


How to view Hidden files in Terminal

The Mac OS X Terminal is very much like a Unix command prompt, but the Mac has many differences.  The 'ls' command is used to list files in both Unix and on the Mac, but there are subtle differences.  On the Mac, files are hidden in the terminal just like in the finder.  This means that the . and .. references to the current and parent directories are hidden along with any files that begin with a period.  Thus, if you type just ls you will get the following:


What you see here is just a file called test.txt.  What is missing is a test file calles .myfile as well as the pointers the the current and parent directories.  This is easily remedied via the -a switch which shows all files including hidden files. The following command can be used to list all files:

ls -a


You now see all of the missing files which are the pointer to te current directory (called .), the pointer to the parent directory (called ..) and the file called .myfile.  This is helpful, but in my opinion this is too cluttered and not very readable.  By adding the -al switch you get all files (-a) and a long listing of the files (-l) such that you see all the files as well as user information and rights. The command looks like this:

ls -al


We now see all the files in the previous example along with permissions, username and group, size and date.  I feel this is the most useful format since it not only shows the additional information, but the one file per line format tends to be easier to read.  


Temporarily Viewing Hidden Files using Command-Shift-{period}

This final method is a little gem yet it has some limitations.  The primary limitation is that it does not work within the finder.  (Sigh)  This method does work from within any applications open file dialog box and is extremely convenient.  You will need to open the application which you plan to use to view the hidden file and use the application to open a file.  This is usually done vie the "File / Open File" dialog or via the "Command-O" shortcut.  You will get a dialog box that looks similar to this one:



Note that we do not see out hidden file called .mifile.  In order to expose the hidden files within the open dialog you need to press Command-Shift-{period} where {period} is the period or dot key to the left of the ? or / key.  Once you press Command-Shift-{period} you will expose the hidden files like this:



The Command-Shift-{period} is a toggle and thus you can press it again to turn the hidden files back off.  This is the most convenient way to open files that are hidden when you know that they exist and you know their location.

Additional Info

  • Operating System: Mac OS X
  • Software Product: Max OSX
  • Software Product Version: Various
Read 55098 times Last modified on Tuesday, 03 December 2013 15:30