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How to arrange and sort files in OS X El Capitan’s Finder

Kirk McElhearn | March 14, 2016
Learn about the different ways the Finder arranges files and when you can access these options.

Arrange By Kind can be especially useful in List and Column views, because it displays folders at the top, making for easy navigation up and down a directory tree. As in Icon view, you can combine Arrange By and Sort By.

In either of these views, you can Control-click on the column headers: that lets you choose which headers will display. By default, you get Name, Date Modified, Size, and Kind, but you can add others, or remove all but Name. Because items in these views are presented in perfectly vertical lists, there is no Clean Up By option in either of them.

Cover Flow view is a hybrid: at the top of a window you see files and their contents, and below is a List view. The options for this view are similar to those in List view: you can use Arrange By or Sort By the same ways.

Putting it all together

When you’ve organized files just the way you want them in a window in, say, Icon view, you can tell OS X to always use those options any other time you use that view. After you’ve set your options, open the View Options palette and click on Use as Defaults at the bottom. (You can’t do this in column view.) The settings in your current window should then be applied in all windows opened in Icon view. (You can undo this by pressing the Option key in View Options: that changes Use as Defaults to Restore to Defaults.) However, in my testing, such defaults weren’t always applied; I know others have had the same experience.

You can also choose a specific view for certain folders. To do this, open a folder, choose the view you want, then, in the View Options palette, check Always Open in __ View. Again, this works most of the time, but not always. And the settings you apply to one folder don’t carry over to others.

As you can see, organizing files and folders in OS X can be confusing. The best advice is to find a look you like and stick with it as much as possible; the more you try to customize each and every view, the more likely your changes will go awry. But if you do take the time to experiment, you may find these organizing features make finding and managing files easier than ever.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared as a tutorial for OS X Lion. It has been updated to address the Finder in OS X El Capitan.


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