Tip: Use OS X services to reveal or open file paths

FinderIconXThere are several ways to refer someone to a specific file or folder in OS X, especially if this resource is part of OS X and therefore should be in the same location on all systems. One way is to simply describe the location of the file and have the person find their way to it, or optionally instruct them to use Spotlight to find the file, though this does not search for system files by default.

While these can be done, they are less than optimal, especially since sometimes a slight error can result in the wrong file or folder being accessed. For instance, if you say to go to the user Library folder and access the Fonts directory, someone may inadvertently assume the user library is the one at the root of the boot drive (“~/Library/Fonts” vs “/Library/Fonts”), especially since the user library folder is hidden by default.

To prevent these type of problems when instructing people to access a specific file or folder, you can use some system services that allow you quick access to any valid file or folder path, provided the path uses slashes in standard unix-compliant notation, such as the following which points to the Shared user directory:

File path service menu in OS X

The “Services” menu will have options to reveal the selected file path in the Finder, or open it (click image for larger view).

To go to this folder, you can locate it manually in the Finder, or you can use a system service to either reveal or open it:

  1. Select the entire folder path above
  2. Right-click the selected text
  3. Choose Open (or Reveal in Finder) from the Services contextual sub-menu

When you do this, after confirming the action, the system will attempt to open the selected path. If the targeted item in the path is a folder then this will reveal in the Finder, otherwise if it is a file then the specified file will open. If you choose the option to reveal in the Finder, then the parent folder of whatever item the path points to will be revealed in the Finder.

To use this efficiently, simply copy a folder path to an e-mail, Web page, or text document, along with whatever instructions you intend for the file, but tell the recipients to simply triple-click the path (or click and drag to select it), and then right-click and choose the option to open or reveal.

While this may seem odd to do for folders like the Documents or Movies folders, which are easily accessible in OS X, it can be useful for relatively hidden files such as those in the user library, or those in hidden system folders. Here are some examples, which you can try directly in Safari:

  1. The user’s hidden Fonts folder:
  2. The system’s CUPS printer configuration directory:
  3. The Volumes directory, where hard drives are mounted locally:
  4. The CoreServices directory, that contains a number of potentially useful utilities:

3 thoughts on “Tip: Use OS X services to reveal or open file paths

  1. John

    Amazing tip! Never knew the Finder would recognize a path in a text doc and apply it to your own system.

    So glad you are now writing your own column! Read you every day on the old site.

  2. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    Yes, thanks for the tip. This could be very useful with friends who are navigationally challenged on the Mac. It never ceases to amaze me how some people don’t know the basics many of us take for granted – like using the Finder window sidebar for navigation.

  3. spencer

    This is really helpful. Question: How do you avoid the “Run Service” dialogs such as “TextEdit wants to use the restricted Service “Open.”” These concern users when they see them using links in Mail, Evernote, etc. Thanks again!


Leave a Reply to spencer Cancel reply