How to use the path menu in OS X

FinderIconYosemiteXThere are a number of hidden features in OS X that can greatly enhance how you handle windows, document organization, and other aspects of your workflow. In most of these cases Apple has not outlined these fetaures, so you will have to find them either by exploration and experimentation, or by word of mouth from other Apple users. One of these is the Path menu that OS X appends to windows that represent documents that are saved to your hard drive.

For any item on your disk, there is a corresponding file path, which is the folder structure from the base of your hard drive that leads to this file. Apple has built its OS X apps and services (e.g., ‘Recent Items’ menu options, and Spotlight) to reduce the need for memorizing where things are on the filesystem; however, despite this you might often need to know exactly where a file is, and be able to manage it.

Unfortunately, the separation of accessing files in the Finder versus editing them in a program means you can easily lose track of where they are. For example, if you open a TextEdit file that is stored in a deep subdirectory of your Documents folder, then if you close the Finder window behind it, you will have to dig through your files or use Spotlight to reveal it.

To manage this and otherwise have far quicker access to any other part of the path of a file that is opened and represented in a window, you can use the OS X Path menu by simply right-clicking or Command-clicking the document’s icon in the window title. Doing so will bring up a menu that shows the document, and its parent folders all the way up to the root of the hard drive. Selecting any item in this path will open it, and if the item is a folder, the system will open it with the next item up in the Path menu selected in the Finder.

Path menu for a document in OS X

The Path menu can be accessed by right-clicking or Command-clicking a saved document’s title.

In the case of the TextEdit document buried in your Documents folder, you can quickly reveal it with this Path menu:

  1. Right-click or Command-click the document title
  2. Choose the immediate parent folder of the document

Doing this will open a Finder window, with the document selected, and if you are savvy with Finder keyboard shortcuts, you can then perform actions like trashing the document, renaming it, tagging it, or performing custom actions you created with Automator and then bound to your own custom hotkeys.

This option is a universal aspect of the OS X Window Server, so it works for any item stored on your Mac’s hard drive that is represented in a window. This means that in addition to documents, it will work in the Finder to allow you quick access to the full path of your current folder, so you can quickly navigate up to a directory of your choosing.

When done in the Finder, the system will by default open the selected folder in the current Finder window; however, by holding either the Command or Option keys when selecting an item in the Menu, you will open the selected item in a new Finder window, which might have its conveniences, and can be an easy way to open multiple instances of a parent folder, if needed (simply go back to the first Finder window, and then again select its parent folder with the Command key held).

Finally, the Path menu is convenient because of its support for drag and drop. When a file is saved on disk, by right-cllicking its title you will reveal the Path menu, but you can also click and drag the small document icon next to its name, to somewhat manage it as if you were dragging and dropping it in the Finder. After all, similar to its representation in a Finder window, this document icon is just a reference to the file’s path on the file system.

Path menu in the OS X Finder

The Path menu works in the Finder, as well as in most document-based applications.

Unlike in the Finder, you cannot drag and drop the title bar icon to move the file, but you can do practically every other action:

  • Drag directly to a new location — Make an alias of the document at the location
  • Drag and then hold the Option key — Copy the item to the new location
  • Drag and drop into another document to embed it (if supported)
  • Drag the item to the Dock
  • Drag the item onto another application to open it in that application
  • Drag the item onto a print queue icon to print it (though this may be redundant with the current program’s printing abilities).

Overall, while it may be hidden and quite often overlooked, the Path menu in OS X can be a very useful aspect of OS X, especially if you have a cluttered desktop and are constantly popping from one application to the next, but then need to manage one of your open documents directly in the Finder.

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