Fix the OS X Finder not displaying the contents of specific folders

FinderIconYosemiteXWhile rare, you might experience a problem in OS X where the Finder will not display the contents of specific folders. When this happens, you can usually browse other folders and open files and applications, but when you try to load the affected folders, the Finder will just sit with an empty window and display a revolving indicator at the lower-right corner (note that this is no the notorious spinning color wheel that commonly indicates hangs and other problems in OS X).

When this happens, you may also notice notably lower battery lifetimes, as well as high CPU usage indicated by a hot computer chassis as well as blaring fans, though these might hot happen for a few minutes after the problem begins. Even though these behaviors suggest a problem with your Mac, various other programs you are running may not show any slowdowns or problems at all. This is because this specific issue is occurring from a fault in the system’s Spotlight index-handling routines that is affecting the Finder.

To fix this problem, you will need to open either Activity Monitor or the Terminal utility, so if you have either in your Dock then you should be able to open them from there. Alternatively, you can attempt to use LaunchPad to search for and open either of these.

If you can open Activity Monitor directly then perform the following steps:

  1. Choose “All Processes” from the View menu
  2. Select the “CPU” tab
  3. Click the “%CPU” column in the list of processes

At this point, you should see the process at the top of the list that is the cause for the issue at hand. This will likely be called “mds,” so select this and use the toolbar option to quit the process. At this point the high CPU usage should stop, and the problematic Finder folders should now display contents, without the need to restart or log out of your system.

Finder hang in OS X

When this problem occurs, specific folders will not show any contents, and a spinning indicator will persist in the lower right-hand corner of the window.

No Access to Activity Monitor?

If your Applications or Utilities folders are hanging, then you may be out of luck and will have to force-restart your system; however, there are a few approaches you can take before resorting to this. First, try using Apple’s LaunchPad to open Activity Monitor, as this will bypass the need for using the Finder to access the program.

Alternatively, if you have access to the Terminal, then you can try using it to launch Activity monitor by running the following command:

open -a "Activity Monitor"
mds process hanging in OS X

Select the “mds” process and quit it to clear this problem. The Finder should immediately show contents in the problematic folders after you do this.

If this is successful, then you can proceed with Activity Monitor for quitting the “mds” process. However, if Activity Monitor still will not open, then you can run the following command to force the mds process to quit (supply your password when prompted–it will not show when typed):

sudo killall mds

Keep in mind the system will continually attempt to re-index your system, so expect this process to start back up again (perhaps immediately); however, it should only use about 20-30% of your processor on average, and should end after a short while of running.

Finally, if you neither have access to the Terminal or Activity Monitor, then you can likely fix this issue by going to the Spotlight System Preferences, then to the Privacy tab, and click the plus button. In the drop-down panel, press Shift-Command-C and then select your hard drive to add to the privacy list. Confirm you wish to do so, and then remove the drive from this list after a few seconds. This will trigger a rebuild of your Spotlight index, which should have the “mds” process work properly, though this is not the preferred approach as it will now take a while for the index to be rebuilt, which may take hours and have several “mds” processes cranking in the background.

Force-quit the Finder in OS X

Use your Mac’s Force-Quit window to re-launch the Finder and hopefully clear the problem.

Other Possibilities

Even though this behavior is likely caused by faults with Spotlight’s metadata indexing, it can be caused by other issues as well. These include faults with the Finder, in which case you can either log out and then back into your account (or restart) to refresh the Finder, or you can use the system’s Force-Quit window (press Option-Command-Escape) to select and force the Finder to quit.

Secondly, if your hard drive is experiencing formatting problems then this may affect the system’s ability to display folder contents. This can also caused tiered effects as it may hinder indexing as well as lower-level system services like virtual memory management (and lead to more severe hangs and crashes). To fix this, first be sure you have a full backup of your system, and then reboot your Mac into Recovery mode and use Disk Utility to verify and repair your Mac’s hard drive.

5 thoughts on “Fix the OS X Finder not displaying the contents of specific folders

  1. tingo

    Excellent, Topher. Quite coincidentally, I had this msd process blasting up one of my machines a couple of hours ago, but I was scared of Force-Quitting it. Now I know it can be done without causing any damage, thanks a lot.

    One related reason I discovered for the Finder’s Search window churning and not showing any results is its attempting to display the results from an external storage device while the latter is being indexed by Spotlight.

    And: as of today, I found Firefox’s Cache/Profiles directory to be empty, in spite of showing a size of several hundreds of Mb. The reason, it turns out, is that the Mozilla people seem to have decided to make it invisible, for whatever reason.

  2. MaX

    To overcome it, just close such window and open it again. That usually works. Hopefully Apple will fix it once and for ever.

  3. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    I run into this problem occasionally. Usually force quitting the Finder will fix the problem. But I’m glad to know it’s OK to force quit the mds process as well, as I often see it hogging resources in Activity Monitor.


    Nothing to DO WITHESE these critical stuffs.

    Just Try This

    for OS X EI CAPITAN 10.11.6

    Move the ” Cursor” on to the folder Like ” Favorite”. there will appear ” Show” or “Hide” option. Click on ” SHOW ” option. All the functions will appear.

  5. Therese

    THANKS you are a life saver. I was going crazy when after using the last security update for OS X 10.9.5 Finder went haywire. I tried rebooting etc . I didn’t see any mds problems in Activity Finder so then tried the force quit option for FINDER in the Activity Finder window. Lo and behold it worked and I can now see files.

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