How You Can Access Hidden Files on a Mac

How You Can Access Hidden Files on a Mac

You know that when you’re looking at the files in folders, you see only what’s visible for a user. Still, there can be many system files which are hidden. They are in the system, but users don’t have them in sight.

Those who have been using computers for a long time can remember the hoax called ‘Delete System32’ - Windows 2000 users just deleted the whole system directory which made using the system impossible any more. Since that period, OS developers have done their job and taken more care of hiding system files from users. This should prevent people from doing horrible mistakes which can’t be undone.

Nevertheless, some users may need access to system files. On Macs, most such files are hidden in the folder ~/Library. Files necessary for troubleshooting can be found there. What’s more, the rest of deleted files and temporary files which can be moved to trash are stored there, but you can’t see them, cause they are hidden. And they really take loads of your disk space! Look at this screenshot to make sure I’m not lying:

Do you believe that the operating system eats more than 90 gigabytes of storage? Nonsense!
So, if you see a similar picture while looking at your storage report, it’s time to get your system files under control!


3 Ways to Reveal Hidden Files on Your Mac

I have great news for everyone who wants to access hidden files on a Mac! There are three ways to do that, still, each of them requires specific knowledge, which I’ll provide you with. Although, there are one-click solutions from developers who have already taken care of that and created a special app.
So, let’s start with free methods that won’t cost you a penny but require some time to work with the files.

Keep in mind that you need to be extremely attentive while accessing hidden system files on your Mac, as some changes won’t ever be undone and this is a very risky adventure! To avoid critical mistakes, specify what exactly you are looking for, and proceed, being sure that you won’t do any damage to the operating system while deleting one or another hidden file. Be very cautious, as these files are hidden for a reason! 

Find Hidden Files with Finder

As I mentioned, you can see all the hidden files at once by using Mac’s built-in tools. Follow these steps:

  1. Run Finder.
  2. Go to the Macintosh HD folder.
  3. Use the ‘Cmd+Shift+Dot’ key combination.
  4. Let the hidden files become visible! 
  5. If you need to hide them again, repeat the second step.

By the way, this key shortcut works in any other folder - Documents, Applications, and so on.
Still, if you know the name of the file you’re looking for in the ~/Library, do the following instead of unhiding ALL the hidden files in your system:

  1. Run Finder. 
  2. Hold down the ‘Alt’ key and click ‘Go’.
  3. Click on the Library to open a hidden folder.

Be ready that your desktop becomes very cluttered looking, as tons of files will be unhidden. If you know how Mac’s system works, you’ll find out that all those files are mainly autosaved MS Word docs and system files.
Interestingly, many users told me that this helped them find files which they assumed forever lost after Mac’s crashes without saving documents. So, bear in mind this tricky tip! ;) 


Using Terminal to Unhide Files on Mac

A command line is default on all Macs and can be used to control the system. This may seem a bit difficult while most people just use Finder, still, some users, especially those who have ever dealt with software development, prefer working with Terminal.

Here is how to run a script to see the hidden files on your Mac:

  1. Launch Terminal.
  2. Enter the line: ‘defaults write AppleShowAllFiles true’ 
  3. Press Return
  4. Type in: ‘killall Finder’
  5. To hide those revealed files, do the same, but put ‘false’ instead of ‘true’ in the second step.

You can use either Finder or Terminal to unhide system files, both make them visible. Choose the way that is more convenient and familiar to you.

What you can use Terminal for, is for hiding the files of your choice from curious eyes. I think that might be interesting to all Mac users who share their machine with relatives, friends or colleagues. Here is how to hide files via Terminal:

  1. Run Terminal.
  2. Type in: ‘chflags hidden’
  3. Press Space.
  4. Drag the files you are going to hide from Finder to Terminal - this will show their paths in the system.
  5. Press the ‘Return’ button to hide them.

If you need to make these files visible again, repeat the whole process, but put ‘chflags nohidden’ instead of ‘chflags hidden’.

Note, that another Mac user may be aware of how to do this and may see your hidden files. So, if you want to prevent anyone from accessing your private files, you should take more severe security measures.

How to Access Hidden Files with File Managers

Apps like Forklift or DCommander act like native MacOS apps - they look like Finder’s extensions and give you great opportunities for working with your files. Hey may replace using Terminal or unhiding files with Finder. These apps make the whole process very simple - you can hide and unhide files in a couple of clicks!

For example, here what you should do in Forklift to show hidden files:

  1. Click ‘View’
  2. Select ‘View Options’ in the dropdown menu.
  3. Check the box near the ‘Show Hidden Files’ line.

Keep in mind that this app also has a relevant button in the toolbar - use it to quickly hide and unhide system files.

As for DCommander, it has similar functionality, but you’ll have to add the ‘Show System Files’ command to the toolbar manually.
So, if you want everything to be as simple as possible, choose Forklift. If you need a large range of options and can dedicate some time to learn how the app works, choose DCommander. 

No matter which app you will use, always remember that by deleting system files accidentally, you can damage your MacOS and its work won’t be the same. Be very careful!

Clean Up Unnecessary Hidden Files Automatically

The majority of Mac users need just to clean up the disk space when searching for ‘How to see the hidden files on a Mac’. You might agree that several spare gigabytes are a great deal when your Mac starts working slower or has any other performance problems, or if you don’t have free disk space for your new vacation photos. ;)

All these problems can be solved just with one app - CleanMyMac X. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Launch the application.
  2. Select ‘Smart Scan’, then press ‘Scan’.
  3. Hit ‘Review Details’ to find out how much junk the app has deleted.
  4. Click ‘Run’ to delete all these unnecessary files.

Developed especially for Mac users, CleanMyMac X app won’t delete system files by accident. So, if you need something reliable that will constantly perform well, get this software and keep your Mac clean and fast, without junk files and unnecessary autosaved documents.