How to sort files and folders in the Finder

There are a few ways to organize your files and folders.

finder icon

Emily O’Brien writes in with a question that many people share, but may be afraid to ask:

I have several folders in Finder, but I can find no way of keeping them in alphabetical order. They move according to when they were last accessed, which, for my work, is confusing.

I say folks are scared to ask, because it’s the kind of thing that seems like a novice question (which Emily isn’t, given her expert use of the term “Finder”), but it opens up the fact that every person uses the same operating system differently. Even something like sorting items isn’t perfectly exposed.

It’s possible something is broken in the Finder causing a sort problem; we should never discount that. But assuming all is well, you can sort items in a Finder window alphabetically by:

  • Clicking the Name field at the top of the list view. An upward-pointing arrow following Name indicates sorting alphabetically with numbers first, then A to Z; click again to swap to downwards, and it’s sorted Z to A, then reverse numeric order

  • Select the menu item View > Arrange By > Name.

  • Click the Arrange By/Sort By icon in the Finder window toolbar (if that icon is displayed) and choose Name.

You can also experiment with Arrange By, which groups items into larger categories, coupled with Sort By. In a downloads folder, for instance, I have Sort By set to descending chronology (oldest files first) using Date Added, and then Arrange By Set to Name. This groups items into Today, Yesterday, Previous 7 Days, Previous 30 Days, and months and years after that (as long as any items fit into each date group). Within each group, the items are alphabetized to make them easier to read through.

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