Dragging files around the Finder was life-changing in the 1980s after decades of entering commands in a terminal or shell that required precise syntax. Decades later, some of us may have forgotten a few file-dragging basics—or never discovered them, whether we’re an old hand at the Mac or a newcomer. It’s a good time for a refresher on what happens when you drag files in the Finder. If you hold down modifier keys when you drag files, you can perform different functions.
- Move a file to a new location on the same volume: a simple drag and drop without holding down any keys moves files from one location to another on the same volume.
- Copy a file from one volume to another volume: a simple drag and drop from one volume to a different volume creates a copy on the the destination volume.
- Move a file to a different volume: hold down the Command key and drag an item to a different volume. The file will no longer be on the original volume. Command-dragging within the same volume copies it.
- Copy a file on the same volume: hold the Option or Command key while dragging a file to a different location. You can also choose File > Duplicate or press Command-D to duplicate selected items. The Finder renames them to avoid filename collisions. Editing the duplicate doesn’t affect the original. Option-dragging to a different volume is the same as a simple drag and drop, it creates a copy of the file on the destination volume.
- Create an alias: drag with Command-Option held down and macOS creates an alias at the destination. An alias points to the original file without duplicating it. This lets you put an item or items in more convenient locations for access—I always keep a few regularly clicked things as aliases on my Desktop—but when you use the alias to launch, edit, or view an item, the interaction is always with the file to which the alias points. You can also choose File > Make Alias or press Command-Control-A to create an alias from a selection; this creates the alias in the same location as the selection. The Finder renames aliases just as with duplicates to avoid identically named items. An alias can be identified by a tiny arrow in its lower-left corner pointing in a slightly curved fashion towards the upper-right corner.
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