Welcome to our complete guide to the menu bar in macOS Sierra, in which we round up all the most useful and powerful functions you can access via the top menu bar in macOS Sierra. Keep reading for the best and most up-to-date macOS Sierra menu bar tips. For tips relating to the menu bar in older versions of Mac OS X, read Master the OS X menu bar.
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: The basics
The macOS menu bar is fixed to the top of the screen and spans its entire width. At the top left is the Apple menu, which houses system functions. Next you’ll see the name of the current app, and its application-specific menus. The right-hand side of the menu bar is reserved for what Apple calls ‘menu extras’.
Menu extras are clickable icons that mostly act as shortcuts for commonly performed commands and functions. They are also sometimes used as the access point to control and manage faceless utilities and applications, which do not appear in the Dock or app switcher.
On smaller displays, application menus take priority. This means that if you run a lot of menu extras and then switch to an app with quite a few application menus (such as Safari or Photoshop), some menu extras may be temporarily hidden. It therefore makes sense to organise your menu extras, which we outline how to do later in this article.
Read next: macOS Sierra tips | Complete guide to Mac System Preferences
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: How to hide the menu bar and use full-screen mode
There are two exceptions regarding the menu bar’s permanent placement across the top of the screen.
First, in the General pane of System Preferences, you can tick ‘Automatically hide and show the menu bar’. On doing so, the menu bar scrolls up and out of sight. To access it, move the mouse pointer right to the top of the screen. On selecting any menu item, the menu bar will disappear again.
Similarly, when an app is in full-screen mode, the menu bar is not visible, but it remains accessible by moving the mouse pointer as mentioned earlier.
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: Access the menu bar using the keyboard
When in full-screen mode or otherwise, you can access the menu bar solely by using the keyboard rather than clicking menus by using the mouse pointer. In the Keyboard pane of System Preferences, select the Shortcuts tab and then the Keyboard section. To the right, you’ll see a number of focus options, one of which is ‘Move focus to the menu bar’. By default, this has the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F2.
Tap (don’t hold) Ctrl+F2 and focus is moved to the Apple menu, which will be highlighted. You can then use your Mac’s cursor keys to move right or left to switch menus, or up and down to navigate the current menu. You can also snap to any command by starting to type it out – for example, ‘SH’ typed quickly would immediately move the selection to ‘Show Deleted Messages’ when in Mail’s View menu. You can also use Alt with the up and down arrows to jump to, respectively, the first and last items in any menu. To enter and leave any sub menus, use the left and right arrows.
On Macs where media keys are prioritised by way of the option in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences (the default on all relatively recent Macs), you will need to hold Fn along with Ctrl +F2. On a Mac with a Touch Bar, you may need to hold Fn to see the function keys prior to triggering the shortcut. Alternatively, you can remap the aforementioned keyboard shortcut in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences.
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: How to change the menu bar’s appearance
By default, the menu bar is semi-transparent white, subtly showing your desktop background beneath. However, two settings enable you to change this. In System Preferences, go to the General pane and click ‘Use dark menu bar and Dock’. The menu bar and Dock background will now be black rather than white, and text/icons will switch from black to white. Note that some third-party applications may not have been updated to cater for dark mode, thereby making them indistinct. Should any Apple icons remain ‘stuck’ on the wrong colour, clicking them should make them switch.
Whether using the standard or dark menu bar, its semi-transparent nature may cause you problems in reading overlaid text. If so, go to Accessibility in System Preferences, click Display and then ‘Reduce transparency’. All menus will take on a solid background. Note that this also affects the Dock and any application windows that have semi-transparent elements.
(In OS X El Capitan, the transparency of the menu bar alone can be adjusted by way of the ‘Translucent menu bar’ setting in the Desktop & Screen Saver System Preferences pane.)
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: Discover the Apple Menu
Click the Apple logo at the top-left of the screen to access its drop-down menu. Click About This Mac to access information about your Mac. Hold Alt and this becomes System Information, which when selected enables you to skip immediately to a detailed overview of your Mac’s hardware, network and software.
The next section provides: a shortcut to System Preferences; a Locations menu for switching location if you’ve multiple ones defined in the Network pane of System Preferences; and a shortcut to the Mac App Store, along with a badge that states the number of waiting updates.
Next is the Recent Items menu, which lists recent applications, documents and servers. To clear all currently visible items, select Clear Menu. To adjust how many are shown – 10 by default – make appropriate adjustments in the General System Preferences pane.
Below this is the Force Quit shortcut, which opens the Force Quit Applications window for nuking unresponsive apps. Hold Shift and this changes to target the frontmost app. Selecting that latter will therefore force-quit only that app other than opening the Force Quit Applications window.
The final commands within the Apple menu are to sleep, restart, shut down or log out of your Mac. Holding Alt bypasses any warning dialog boxes you’d otherwise see.
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: Understanding application menus
Each application has its own set of menus and there’s no guaranteed consistency across the system regarding provided options. However, there are conventions many applications adhere to. Most have their name as the first menu, which houses access to the app’s about window, the system-wide Services menu, commands for showing/hiding the app (or all others) and a Quit item.
For a great many apps, you will also see, in this order, File, Edit, View, Window, and Help. Any of these may be omitted and others may be mixed in. For example, Safari adds menus for History and Bookmarks.
To the side of some menu items will be a keyboard shortcut, which can be used to activate a command without accessing the menu. Learn common ones to be more efficient on your Mac; for example, Cmd+, is almost always used to access preferences; Cmd+Q is used to quit an app. Again, holding modifiers (Alt/Shift) may show additional options.
Of the other common menus:
File typically houses commands for opening, renaming, duplicating and saving documents, closing windows, and printing.
Edit enables you to: undo/redo commands; cut, copy and paste; select all; and perform find and spellcheck actions.
View deals with an app’s appearance, such as showing and hiding components and panels, moving focus, sorting lists, and (sometimes) entering full-screen mode.
Window often contains minimise and zoom commands, ‘Bring All To Front’ (for bringing all of the app’s windows above anything else on the screen), and a selectable list of currently open documents. Apps that support tabs will include previous/next/merge commands in this menu.
Help is where you’ll find any built-in documentation, and there’s also a search field that provides a dynamic results list for menu commands and help topics. Hover over an item and its menu will open, its position clearly indicated.
You can assign keyboard shortcuts to any item within a menu via the Shortcuts tab within the Keyboard System Preferences pane.
Read next: Best Mac keyboard shortcuts
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: Using and managing menu extras
The right-hand side of the menu bar houses menu extras. At the very minimum, you will see Notification Center and Spotlight, neither of which can be removed and the former of which cannot be moved. New macOS accounts also tend to display Network (Wi-Fi icon) and Clock. Other menus are added by turning on settings in relevant System Preferences panes or by installing third-party apps that include or effectively are a menu extra.
Further examples of native macOS extras include: display mirroring, keyboard preferences, sound, Bluetooth, the user menu, Time Machine, the Date & Time clock, and Siri. The position of menus, with the exception of Notification Center, can be adjusted by Cmd-dragging them. Cmd-drag any menu extra off of the menu bar and it can be removed by pausing until you see the cross icon, whereupon releasing the mouse or trackpad button will complete the action.
As noted already, Spotlight and Notification Center cannot be removed; any menu extras you drag from the menu bar must be reactivated from the relevant System Preferences pane.
In some cases, macOS native menu extras have hidden options that are only accessible when holding the Alt modifier key. For example, Sound when clicked shows a volume slider and the selected output device, and only the former pre-mac OS Sierra. But hold Alt and you get access to input settings on macOS Sierra, and both output and input settings on OS X. This saves a trip to System Preferences to adjust such things. In the same vein, hold Alt when clicking the Wi-Fi or Bluetooth menu extra and you’ll get additional network settings information.
Third-party apps sometimes install as menu extras, have controls that exist in the menu bar, or can be relaunched as faceless apps despite not initially being so. As of macOS Sierra, these menu extras can be rearranged just like native ones. (This wasn’t the case through to OS X El Capitan.) However, to remove one from the menu bar, you’ll need to either quit the parent app or disable the menu extra within said app’s settings. In some cases, you may need to quit a specific process using Activity Monitor.
How to use Mac menu bar in macOS Sierra: 10 of the best menu extras
There are loads of menu bar extras for macOS Sierra beyond those that Apple itself provides. Macworld particularly recommends the following. All are confirmed to work with macOS Sierra, dark mode, and Retina displays.
Bartender (£13): A menu extra for managing other menu extras. Under OS X El Capitan, it enables all extras to be moved. macOS Sierra does that anyway, but you can shove little-used extras into a second collapsible bar activated by a click or system-wide hot-key. Great if you’ve loads of the things cluttering up the place.
CARROT Weather (£8.99): Weather in your menu bar (including rainfall predictions), along with a nice line in snark. Open the full app and you get oddball animations from a deranged, human-hating AI. And weather forecasts, obviously. Read more about Carrot Weather here.
Default Folder X (£32): The app that powers up your Open and Save dialogs also has a superb menu extra, which provides speedy access to open Finder windows, recent files, and user-defined favourite folders.
Dropzone 3 ($10): Start a drag action in Finder and Dropzone’s actions grid expands from its menu extra. You can then drop your file on to stashed files or folders, or actions, to fling your file at a social network or cloud storage. Note that you can buy Dropzone 3 direct from the makers ($10) or from the Mac App Store (£1.49); it’s cheaper on the Mac App Store but Aptonic advises against this.
Fantastical (£39.99): The Mac’s best calendar app also has a superb calendar menu extra. From the menu bar, you can see your upcoming events, and also add new ones, using Fantastical’s excellent natural-language input. Read more about Fantastical here.
F.lux (free): You know that thing your iPhone does, where the screen changes colour late in the day, in theory impacting on your sleep less? f.lux does the same for your Mac, and colour sets can be accessed from its menu extra.
iStat Menus ($18 – pictured above): This set of menu extras is all about monitoring: RAM usage! CPU usage! Network activity! Battery life! You get tiny graphs in the menu bar and tons of information when you click them. The app bundles a superb world clock, too.
Itsycal (free): If you’re thinking Fantastical sounds a bit good but you don’t fancy splashing out 40 quid on a menu-bar calendar, try Itsycal. It costs nothing at all, yet still provides a calendar and the means to add new events.
Resolutionator (£2.50): For reasons beyond us, Apple removed its display resolution menu extra a while back. Resolutionator brings it back. And if you’ve multiple displays, you can change the resolution of any of them from the one menu. Magic!
Typeeto (£9.99): Drowning in devices? Fed up of fiddly touchscreen keyboards? Typeeto lets you use your Mac’s keyboard to type on your iPhone or iPad by the power of Bluetooth, a little Messages-like animation playing while you do so. Read more about Typeeto here.