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Lesson 3: Working with Files


File basics

Understanding how to work with files and folders is an important part of using your computer. Once you understand how files and folder work, you'll use them all the time. In this lesson, we'll show you the absolute basics of working with files, including how to open files, how to move your files into folders, and how to delete files

What is a file?

There are many different types of files you can use. For example, Microsoft Word documents, digital photos, digital music, and digital videos are all types of files. You might even think of a file as a digital version of a real-world thing you can interact with on your computer. When you use different applications, you'll often be viewing, creating, or editing files.

Files are usually represented by an icon. In the image below, you can see a few different types of files on the desktop.

screenshot of OS X

What is a folder?

macOS uses folders to help you organize files. You can put files inside a folder, just like you would put documents inside a real folder. In the image below, you can see some folders on the desktop.

screenshot of OS X


You can view and organize your files and folders using a built-in application known as Finder.

To open Finder, click the Finder icon on the Dock, or double-click any folder on your desktop. A new Finder window will appear. Now you're ready to start working with files and folders.

screenshot of OS X

From Finder, double-click a folder to open it. You can then see all of the files stored in that folder. You can also click a location in the Sidebar on the left to go to a different folder.

screenshot of OS X

Note that you can see the name of the current folder at the top of the Finder window.

screenshot of OS X

If the Sidebar isn't visible on the left side of the Finder window, select Viewright-arrowShow Sidebar from the Menu bar.

screenshot of OS X

To open a file:

There are two main ways to open a file:

  • Find the file on your computer and double-click it. This will open the file in its default application. In our example, we'll open a Microsoft Word document (cover letter.docx), which will open in Microsoft Word.
    screenshot of OS X
  • Open the application, then use the application to open the file. Once the application is open, you can go to the File menu near the top-left corner of the screen and select Open.
    screenshot of OS X

Moving and deleting files

As you begin using your computer, you will start to collect more and more files, which can make it more difficult to find the files you need. Fortunately, macOS allows you to move files to different folders and delete files you longer use.

To move a file:

It's easy to move a file from one location to another. For example, you might have a file on the desktop that you want to move to your Documents folder.

  1. Click and drag the file to the desired location.

    screenshot of macOS
  2. Release the mouse. The file will appear in the new location. In this example, we have opened the folder to see the file in its new location.
    screenshot of macOS

You can use this same technique to move an entire folder. Note that moving a folder will also move all of the files within that folder.

To create a new folder:

  1. Within Finder, select Fileright-arrowNew Folder from the Menu bar near the top-left corner of the screen. Alternatively, you can press Command+N on your keyboard.
    screenshot of macOS
  2. The new folder will appear. Type the desired name for the folder, and press Enter. In our example, we'll call it Finance.
    screenshot of macOS
  3. The new folder will be created. You can now move files into this folder.

To rename a file or folder:

You can change the name of any file or folder. A unique name will make it easier to remember what type of information is saved in the file or folder.

  1. Click the file or folder, wait about one second, then click again. An editable text field will appear.
  2. Type the desired name on your keyboard, and press Enter. The name will be changed.
    screenshot of macOS

To delete a file or folder:

If you no longer need to use a file, you can delete it. When you delete a file, it is moved to the Trash. If you change your mind, you can move the file from the Trash back to its original location. If you're sure you want to permanently delete the file, you will need to empty the Trash.

  1. Click and drag the file or folder to the Trash icon on the Dock. Alternatively, you can select the file and press Command+Delete on your keyboard.

    Screenshot of macOS MavericksDragging a file to the Trash
  2. To permanently delete the file, click and hold the Trash icon, then select Empty Trash. All files in the Trash will be permanently deleted.

    Screenshot of macOS MavericksEmptying the Trash

Note that deleting a folder will also delete all of the files within that folder.

Selecting multiple files

Now that you know the basics, here are a few tips to help you move your files even faster.

Select more than one file

There are a few different ways to select more than one file at a time:

  • If you're viewing your files as icons, you can click and drag the mouse to draw a box around the files you want to select. When you're done, release the mouse; the files will be selected. You can now move, copy, or delete all of these files at the same time.
    screenshot of macOS
  • To select specific files from a folder, press and hold the Command key on your keyboard, then click the files you want to select.

    screenshot of macOS
  • To select a group of adjacent files from a folder, click the first file, press and hold the Shift key on your keyboard, then click the last file. All of the files between the first and last ones will be selected.

    screenshot of macOS

Select all

If you want to select all files in a folder at the same time, open the folder in Finder and press Command+A on your keyboard. All of the files in the folder will be selected.

screenshot of macOS

If working with files and folders feels a little tricky right now, don't worry! Like anything else, working with files and folders is largely a matter of practice—you'll start to feel more comfortable as you continue using your computer. In the next lesson, we'll talk about another important concept: how to find files on your computer that you can't easily locate.


If you have a file or folder you use frequently, you can save time by creating a shortcut on the desktop. Instead of navigating to the file or folder every time you want to use it, you can simply double-click the shortcut to open it. A shortcut will have a small arrow in the lower-left corner of the icon.

Note that creating a shortcut does not create a duplicate copy of the folder—it's simply a way to access it more quickly. If you delete a shortcut, it will not delete the actual folder or the files it contains. Also note that copying a shortcut onto a flash drive will not work; if you want to bring a file with you, you'll need to navigate to the actual location of the file and copy it to the flash drive.

To create a shortcut:

  1. Locate the folder on your computer. Press and hold the Command and Option keys on your keyboard, then click and drag the folder to the desktop.
    screenshot of macOS
  2. A shortcut to the folder will appear on the desktop. Notice the arrow in the lower-left corner of the icon. You can now double-click the shortcut to open the folder at any time.
    screenshot of macOS