How to customize the Sidebar in macOS Finder

If you find macOS Finder to be lacking in efficiency, Jack Wallen walks you through the process of making the Sidebar better suited to your needs with the help of bookmarks.

Image: CNET

So you purchased a MacBook and you're doing your best to meld it with your previous workflow. All seems to be going very well, but you find one tiny hiccup in the process—the Finder. Even though Finder is one of the better file managers on the market, it's not always the most obvious to customize. Take, for instance, the default bookmarks. Those defaults give you quick access Downloads, Applications, Documents, and Recents, but what if you need a quick route to something different?

You're in luck, as there are a couple of ways to do this. I'm going to show you the less obvious way, and then the more user-friendly method. I'll be demonstrating on macOS High Sierra.

The less obvious method

This method works through the Finder Preferences window. To do this, open up Finder and then click Finder | Preferences (from the top bar). In the resulting window, click Sidebar, and then check the items you want to appear in the Sidebar (Figure A) or uncheck those you want to hide.

Figure A

Figure A

Managing your bookmarks in the Finder Sidebar.

Once you're done making your selections, close the Finder Preferences window, and you're good to go.

This method is really handy when you want to add your user home folder to Finder. Why this isn't there out of the box, I have no idea. But I highly recommend adding this directory to the Sidebar, as it gives you quick access to a number of folders.

Using this method also allows you to add the Libraries folder, for those that might need it. To do this, you need to add the main drive—in my instance it's labeled Jack's MacBook Pro. Once you've added that, click on the bookmark, and then click Macintosh HD. In that directory you will find four sub-folders, which includes the Library folder. Let's add that bookmark to the Sidebar using the easier method.

The easier method

One caveat to using the Preferences window to add bookmarks to the Sidebar is that it doesn't allow you to add certain sub-folders such as Library, or remotely connected (i.e. Samba) shares. Fortunately, there is another method that does include this option, one that is quicker than the previous.

If you open up Finder and navigate to the folder you want to bookmark (say the Library folder or a folder within a Samba share), simply click, and drag that folder to the desired location in the Sidebar. The bookmark will be added and ready to use. This process works the same if it is a folder on the local drive or a remote directory.

There are two caveats to this. The first is you must remember is that if the remote share is unmounted, the bookmark will remain, but it won't be accessible. The second is that you cannot add the root folder of a share to the Sidebar—you can only add folders from within the share.

Removing a bookmark

As you might expect, you can remove a bookmark by opening the Preferences windows and unchecking it from the available list. This, of course, only works for those bookmarks that are found in the Preferences to begin with. In other words, just because you add a remote share to the Sidebar doesn't mean it will now show up in Preferences. For those, you must right-click (or two-finger tap) the bookmark and click Remove from Sidebar (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

Removing a bookmark from the Finder Sidebar.

Adding Smart Folders

You can also add Smart Folders to your sidebar. These can come in handy, especially when you have a tendency to work with the same type of file on a regular basis. Say, for instance, your work deals with video files and you are always having to search for .mp4 or .MOV files created within a set period. For this, you could add a Smart Folder, with the necessary criteria, to the Sidebar. When creating your Smart Folder, make sure to check the box for Add To Sidebar (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C

Adding a Smart Folder to the Sidebar.

Removing a Smart Folder from the Sidebar is the same as removing any folder (right-click or two-finger tap and click Remove from Sidebar).

One final tip

One very handy tip, especially if you work with Finder a lot, is that you can also add applications to the Sidebar. You do this in similar fashion as you do folders (locating the application within Applications) and then dragging it to the Sidebar. The only difference is that you need to hold down the Command key before you click and drag the application launcher to the Sidebar.

This is a handy trick when you don't want your Dock to be overflowing with application launchers.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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