Today I learned about Apple’s clever file dragging trick for macOS – The Verge | Hot Mobile Press

Apple has made macOS very good at handling drag and drop. For example, I often pull an image straight from the Photos app or Safari and drop it into iMessage or Slack. However, one thing that has always slowed me down is moving around more traditional files like PDFs or other documents.

But then I learned that some apps, including many of the built-in ones, have a quick shortcut to access the file being viewed. With this shortcut (which is officially called the proxy icon), you can easily upload a PDF file that you have opened in Preview to Google Drive without having to search for the file in Finder. This is how it works:


No Finder window opened.
GIF of someone dragging a file from Preview into a Safari window with Google Drive.

The trick is to use the title bar, where Apple places the traffic light-style window controls and the name of the open file, as well as other buttons, depending on the app. If you hover your mouse pointer over that filename for a second, you might notice that a small icon appears to the left of it. (Some apps don’t need the hover.) This allows us to do our magic. When you click and drag on this icon, you are essentially clicking and dragging the actual file as if you were using the file manager.

To be clear, this isn’t a new feature of the latest macOS beta or anything. I’m pretty sure I found out about it when someone mentioned it in the context of features that have been around for so long young whippersnappers like me have never heard of. So, yeah, I’m a little late for the party here. But now that I finally found out about it, I use it all the time.

One of my most common use cases is when I need to read through a PDF for work and then upload it to DocumentCloud so I can embed it in an article. I used to do that by minimizing the preview and then looking for the document on my cluttered desktop, using Quick Look (the thing that shows a preview of a document when you press the spacebar) to make sure I didn’t upload the wrong thing. Now I can just drag and drop what I’m reading right from the preview, similar to the gif above.

I’ve also found many other ways to use the feature. When I have the Finder in a certain mode, I can use it to quickly copy the path of the folder I’m in into the terminal. (Bonus tip: when you drag and drop a file or folder into the Terminal, macOS simply pastes the path to it.) I’ve even used this feature in QuickTime to create the screen-captured GIFs you put in have seen this article.

Gif of someone dragging a file from QuickTime onto the Choose File button on a website.

Oh yeah, did you know you can just drag files onto the standard Choose File button?

While this isn’t necessarily true if you’re only using this feature to share files between apps, I do want to warn you if you’re like me thinking, “Wait, what happens if I move the file from the title bar into a Finder window? ‘ The answer is that it will movement the file from where it is to where you put it. That’s a reasonable default I suppose, but it might be confusing if you assume the file is copy and paste instead of cut and paste.

Unfortunately, not every single app can do this. For example, I couldn’t find a way to retrieve files from Obsidian or Photoshop – although the latter isn’t exactly surprising. But there’s a whole host of apps I’ve been able to use it with, including Pages, Blender, Logic Pro, Nova, and, of all things, Microsoft Word. If you frequently view files in an app, you should check whether it supports this feature. You never know when it will come in handy.

But wait, I have one final bonus tip if you stick around in the title bar – although if I’m honest it’s a bonus because I haven’t come across any situations where it would be useful. As well as dragging the file icon, you can right click on it to see which folder that file is in (and which folder the folder is in, and so on and so on). From there, you can use the list to quickly open a Finder window that navigates to that folder.

If you right-click the file icon, you can easily locate where it is on your hard drive.

While the discovery of this system wasn’t a world-shattering revelation that increased my productivity tenfold, it did help reduce the time I spent searching for files I already had open. And that’s great because, ironically, having to do this can be a real drain.

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