Command-Click Windowing Trickery

by Jochen Wolters

Sometimes, I can't help playing the "what-happens-if-I-do-this" game on my Mac, and more often than not, there are neat little features to be found that are scarcely documented, if at all. Here a two finds of this kind:

You will already know that command-dragging the title bar of a window that's in the background lets you move that window without making it active, i.e., without bringing it to the front. However, this also works for re-sizing: by command-dragging the window's bottom-right corner, you can resize the window while it stays in the background. Very useful alternative to moving the whole window if you need to get a quick view of what's behind it.

Another well-known feature of OS X's UI is that you will see the folder hierarchy that leads to a Finder window's contents when you command-click the title of the window. This works similarly in most document-based applications like TextEdit, Preview, etc., but some apps use this feature in unusual ways: command-click on the title of a Safari window, and you will see the URL's hierarchy, instead.


Do you know any applications that do unusual things when command-clicking on their windows' titles?


Jim Matthews
2007-03-19 05:50:58
Fetch shows you the remote folder hierarchy. You can also drag the window title icon to create a droplet shortcut on the desktop or drop the URL into a text editor.
2007-03-19 06:01:22
Wow, really!? Gee, I didn't know that. Not!

I thought this was the Mac "DevCenter", not the "Mac, Hey I'm a neophyte" site. This is all basic, rudimentary information that anyone who's been using Mac OS X for two or three months should know. And oh, BTW, try holding down the Command key and dragging the little separator bar on the Dock. See what happens.

To quote Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog: "This blog is for me to poop on!"

Chris R
2007-03-19 06:09:47
Triumph: I've been using a Mac for 18 months and I didn't know that. Where would I have learnt this, other than here? No seriously, I want to know.
2007-03-19 06:52:25
Chris R: Here you go...

All links on Apple's Support site.

Gordon Meyer
2007-03-19 07:03:37
You can do this in the Finder, too.
2007-03-19 07:34:20
Triumph spill your bile elsewhere
Brian Webster
2007-03-19 08:18:00
Actually, you can operate almost any control in the content of a background window that belongs to a Cocoa application (doesn't work for Carbon apps). You can drag a scrollbar, select text, click buttons, and a whole bunch of of other stuff without bringing the window forward, as long as you're holding down the command key. I do this with scrollbars allll the time, and it's extremely convenient once a) you realize it's there, and b) you remember to use it. Kind of like Expose. :-)
Jochen Wolters
2007-03-19 08:26:14

Sorry to hear that these few hints weren't news for you, and thanks for the three links.

As far as I can tell, though, none of the three linked documents mention that you can resize a window in the background, so I'll just consider this tip worth sharing, anway. Because, you know, sometimes even developers value these kinds of tidbits...

Jochen Wolters
2007-03-19 08:28:17

I hadn't realized that this command-<mouse-action> technique worked with all (Cocoa) window widgets. So, thanks for sharing!

Aviad Ben Dov
2007-03-19 09:46:50
Another thing I noticed that doesn't appear in the links Triumph sent - If you Command click a button in the toolbar, you can move it around without going through the whole "Right-Click, Customize..., drag around, OK" process.
2007-03-19 10:25:07
Heh - this has been around since Mac OS 7.1. Not all app implement it - some do, some don't. Welcome to the world of the Mac, Giles. For those of us who have using Mac since, say, oh maybe 1989 it's really funny to watch newbies say "Oh wow! Look at that!". Funny how 10 years ago when Apple was in trouble no one cared about Apple but now that Apple is the hottest company on the planet everyone wants to be a "mee-too!!!!!!!!! Weeeeeeeeeeee!".
Jochen Wolters
2007-03-19 12:20:37
Welcome to the world of the Mac, Giles.

I'm not Giles. See byline for details.

Dan Ashley
2007-03-19 15:32:58
I appreciate exactly these kinds of hints and tips.

After being on PCs from 1987 to the present at home and at work, we added a Mac to our household in 2003. We recently added another, and it runs Windows under Parallels for a few minutes each day.

These tips are merely reminders for some of you old timers with lots of Mac experience. I understand that can be frustrating.

However, as a relatively recent Mac "adder" (not switcher) I do derive sigificant value from these tips.

For these tips, you have my heart-felt thanks.

- Dan

Florian Fangohr
2007-03-19 17:27:16
This is documented in Mac help: In the finder go to the help menu and select "Mac Help". Then enter "shortcut lists" into the search box. There are a variety of different shortcut lists. This particular one is under "Shortcuts for windows".

Have fun exploring.


Joe S.
2007-03-19 18:21:55
Here's another oldie but goodie: The file or folder icon at the top of a window allows you to move the actual file/folder to the location of your choice by clicking & holding on the icon next to the files name & dragging the file or folder to the location of your choice. Since the Mac has had spring loaded folders for some time there is no need to continuously double click through nested folders, just hold the file or folder over the folder that you want to open & it will spring open automatically. go to next folder, repeat until you are at your target folder...release.
Saint Fnordius
2007-03-20 03:00:42
Add me to the list of Mac devotees that finds some of these tips quite useful. For example, the command-click to reveal the hierarchy was a trick I used quite often in "classic" Mac OS (I think it was added as early as System 6, but I'm not sure), but I thought it had disappeared from the early versions of Mac OS X.

Triumph, there's no need to be all snotty about knowing this, as a growing number of Mac developers are now coming from the UNIX side of the aisle. It's also important to remember that a lot of these Stupid Mac Tricks can be forgotten by even the most seasoned power user, so I have no quibble if Jochen or his fellow bloggers go all gee-whiz about something I've known about. Everybody is different, and retains different bits of info.

2007-03-20 03:24:44
I agree with Triumph. Been developing on Mac OS and Windows since 1991 and these tips are lame for a developer site. Any indepth user worth their salt knows using the modifiers with the mouse is integral to using Mac OS/Mac OS X.
Jochen Wolters
2007-03-20 13:19:36
Thanks for all of your comments.

Aviad Ben Dov:

Unfortunately, there is a UI quirk in the feature you describe: you will know that you can move a Brushed Metal window by grabbing almost any non-widget area of the window, not just the window's title bar.

If, however, you try to move such a window in the background with command-drag, you may inadvertantly remove an icon from that window's toolbar if you aren't careful where the mouse cursor is when you try to grab that window.

I wish Apple had taken greater care to deactivate click-through for the toolbar when using command-drag. Generally speaking, though, it's a handy feature.

Dan Ashley:

Thanks for the kind words. You're right about the reminders: the OS X just has so many nifty details, it's hard to remember them all. ;)


Have fun exploring.

That's exactly what this is about!

Joe S.:

Too bad that rather few applications implement that "proxy icon" feature you describe ...

Saint Fnordius

Glad to be of help! :)

Joe S
2007-03-20 19:56:51
"Too bad that rather few applications implement that "proxy icon" feature you describe ..."

It works on most apps that I use & works with all Finder windows.

Jochen Wolters
2007-03-21 02:43:52
Joe S.

What kind of applications do you use regularly? Have you seen any interesting uses of the proxy icon in software beyond the Finder and "classic" document-based apps like Pages, Preview, BBEdit, etc.?

Here are some examples for applications that, in my humble opinion, would benefit from proxy icons:

Dictionary: current entry as a PDF

iChat: transcript of the current chat (if you open transcript files from ~/Documents/iChats, iChat does use proxy icons)

Mail: current message as text

Safari: current page as a Web Archive