All files on your Mac, be it pictures, videos or documents, are stored in directories as part of the hard drive hierarchy. As you use your computer, so many of these files accumulate over time that managing them can become a real challenge.

move files on mac
IMAGE: Volkan Olmez (Unsplash)

One way to avoid this is to develop a system for categorically organizing all your files. Simply put, you need an organized directory structure in which you can systematically move your files back and forth.

The traditional method of moving files around on your Mac serves its purpose, but it can be quite tedious if you have to perform the process repeatedly. Therefore, here we introduce the different ways you can use to move files on Mac.

Easiest Ways to Move Files on Mac

Before we jump in and look at advanced ways of moving files on Mac, let’s look at some of the easiest methods to perform the same task.

If you’ve been a Mac user for some time, you’d probably be aware of some of these methods. And so, feel free to skip these and move on to the advanced methods section.

1. Move a File Using the Desktop

A pretty novice approach to moving a file on Mac is to use the desktop as a temporary location for your file. Essentially, what you want to do is put the file from its source directory onto the desktop and then, again, move it from the desktop to the destination folder.

To do this, open Finder and resize the window such that you can see the desktop in the background. Navigate to the directory that contains the file you wish to move.

Once inside the directory, click the file and move it across the Finder window onto the desktop. Next, in the Finder window, go to the directory where you want to move the file. And again, this time, drag the file from the desktop to the destination directory in Finder.

moving files on mac using desktop

2. Move a File Using Favorites

The Favorites is a part of the Finder sidebar that includes items you frequently use on your Mac, such as AirDrop, iCloud Drive, Library, or other system/user directories.

If you often need to move files to a particular macOS directory, you should add that directory to Favorites for ease of convenience.

To do this, open Finder and navigate to the location of the directory where you need to move files frequently. Click-drag it across to the Favorites sidebar and let go to put it there.

moving files on mac using favorites

When you want to move a file to this directory, you can visit the source directory and click-drag the file from here onto it.

Advanced Ways to Move Files on Mac

While the above two methods work without a hitch, they require you to perform an extra step, and therefore, aren’t very efficient. But thanks to a few other methods, you can carry out the same task more efficiently.

Note: Except for the Terminal method, all other methods on this list use the spring-loading feature, so make sure you enable it before following these methods.

To enable spring-loaded folders, open System Preferences and go to Accessibility. Here, select Pointer Control from the left-hand pane and check the checkbox next to Spring-loading delay.

enabling finder spring loading

You can also alter its trigger delay using the slider.

1. Move a File Within Its Directory Using Finder

If you want to move a file from its parent directory to one of its subdirectories, open Finder, click-drag the file, and hover over the subdirectory where you wish to move it. As soon as the directory opens, let go of your mouse/trackpad to drop the file here. You can do this to move a file to a subdirectory located deep down in a directory.

2. Move a File Between Two Directories Using Finder

Unlike moving a file within the same directory, moving it to another directory altogether can be done in a couple of ways.

i. Moving a File Using Finder Windows

Finder windows make it easier to access and work on different files and directories on your Mac simultaneously. We can use these to move our files between two directories by opening the source and destination directories in two separate Finder windows and then dragging and dropping the file between them.

To open a new window in Finder, open Finder and go to File > New Finder Window. Alternatively, press the Command + N shortcut to save yourself a few clicks.

opening new finder window

Now, open the source directory in one Finder window and the destination directory in another. Click the file you want to move and drag it from the source to the destination directory window.

moving files between finder windows

ii. Moving a File Using Finder Tabs

Much like Finder windows, Apple also lets you open multiple tabs in the same Finder window if you prefer working in a clutter-free interface. With this, you can open a new tab within the same Finder window and move your files around in a more streamlined manner.

For this, open Finder and navigate to the source directory. Next, go to File > New Tab or hit the Command+T shortcut to open a new tab. Open the destination directory on this tab.

opening new finder tabs

Now, to move a file, click-drag it and hover over the destination tab. Once the tab opens, drop the file there.

moving files between finder tabs

Further, if you want to move the file into one of the subdirectories, hover over the subdirectory until it opens and then drop the file inside it.

3. Move a File Across Different Directories Using Finder Path Bar

In case you don’t want to go through the hassle of opening new tabs or windows and navigating to the destination directory every time you need to move files around, you can totally abandon these steps in favor of the Path Bar.

As its name suggests, Path Bar shows you your current location on the system directory hierarchy in Finder. It’s one of those settings that you should enable right away to get the most out of Finder. And today, we’ll use it to move files around different directories.

But first, you need to enable Path Bar in Finder. For this, open Finder and go to View > Show Path Bar.

Once done, navigate to the source of the file in the Finder window. Click-drag the file you wish to move, bring it over the directory you want to move it to on the Path Bar and let go of it to drop it there.

moving files on mac using path bar

4. Move a File Across Different Directories Using Finder Arrow Buttons

If you’ve been a Mac user for some time, you’d probably be aware of the function of arrow buttons in the Finder toolbar. However, what you might not is that you can also use these buttons to move files up or down in your macOS’ directory structure.

To move files using navigation buttons, click-drag the file you wish to move and take it over the previous or next arrow button in the toolbar, depending on whether you want to move it to the previous or next directory.

Once Finder takes you to that directory, let go of the mouse to drop the file to this directory.

moving files on mac using finder arrow buttons

5. Move a File on Mac Using the Terminal

The Terminal is a powerful Mac app that lets you perform various operations on your computer using commands. Navigating directories and moving files happen to be the most common operations you can perform efficiently using the Terminal.

To move a file using Terminal, first, open the Terminal app. You can either do this by bringing up the Spotlight Search (Command + Space) and looking up Terminal or by opening Finder and going into Applications > Utilities > Terminal.

Next, enter your command using the following syntax:

mv file_path destination_path

For example, if you want to move a file from the Downloads directory into Documents, you’d need to enter:

mv ~/Downloads/Doc1.txt ~/Documents/

If you want, you can also change the name of the file as you move it. To do this, append the new name you want to give your file to the end of the destination path address.


mv ~/Downloads/Doc1.txt ~/Documents/Doc2.txt

TIP: If, after you’ve copied a file from one directory to paste to another, you realize moving it is a better option than creating another copy, you can do so midway.

For this, with Finder open, click on Edit. Press and hold the Option key until the Paste Item changes to Move Item Here. Select Move Item Here to move the file you originally copied to this directory.

Moving Files Around to Organize Your Mac

File management is an essential step that can help you keep your Mac organized.

With this guide, you’ve learned multiple ways of moving files around on your Mac. And so, depending on the situation, you can now choose an appropriate method to perform the task efficiently.

FAQs About Moving Files on Mac

1. How do you move files on a Mac, not copy?

There are multiple ways to move files on Mac. Pretty much all of them require you to use the Finder and can get your job done. We’ve covered these methods in detail above, so check them out.

As part of a tip, we’ve also mentioned a way in which if you copy a file—but midway decide to move it instead—you can simply click the Option key, go to Edit, and select Move Item Here to move the file to that directory instead of copying it.

2. How to move files on Mac without dragging?

If you don’t like the drag and drop approach to move files on your Mac, you can use the Terminal app instead. With Terminal, all you have to do is enter a simple command, and it’ll move your file from your prescribed source directory to the destination directory.

3. How to move files on Mac to an external hard drive?

Moving files from your Mac to an external hard drive can be done using pretty much any of the methods above. As for a more efficient solution, what you can do, however, is open your source directory in one Finder tab and the external hard drive in another. And then, drag and drop the files between the two tabs.

With the Terminal method, you’ll need to slightly tweak the command since you’re now dealing with another storage drive. The new command should look something like this:

mv file_path destination_path_in_hard_drive

Eg: If you want to move a file Doc1.txt from the Documents folder to a hard drive named MyDrive, you’d run:

mv ~/Documents/Doc1.txt /Volumes/MyDrive/

4. How to move files to iCloud Drive on macOS Finder?

If you simply drag and drop a file from the Finder to iCloud Drive, the file will be uploaded there and removed from the original location, effectively moving it to iCloud. Instead, we can tell iCloud to copy the files. For that:

  1. Select the file(s) or folder(s) in Finder.
  2. Open a new Finder window and select iCloud Drive in the sidebar.
  3. Hold down the Option key while dragging the selected file to iCloud Drive.
  4. Drop the file to the destination on iCloud Drive as usual and then release the Option key.

Another way is to use the copy and paste the files (or folders) from macOS Finder to iCloud Drive.

5. How to move files on Mac without copying?

As we mentioned in the question above, if you simply drag and drop a file from one folder to another, the original file will get deleted from the source folder. In order to move files on mac without copying, hold down the Command key while dragging. The Finder will then copy the file to the new location and delete the original when it’s done. Just hold down the Command key while you drag and drop. The Finder will then move it instead of copying it.

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