Show/Hide Invisible Files on Mac & Other Secrets

Showing hidden files can be somewhat of a pain in Mac OS X. I’ve come up with a number of ways to make it easier for myself.

The simplest, most direct way of doing this is a command in the Terminal. One way is to navigate to the appropriate directory in Terminal and type ls -lha. Alternatively, you can type ls -lha <path/to/directory>. This will give you a list of all the hidden files for that directory. But maybe you aren’t proficient with Terminal commands and/or you need to do some file manipulation and/or you don’t want to use the CLI.

Much like my post Hide Desktop Icons on Mac, I’ve created a little script I call hidden that automatically shows and hides hidden files.


# checks file visibility and stores value in a variable
isVisible="$(defaults read AppleShowAllFiles)"

# toggle file visibility based on variable
if [ "$isVisible" = 1 ]; then
	defaults write AppleShowAllFiles -bool false
	defaults write AppleShowAllFiles -bool true

# force changes by restarting Finder
killall Finder

Paste that code into a text editor, save it to a directory in your $PATH and make it executable (chmod 755 <filename>).

HideSwitch ScreenshotTwo other alternatives I’ve stumbled upon are HideSwitch and Secrets Prefpane (at the time of this post the site was down. Get it at MacUpdate instead.) HideSwitch is just a simple mini-app with two buttons to hide and show hidden files. Secrets Prefpane is a just that: a button that shows up as a system preference and turns into a prefpane once clicked. However Secrets is quite powerful and can do a lot more than just show and hide files. Secrets includes a variety of features, such as:

  • Selecting the format and destination folder of saved screenshots
  • Changing the login window desktop picture
  • Changing Dock effects
  • Seeing the contents of folders when QuickLooking (I don’t think this works on Lion)
  • Enabling the debug menu in iCal

Those are just a few that I’ve found useful and interesting. Since it’s free, you may want to download it and check it out. Might have a feature you’ve been dying to have. Secrets also taps into many of the preferences of your other programs such as Adium, iTunes, Cyberduck, Skype, Preview, Transmission, etc.

Secrets Prefpane Screenshot

Comments, questions and feedback welcome.