The idea of hiding files and folders isn’t exclusive to Apple - it has been a feature of Windows for just about as long - but Apple has taken extra steps in recent years to keep those crucial Mac files and folders hidden from view. After all, if you can’t access it, it’s less likely you’ll delete something that messes with the core operating system, right? 

The issue is that you sometimes need access to these hidden files and folders, especially if you’re troubleshooting issues with your Mac. So, how can you access them? While Apple has made it harder to find folders like the ~/Library folder, there’s an easy way to regain access. 

How can I see the hidden files on my Mac?

There are two ways to show the hidden files stored on your Mac; if you’re running macOS Sierra or later you can use a simple keyboard shortcut, while those running an older version of macOS/OS X will have to use the Terminal app and a few lines of code. Both are fairly straightforward, and we outline both methods right here.

Showing hidden files on macOS Sierra or later

As mentioned, Apple introduced the ability to hide and show hidden files and folders with a keyboard shortcut in macOS Sierra. It’s a handy feature that, while not widely used, can come in handy when looking for hidden system software folders or hiding documents on a shared machine.

As long as you’re running macOS Sierra or later, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Finder window.
  2. Hold down Cmd + Shift + . (full stop). 
  3. Your hidden files and folders should now be visible.
  4. To hide the files and folders, simply hold down Cmd + Shift + . a second time. 

Showing hidden files using the Terminal app

If you’re still running an older version of macOS - or even Mac OS X - you’ll have to use the Terminal app to show the hidden files and folders on your system. It may sound daunting, but it’s a straightforward process:

  1. Open the Terminal app.
  2. Run the following script:
    $ defaults write AppleShowAllFiles true
    $ killall Finder
  3. Close Terminal.

You should then be able to see any hidden files and folders on your Mac. If you want to hide the files once more, simply re-enter the above code and change true to false

How to view the hidden ~/Library folder in macOS

There are three versions of the Library folder in recent versions. The default Library folder is where you’ll found files that are shared amongst all users of the Mac (but only changeable by administrators), the ~/Library folder that contains most files specific to your user account, and a third Library folder (located in System) that contains all the files that macOS needs to function properly.

It’s the second option that most users want access to, and annoyingly, Apple has made it more difficult to access in recent versions of macOS. While you could originally navigate to your Home folder and select the Library folder, Mac OS X Lion changed that for good, hiding it from users by default. That’s not to say you can’t access it in recent versions of macOS though. 

To access your hidden ~/Library folder, simply:

  1. Open a Finder window.
  2. Hold the Alt key and select Go from the toolbar at the top of the screen.
  3. Select the Library Folder (beneath the Home folder).

This should open the ~/Library folder in Finder, ready for your perusal. 

Keeping the hidden Library folder visible

While it’s not exactly hard to access the ~/Library folder once you know how, there is a way to keep it unhidden and easily accessible.

Simply drag the hidden ~/Library folder icon from the Finder window to the sidebar on the left to save it as a bookmarked location. From that point onward, you just need to click on the Library folder within Finder to access the hidden files within. 

For more Apple help, take a look at how to use Instagram on Mac, and how to use WhatsApp on an iPad too.