There are thousands of hidden files and folders on your Mac that are hidden away so you can’t meddle with them, however sometimes you need to access these files.

Perhaps you want to tweak something following a tip you’ve seen on Macworld or elsewhere on the web. Maybe you are troubleshooting a program and you’ve been asked to delete a preference file or find a log file that will help you fix the problem. Some Mac users may want to remove some of these hidden files as they take up valuable disk space.

Here's how to locate these hidden files and folders, including the most searched for folder - the ~/Library folder.

If you would like to get to know your Mac a bit better read our complete guide to system preferences.

If you are trying to find a Word file that's vanished try: Get back deleted Word files. You may also be able to recover lost files if you have a Time Machine back up. We also have a complete guide to fixing some of the most common Mac issues

What files are hidden on a Mac

In UNIX hidden files are preceded by a . and won’t show up in a normal file list. They could be a .htaccess file, a .bash_profile, or a .svn directory, for example. Folders like /usr, /bin, and /etc are also hidden away.

The hidden folder that users are most likely to want to access is the Library folder (~/Library). It’s where your personal application-support files and, in some cases, data is stored.

Why are some files and folders hidden on a Mac?

Some of these folders and files are considered too confusing or even dangerous for most users so they are hidden away. You might feel confident that you know what you are doing on your Mac, but there are plenty of Mac users who could cause damage or data loss if they were able to mess with files in the Library, for example.

Where is the Library folder on a Mac

Prior to Mac OS X Lion’s release back in 2011 if you wanted to access the Library folder you could just open your Home folder and view the Library folder there. That folder is still located in Home, but it’s now hidden.

You may have just looked in your Macintosh HD folder and thought you saw the Library folder, but that’s not the Library folder in question. There are actually three Library folders on the Mac.

The Library folder you can see contains files that are accessible to all users but only changeable by administrators. Then there is the ~/Library folder that’s located in the Home folder. The third Library folder is located in System and contains all the files that MacOS needs to run.

Spot the difference - compare these three Library folders:

How to view the ~/Library folder on a Mac

There are three ways to easily view your hidden ~/Library/ folder.

In MacOS Sierra Apple added a Finder keyboard shortcut that makes it possible to quickly show all the hidden files and folders. You just need to do the following:

  1. Open the Finder
  2. Go to your Macintosh HD folder (access this from Devices in the left column)
  3. Hold down CMD-Shift-. (dot)
  4. All the hidden files will become visible
  5. Hold down CMD-Shift-. (dot) a second time to hide the files again

The easiest way to find your hidden ~/Library/ folder is to do the following:

  1. Open the Finder
  2. Hold down the Alt (Option) and choose Go
  3. You will see the ~/Library folder listed below the Home folder

Alternatively, you could do the following:

  1. Open the Finder
  2. Choose Go from the menu bar
  3. Choose Go to Folder (or Shift-CMD-G)
  4. Type ~/Library into the text box and press go

You can now see and access the contents of the ~/Library which were previously hidden from sight.

How to keep the hidden ~/Library folder visible

If you follow the second and third methods above the ~/Library will remain visible until you shut that Finder window. Next time you look it will have vanished again. If you follow the first method in Sierra the hidden files and folders will remain in view until you press CMD-Shift-. (dot) a second time.

If you aren’t using Sierra there are ways to keep the hidden ~/Library folder visible. The easiest way is to drag the hidden Library icon from the Finder window to the Finder sidebar. This will make it accessible even after you have closed the Finder.

Alternatively, make an alias to the library folder that you can access from your desktop. To make an alias of your Library folder do the following:

  1. Opened the ~/Library folder in the Finder
  2. Hold down CMD-Alt and drag the Library folder icon from the Finder window to your desktop

How to view hidden folders using Terminal

Another way to make hidden files and folders visible requires you to use Terminal.

  1. Open Terminal
  2. Run the following script:  

$ defaults write AppleShowAllFiles true
$ killall Finder

If you want to switch it back just change the true to false.