How To Show Hidden Files on a Mac: A Step-by-Step Guide

Accessing hidden files on your Mac can be useful but also dangerous. Learn how to do it safely in our step-by-step guide.
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Your Mac conceals plenty of files from plain view — and for a good reason. Deleting any of the hidden directories or libraries could severely affect your Mac’s performance. The effects could range from minor glitches to exploitable system vulnerabilities. The secluded sections usually include essential system files, configurations, and caches.

Keep reading to learn how to show hidden files on your Mac and handle them safely. We also recommend boosting your online privacy with a strong data removal service.

In this article
What are hidden files?
How to show hidden files on a Mac
How to show hidden files on a Mac FAQs
Bottom line

What are hidden files?

Mac devices have files and directories you can't see by default. These usually ensure the proper functioning of your apps and macOS itself. Altering or deleting them could jeopardize your Mac's security and performance. Hiding them also declutters your interface and makes it easier to navigate.

Some of the hidden files include:

  • System files without which your Mac can't function properly.
  • System configuration files that manage system-wide parameters and settings.
  • Configuration and preference files that manage your settings and preferences in apps and system processes.
  • Log files that record errors, activities, and system events.
  • Cache files created by your OS, apps, and browsers.
  • Hidden directories, which often contain critical system data.

You might want to access these files to troubleshoot a problem, clear cache on your Mac, or out of curiosity. If you do, however, we recommend extreme caution. Unless you're absolutely sure what you're doing, we advise seeking professional help.

How to show hidden files on a Mac

You can find hidden files on your Mac through Finder or the Terminal app. Finder is a beginner-friendly option, while Terminal caters to tech-savvy users.

Use Finder

Finder is the default file manager for macOS. Its simple interface lets you view hidden files with just a few clicks.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Open Finder
  2. Click Go > Home or use the Shift + Command + H keyboard shortcut to go to your home directory, where most of your files are stored.
  3. Press Shift + Command + . (dot) to reveal files in any folder. This shortcut toggles the visibility of files and folders conventionally hidden in Unix-based systems, including macOS, marked by names starting with a dot (.).

This process allows you to access all hidden files on your Mac. You can revert it by using the Shift + Command + . (dot) shortcut again.

Use Terminal

Terminal is an app that lets you "talk" to your macOS through a CLI (command-line interface). It's reserved for advanced users since it relies on specific commands to initiate certain tasks in macOS. So, we recommend this method only if you're comfortable with command-line prompts.

Here's a simple step-by-step guide:

  1. To open Terminal, click the Spotlight search icon (the magnifying glass on the top right). You can also follow the Applications > Utilities > Terminal path in Finder.
  2. Once Terminal is open, type defaults write AppleShowAllFiles true in the command line, and press Enter. This command will prompt Finder to reveal all the hidden files on your Mac.
  3. Next, type killall Finder in the Terminal window and press Enter again. This action will restart Finder and apply your changes.

Following these instructions will let you access hidden files on your Mac. If you wish to reverse the process, repeat the steps above and replace true with false in the command from step 2.

How to show hidden files on a Mac FAQs


Why can’t I see all the files on my Mac?

Mac hides certain files to prevent you from accidentally changing or deleting them. These are usually system files, configurations, and caches that help macOS run smoothly. Deleting a hidden file could severely impact your device's performance. Furthermore, it could create security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. If you want to boost the security of your device even further, we recommend using a good antivirus program for Mac.


How do I show the hidden library on my Mac?

The hidden library folder is concealed by default to prevent accidental modifications and safeguard essential files, settings, and data critical for your apps. To access it on a Mac, open Finder. From there, click on Go in the menu bar and select the Library folder from the drop-down menu. After doing this, press Shift + Command +. (dot).

Alternatively, if you want to access any Library folders on your system, open Finder and press Shift + Command + H to navigate to your Home directory. Press Shift + Command + G to open the Go to Folder window, type Library in the search field, press Enter, and select the Library folder you want to access. For more insightful tips on optimizing your Mac’s performance, read our CleanMyMac X review.


How do I permanently unhide files on a Mac?

If you need regular access to hidden files, you can permanently unhide them using Terminal. Open Terminal and type defaults: write AppleShowAllFiles true followed by killall Finder. This command makes all hidden files visible indefinitely, simplifying access. Learn more about managing your Mac’s files and security in our detailed MacKeeper review.


What files are hidden on my Mac?

Your Mac conceals files critical for its functionality and your privacy, including system files, personal settings in configuration files, and caches. These hidden files, logs, backups, and temporary files are hidden to ensure your system’s security and efficiency.

Bottom line

Learning to show hidden files on your Mac can help you troubleshoot issues, access advanced settings, and fully understand your OS. We’ve provided a step-by-step guide to revealing hidden files through Finder and the Terminal window. That said, we don’t recommend tinkering with these files unless you know what you’re doing.

Learning to handle hidden files properly will ensure your privacy and the smooth operation of your Mac. You can boost your online privacy even further by using a strong data removal service. They monitor data brokers and the dark web and alert you the moment someone steals your private info and tries to sell it. They can also pull your information from data brokers and save you a lot of time and effort in the process.

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Author Details
Mars is a California-based cybersecurity professional and writer currently pursuing a B.S. in Cybersecurity. With interests ranging from OSINT to ethical hacking and threat intelligence, Mars leverages his two years of writing experience to produce informative content on topics such as Internet guides and VPNs.