Customizing the Mac OS X Dock

Here are some handy Terminal tricks for making the Dock your own.


OS X Terminal App

All of these customization options rely on Terminal commands. Terminal is an application included in OS X that allows the user to, among other things, access and modify low-level settings in the operating system.

Terminal can be found in Applications > Utilities. You can either type the commands below directly into Terminal or copy and paste them. All commands are case sensitive. After entering each command press “Return” to submit it.

Because we’ll be modifying files that are in active use on the system, the changes won’t take place immediately.

Therefore, after entering each command, type the following and press Return to quickly restart the Dock:

killall Dock

The Dock will disappear briefly and then reload with the changes now visible.

Enable 2D Dock Mode

For the first few years of its life, the OS X dock was a 2D row of icons that displayed applications, utilities, and folders. Starting with the release of OS X 10.5 Leopard in 2007, however, Apple changed the dock to feature a “3D” look, with the icons now resting on a 3D platform. Functionality generally remained the same, but many users prefer the 2D look over the 3D look.

2D Dock in OS X Pre-Leopard

To change the Dock back to “2D Mode,” enter the following Terminal command and press Return:

defaults write no-glass -boolean YES

After pressing Return, remember to type “killall Dock” (see above) to force the change to take effect.

The 3D Default Dock in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

Although the 2D Dock looks a bit different than its predecessors in earlier versions of OS X, the change still gives user the general look they were missing. If you don’t like the new look and want to change back to the default 3D Dock, simply retype the Terminal commands above and replace “YES” at the end with “NO” (again, remember to type “killall Dock” afterwards to force the change to take effect).

The 2D Dock in 10.8 Mountain Lion

Show Only Active Applications

By default, OS X’s Dock displays all active applications as well as inactive applications and folders that the user wants to keep handy. Some users, however, may wish to limit the Dock to displaying only open and active applications. To do this, head back to Terminal and enter the following command:

defaults write static-only -bool TRUE

Once the change takes effect, you’ll notice that your Dock is likely much smaller now, with only open applications displayed. In the following screenshots, the first image shows the Dock before entering the Terminal command. Finder, Mail, TweetBot, Safari, Pages, Activity Monitor, and Terminal are open, but all the other applications are still displayed.

Standard Dock Showing All Active and Inactive Items

After entering the Terminal command the Dock is much smaller, and only those open applications are displayed. This option is great for users who wish to use the Dock primarily as a tool for managing open applications while using another means, such as Spotlight, to actually launch applications.

OS X Dock Displaying Only Active Applications

To reverse the change, retype the Terminal command and replace “TRUE” with “FALSE”.

Change the Maximum Magnification Level

One of the “eye candy” features of OS X’s Dock is the Magnification option. This allows users to keep their Dock size very small while still being able to easily see and select applications when needed. Apple includes a slider to choose how big the “magnified” icons become with a default maximum of 128 pixels, but users can override that arbitrary maximum and set their own limit.

Default OS X Dock Magnification 128 Pixels

Return to Terminal and enter the following command:

defaults write largesize -float 256

This will set the maximum to 256 pixels, as seen in the screenshot below.

Dock Magnification Set to 256 Pixels

You can also go nuts and set it even larger, to 512 pixels:

Dock Magnification Set to 512 Pixels

To reset the magnification level to the default size, enter this command:

defaults write largesize -float 128

Granted, the usefulness of this command is limited but it is presented in the spirit of total customization.

Change the Dock’s Position

By default, the Dock sits centered in the middle of the screen. While you can’t move it to any arbitrary location, the following terminal commands allow you to pin the Dock to either then left or right side of the screen.

To position the Dock on the left side of the screen:

defaults write pinning -string start

OS X Dock Pinned to Left Side of Screen

To position it on the right side of the screen:

defaults write pinning -string end

OS X Dock Pinned to Right Side of Screen

To return the Dock to the default middle location:

defaults write pinning -string middle

OS X Dock Pinned to Center of Screen

Note that this also works if you have your dock pinned vertically to the right or left of the screen using System Preferences > Dock > Position on Screen. In this configuration, “start” aligns the dock at the top of the screen while “end” places it at the bottom.

Dim Hidden App Icons

A useful feature of OS X’s window management is the ability to hide apps (Command-H). This leaves the app’s icon open in the Dock, but completely hides all of the app’s windows. By default, however, there is no indication via the Dock as to which apps are actually hidden compared to those with closed windows or windows that are buried underneath other applications.

Hidden Apps on the Dock

To change this, enter the following Terminal command, which will dim the icons of hidden applications:

defaults write showhidden -bool true

In the second screenshot, below, Safari and Terminal are hidden after implementing this feature, and their icons are dimmed compared to the default setting. This allows users to easily see which apps are hidden without compromising the usefulness of the Dock. It’s frankly puzzling why Apple doesn’t enable this feature by default.

Dim Hidden Dock Icons

Use the Hidden “Suck” Animation to Minimize Windows

Users have two default options for the effect used when a window is minimized to the Dock: Scale and Genie. “Scale” does what its name implies and simply shrinks the application window down into the dock when minimized. “Genie” is a bit more interesting and distorts the window as it minimizes by pulling both bottom corners simultaneously.

Default Genie Animation OS X Dock

A hidden animation, “Suck,” can also be implemented with the following Terminal command:

defaults write mineffect suck

This animation also distorts the window but appears to pull primarily from the bottom-right corner of the window. This results in a more interesting distortion of the window as it shrinks to the Dock, as if the window were indeed being “sucked” down from the bottom-right corner.

Hidden Suck Animation Dock OS X

To change the animation style again, you can reenter the command with “genie” or “scale” instead of “suck.” You can also change it by going to System Preferences > Dock > Minimize Window Using… and choose one of the default options.

Always Show Full Trash Icon

OS X’s Trash, like the Recycle Bin in Windows, has a dynamic icon that changes depending on its status. When there are no items in the Trash, the icon displays an empty trash can. When the user deletes an item, the icon immediately changes to show a trash can filled with paper.

In most situations, this is a useful visual indicator that something is in the Trash. For those who like a static icon, however, enter the following Terminal command to force the Trash to always display a full icon, even if there are no files inside:

defaults write trash-full -bool YES

Always Show OS X Dock Trash Icon Full

After the change has take effect, you’ll notice that the Trash icon always looks full, regardless of whether any files are actually in the trash. To reverse the change, simply reenter the command and replace “YES” with “NO”.

Add a Recent Items Stack

Enter the following Terminal command to create a special stack on the right side of the Dock that contains recently-accessed items:

defaults write persistent-others -array-add '{ "tile-data" = { "list-type" = 1; }; "tile-type" = "recents-tile"; }'

After it has been created, right-click (Control-click) on the stack to change its options. Users can choose to display the most recent Applications, Documents, or Servers, or user-defined favorite Servers and Items. You can also customize how the stack is displayed.

Recent Items Stack

To get rid of the stack, simply right-click on it and choose “Remove from Dock.”

Add Spacers to the Dock

The OS X Dock by default contains a single non-modifiable spacer between the applications portion on the left and the file, folder, and Trash portion on the right. Using the Terminal command below, however, users can add additional spacers to the Dock to help further organize and separate Dock items.

Open Terminal and enter the following command:

defaults write persistent-apps -array-add '{"tile-type"="spacer-tile";}'

Once enabled, you’ll see a blank space appear on the right side of your Dock. Clicking on this space does nothing, but it can be dragged around the Dock like any other item.

Add Space to OS X Dock

Users can add multiple spaces by entering the Terminal command repeatedly. In the screenshot below, four spacers have been added and used to group Dock icons based on task (typing, communication, system tools, etc.).

Multiple Spaces Add to OS X Dock

To remove a spacer, simply drag it off the Dock or right-click on it and choose “Remove from Dock.”



A stack is a Dock item that gives you fast access to a folder. When you click a Stack, the files within spring from the Dock in a fan or a grid, depending on the number of items (or the preference you set). OS X starts you off with two default Stacks: one for downloads and the other for documents. The Downloads Stack contains files you download from Safari, Mail, and iChat. The Documents Stack is a great place to keep things such as presentations, spreadsheets, and word processing files. You can create as many Stacks as you wish simply by dragging folders to the right side of your Dock.

Tip: Within the Stack, you can click and drag on the icons in your fan or grid stack to another folder, the Trash, an external disc icon, your desktop, or other locations.

Fan Stacks shows a portion your folder content and arrange the icons so that the closest icon to the Dock is based on the order of the “Sort by” option you have selected.

For example, if you select the “Sort by” option of “Date Added”, the Fan Stack will expand showing the icons of the most recently added items closest to the Dock. This is the default setting of your Downloads folder, making it easy to open, copy or move your latest download.

Grid Stacks will show the folder content as a matrix of icons arranged by your “Sort by” option.

Grid Stacks are scrollable and allow you to navigate folders. You can click a folder in the Stack to open that folder. An arrow button will appear in the upper left of the Stack you just opened. Click it to go back to the folder you came from. If there are more icons that can be shown, a scroll bar will appear.

Return to parent folder arrow top-left corner. Click it to return to the parent folder.
Scroll bar – Present only when there are more icons to show.

You can customize a Stack by right-clicking or control-clicking on the stack. The customize menu will include the following options:

  1. Sort by – You can select to have items sorted by Name, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, or Kind.
  2. Display as – Displays the icon in the Dock as the folder’s actual icon or as a stack of icons of the folder contents.
  3. View content as – Determines what Stack type is used when you click the icon:
  4. Fan – Shows folder content in the Fan stack, organized by your sort option.
  5. Grid – Shows folder content in the Grid stack, organized by your sort option.
  6. List – Shows the folder contents as a list, organized by your sort option. Each sub-folder will open another list and so on, until you reach the end of the directory structure. To open an application or document, simply click it.
  7. Automatic – This lets Lion determine the best view content option. When there are a few items, the Fan stack is used. Once you have loaded your folder with enough items, Lion will change your view content type to the Grid stack.


Customize Your Mighty Mouse:

Whether you’re using a wired or wireless Mighty Mouse, you can customize it easily:

1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
2. Click Keyboard & Mouse; then click the Mouse tab.
You can program the four buttons on your Mighty Mouse, set scrolling options, and set response sensitivities for tracking, scrolling, and double-clicking.

Customize Your Mac with a Screen Saver:

Screen savers offer a great way to customize — and enjoy — your Mac. You have a variety of screen savers to choose from:

1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
2. Click Desktop & Screen Saver; then click the Screen Saver tab.
The column on the left lists the possibilities. You can also tell Mac OS X to generate a screen saver automatically based on the album art in your iTunes library or the photos in your iPhoto or Aperture photo libraries.

Simply click any of the available options to choose a screen saver. You can try it by clicking Test below the Preview screen.

Quickly Activate Your Screen Saver:

By designating a Hot Corner, you can have your screen saver start whenever you move the mouse into that corner. Here’s how:

1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
2. Click Desktop & Screen Saver and click the Screen Saver tab.
3. Choose one Screen Saver option and click the Hot Corners button.
4. Use the pull-down menus to indicate the corner you’d like to use to activate your screen saver.

Open Applications Automatically on Startup:

If you frequently listen to music, surf the web, get your email, or chat with friends, you may want your computer to open those applications every time you start up. On a Mac, it’s simple to do. Select System Preferences from the Apple menu, then:

1. Click Accounts (in the System row of the System Preferences window).
2. Click the Login Items tab.
3.Click the Add (+) button.
4. Scroll down and click Applications
5. Select iTunes and click the Add button.

The next time you start up your Mac, iTunes will start up, too. In addition to opening applications at Start Up, you can have Mac OS X open documents.

Quickly Switch Between Applications:

The Mac makes it easy to have multiple applications — Mail, Safari, iTunes, Pages, iChat, iPhoto, and others — open at the same time. So how do you quickly switch from Safari, let’s say, to Mail?

Just hold down the Command key and press the Tab key (Command-Tab). Mac OS X immediately displays a mini-Dock with icons for each of your open applications. At the left side of the mini-Dock, you’ll see the icon for your current application. Next to it (and highlighted), you’ll find the icon for the application you last used. Each time you press the Tab key (without releasing the Command key), you can cycle through your open applications.

One more tip: You can also use the Left Arrow and Right Arrow keys to navigate your open applications.

Get Dictionary Definitions in One Click:

You’re using Safari to research a paper on climate change and you find the phrase “anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” What exactly does “anthropogenic” mean?

Here’s a fast way to get the definition of a word you’re not familiar with.

1. Hover your Mighty Mouse over the word and right-click.
2. Choose Look Up in Dictionary from the menu that appears.
3. Mac OS X immediately opens Dictionary and finds the meaning of “anthropogenic” for you.

Stored in the Applications folder, Dictionary works with all Mac OS X applications.

Go Home:

Whether you share a Mac with others or have one all to yourself, you can find all your personal data — documents, downloads, music, and more — in the home folder Mac OS X created for you when you set up your Mac (or when someone created an account for you).

You can spot your home folder easily: It’s the one with the icon of a house and your account name. And if you place it in the Dock, you can open it quickly without having to open any folders. Here’s how:

1. In the Finder, click the icon for your hard drive. (Unless you’ve renamed it, it’s probably called Macintosh HD.)
2. Open the Users folder.
3. Then drag your home folder from the Users folder into the Dock and release the mouse button.

Now, whenever you need anything in your home folder, you can access it quickly from the Dock.

Back Up Your Music, Photos, and Documents:

Time Machine is the fabulous backup application that’s part of Mac OS X Leopard. To use Time Machine, simply connect an external hard drive to your computer. The first time you connect it to your Mac, Leopard displays a dialog asking if you’d like to use it as your backup location. If the dialog doesn’t appear, don’t worry:

1. Choose System Preferences from the Apple menu.
2. Click the Time Machine icon.
3. Click Choose Backup Disk.

Time Machine toggles on, changes the image for your backup disk, and indicates when the next (in this case, the first) backup will occur). For best results, you should use a drive that’s at least as large as your Mac startup drive. (If your internal hard drive can hold up to 250GB of data, your Time Machine volume should hold at least 250GB.) And it’s a good idea not to store any other data on your Time Machine drive. That way, you maximize the amount of space you have to backup your files.

Take a Quick Look

How do you quickly find a photo without opening them one at a time?

Let Quick Look help you. A new feature in Leopard, Quick Look lets you browse files — photos, Pages documents, Keynote presentations, QuickTime movies, Microsoft Word and Excel files — without having to open an application. Here’s how:

In the Finder, open the folder that contains the item you hope to find.
Select a photo; then click the Quick Look button in the folder’s toolbar (or press Command-Y).
Leopard instantly opens a Quick Look window with the photo you selected.

Not the photo you were looking for? Just click another. Quick Look keeps the preview window open, letting you click photos until you find the one you want.

Capture Screen Shots

In Mac OS X, you can use simple keyboard shortcuts to do all sorts of things, including capturing images of what’s on your Mac screen. For example, you can take a screen shot of your entire screen by holding down the Command and Shift keys and pressing a 3.

If you hold down the Command and Shift keys and press 4, Mac OS X turns the cursor into crosshairs you can use to select whatever portion of your display you’d like to capture in a screen shot.

If you immediately hit the Spacebar after typing Command-Shift-4, Mac OS X replaces those crosshairs with a little a camera. Using the camera, you can take a screen shot of the Dock, the entire menu bar, a single open menu, the desktop, or any open window.