Apple has its reasons for hiding certain files from the average Mac user – after all, it’s hard to break something you can’t see. But sometimes you need to see those files, or access the ~/Library hidden folder, to fix something that isn’t working on your Mac.
Alternatively, you may need to free up some space on your Mac and think deleting some of these hidden files is a good way to do it. In that case, we have some tips in How to free up space on Mac and How to delete Other storage on Mac, How to delete system data on Mac and How to delete cache on Mac: our advice is not to delete hidden files unless you really know what you are doing!
If you’re not sure how to see how much disk space your Mac has read: How to check how much disk space you have.
The files you can’t see by default are usually preceded by a period, for example .htaccess file, .bash_profile or .svn directory. Directories such as /usr, /bin and /etc are also hidden. And the library folder, which contains application support files and some data, is also tucked away from view.
How to see hidden files in macOS
A quick and easy way to find secret files in a folder is to open the Finder and press Command + Shift + . (dot/dot), but there are other options you may want to consider, as we explain below.
If you don’t want to see the hidden folders anymore, just press Command + Shift + . again.
Where is the Library folder?
Many of these hidden files reside in a library folder, itself hidden from view.
To confuse things, there’s actually more than one library folder, and not all of them are hidden. Below, we’ll explain the differences and how to find each library folder — including ~/Library — on your Mac.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that Apple has made a lot of changes to the Finder over the past few years, so some tutorials may refer to things that just aren’t there anymore. For example, the home folder has a home icon and probably the name you assigned your Mac. You can find it in the Users folder. Neither is visible by default in macOS Big Sur or later, but don’t worry, we explain where to find them below.
Similarly, the Macintosh HD is usually the name you gave your Mac and is not visible by default. Don’t worry, we’ll explain how to make it visible!
How to find ~/Library
The first library folder we’ll find is the hidden folder in your home folder. It is also called ~/Library.
The home folder is one of the folders that’s less easy to find than it used to be, and it’s not really called the home folder either – it most likely has your name associated with it, but it has an icon that looks like it has a house in it.
There are a couple of ways to access this home folder:
- Open the Finder and press Command + Shift + H.
- Or click Go in the menu and choose Home.
- You can also add this Home/User folder to the Finder sidebar by opening Finder > Settings (or Preferences) > Sidebar, then checking the box next to your name in the Favorites section.
Once you have arrived at the Home folder, you can press Command + Shift + . to view the hidden files, including the hidden library folder.
Another way to get to this hidden library (labeled ~/Library) is to use the Go option in the Finder’s menu to jump to it. This is how you do it:
- Open the Finder.
- Choose Go from the menu bar.
- Choose Go To Folder (or Shift + Command + G).
- Type ~/Library in the text box and click Go.
When you use this method, the hidden folder will be unhidden without having to press Command+Shift+. (point). But after you close the Finder window, it is no longer visible.
There’s an even easier way to find your hidden folder ~/Library/. Just do the following:
- Open viewfinder.
- Hold down Alt (Option) and choose Go from the drop-down menu bar at the top of the screen.
- You will see the ~/Library folder under the home folder. Click on it to go directly to the folder.
Find library in Macintosh HD
The second library folder isn’t hidden as such, but it’s still tricky to find thanks to changes Apple’s made to the Finder over the years.
This library folder is located in what is often referred to as the Macintosh HD folder, but yours will probably be named as you named your Mac. If you don’t see a Macintosh HD folder (or whatever you named your main drive) in the left column when you open the Finder, do the following:
- Open the Finder.
- Click Finder > Settings/Preferences.
- Click the Sidebar tab.
- You will find your Mac listed under Locations. Tick/tick the box next to it.
Now you will see your drive in the Locations section of the Finder (or the Devices section in older macOSs). This folder contains applications, library, system, and users, but also contains many hidden folders and files.
Press Command + Shift + . to reveal them.
Find system library
The third library folder is in System (one of those folders in the Macintosh HD folder we just mentioned). It contains all the files macOS needs to run.
Find the differences – compare these three library folders:
How to keep the hidden folder ~/Library visible
If you use the Go method to find the ~/Library, that folder will remain visible until you close the Finder window. The next time you look, it’s gone again.
To keep the folders visible, press Cmd + Shift + . to reveal the hidden folders. If you no longer want to see them, click Command + Shift + . again.
Another way to keep the hidden ~/Library folder visible is to drag the hidden library icon from the Finder window to the Finder sidebar. This makes it accessible even after you close the Finder.
How to view hidden folders with Terminal
Another way to unhide hidden files and folders requires you to use Terminal.
- Open terminal
- Run the following script:
$ defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles true
$ killall finder
If you want to switch it back, simply change the value true to false.
Best apps to free up space on Mac
If the reason for finding these hidden files was to try and get rid of some of your system’s space eaters, we recommend using an app like CleanMyMac X. It’s what we used when we needed some space when we were installing macOS Big Sur in 2020. Read: Don’t try to update to Big Sur if you have a 128 GB Mac.
CleanMyMac costs £29.95 / $29.95 (usually £34.95 / $34.95) if you buy the subscription for one Mac. There is also a free trial. Download from developer MacPaw here.
We have a roundup of the best Mac cleaners where we look at the following alternatives to CleanMyMac: DaisyDisk, MacBooster, Parallels ToolBox, and MacCleaner Pro.