Complete Guide: Showing hidden files & hiding visible files on Mac

Showing and hiding hidden files on a Mac is not quite the same as hiding and showing visible files. This looks at a complete guide to best practices for both options on Mac OS X.

By default Mac OS X hides some files from the user – they're there, you just can't see them. Sometimes advanced users will need to see these files, and they'll need to follow special steps to make them visible. Typically they will want to hide these files again later.

Other users wants to hide files that would normally be visible, most often to secure sensitive information, and make these files visible only when needed.

Toggling visibility... making hidden Mac files visible and visible files hidden – it seems like one approach might work for both. And while it can there are really better approaches.

It can be a little confusing, but this series of posts makes sense of the best way to hide visible Mac files, show invisible Mac files, and then put everything back the way it was again.


Showing Hidden Files On A Mac

As already mentioned there are many files in Mac OS X that are hidden by default. This is because they are typically of no use to the user and, if visible, they would only clutter up the interface.

But some users may sometimes need to see and access these hidden OS X files. A common example would be the .htaccess file on an OS X server – a web admin will often need to make this file visible so they can make edits, and then hide it again.

There are a few different ways to do this, and this first article looks at the best way to make hidden files visible in OS X. It also shows you how to hide or make them invisible again when you are done.


Hiding Visible Files In Mac OS X

Other users want to take files that would normally be visible on their Mac and make them invisible.

At first glance it seems like the steps above, in reverse order, would do they job. And, yeah, that kind of works. But it's really not a good practice.

And that's because of the reason why the user wants to hide the files in the first place: it's normally because they contain sensitive information that they don't want anyone to see.

If information is sensitive enough that you want to hide it then just hiding it isn't enough. This is known as security by obscurity, and it isn't real security. If sometimes finds the Mac files you tried to hide they're going to have access to all that information.

The only way to really secure your files in OS X is to encrypt then hide them. The encryption part is the most important part, it's like putting all of your files into a secret code that only you understand. The hiding part is just so that nobody even knows the files are there.

You can't get this kind of security by just making files invisible, but there is a way to hide and truly secure and encrypt files in Mac OS X.


Another post takes a more on-depth look at the difference between showing hidden files and hiding visible files on a Mac.