A Beginner’s Guide to Drag and Drop On the Mac

A basic technique on the Mac is to drag and drop an object. You can use this to move files, but you can also use it to open files, import objects into documents, move objects around inside documents, move objects from one app to another, and perform otherwise difficult-to-implement actions. Watch some examples of how to use drag and drop on the Mac.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: A Beginner’s Guide to Drag and Drop On the Mac.

Now even if you're new to Mac you probably know that you can drag and drop things to move things around. For instance, here I am in the Finder and I have two Finder windows open showing different locations. If I want to move this image to this folder I can simply drag and drop it. I can drag and drop it back. I can even drag and drop to a folder inside of here. So I can drag and drop into this old folder there. I'm going to use Undo to get that back.

Here's something that you may not know. If you drag and drop and you pause over the folder it will actually open it up. So now you can place it inside. You can also drag and drop to items on the left sidebar here. So I can put it into, say, this folder by dragging into there. You can also select multiple items to drag and drop. So I can select one, hold the Command key down, and select another and another. Then I'm dragging and dropping three items. You can hold the shift key down. So I'll select the first one here, hold the Shift key down, and it will do the same thing.

If I want to select a continuous group I can drag, see I'm clicking outside of any of these items and drag over a whole bunch of them. Then maybe if there's something I want to deselect I can Command or Shift click to deselect those. Now I drag and drop what I want.

Now you can do much more than just move files around in the Finder. You can Open files up. So, for instance, if I were to drag this file down to the Dock, any app that can open it will actually respond as I drag it over. So for instance I can open up in Safari, I can open up certainly in Preview and if I do so it will actually open up the image in Preview. If I have another graphics app down there I can do the same thing.

If I wanted to drop it on Mail what would happen is it will assume I want to compose a new message. You can see its opened up a composition window here and put that image in there to send.

Now notice I couldn't drag and drop onto Pages because I can't create a new document with just an image in Pages. But if I go into Pages and I create a new document or I'm working on the document that I had opened before I can drag and drop in and it inserts the image there. You can do that with lots of different apps. If you need to bring an image or a piece of text or something into it, you want to import something into it, a lot of times dragging and dropping from the Finder or from another app into that document window is what will do it for you.

Here's an example of dragging from the Photos app into Pages. So I just drag an image here, drop it into Pages, and it imports it in. You can do the same thing with Mail. So if I go into Mail here and I'm composing a new message, I can drag and drop a photo in that way as well. So dragging and dropping between apps works really well especially if you can't figure out any other way to do it.

Here's an example of where drag and drop offers additional functionality. If I go to System Preferences, Desktop, and Screen Saver, you can see I can select from all these different pictures. I can definitely add a new location and then figure out where there's some custom image I want to add as a Desktop. Or I can just drag and drop from the Finder to this little Preview area here and you can see it changes my Desktop background.

You can often use drag and drop inside of apps as well. For instance, I have album here I created in Photos. I want to add more photos to it. I can just simply drag and drop anything from another album, from a photos list, from the All Photos List, drag it into my album here on the sidebar and now that image is added to that album.

Anytime you need to perform an action on an object, whether it's a file or a piece of information inside of a document, consider dragging and dropping as the way to possibly get it done.

One last thing I want to show you about the basics of drag and drop is that you can modify the drag, especially in the Finder. So if I just drag and drop it moves the file from here to here. But if I wanted to make a copy instead all I need to do is while I'm dragging hold the Option key down and notice I get a little green plus icon there and I drop, it actually makes a copy for the new location and keeps the original there. Likewise if you want to do the opposite, if you have an external drive and this folder here is located on an external drive, if I were to drag and drop now it automatically assumes I want a copy. Because otherwise it would mean you're moving this file from this hard drive and creating it over here. So it's automatically going to create a copy. But if I wanted to actually move it, in other words delete from its original location, hold the Command key down. You can see the plus goes away. Then I drop it and it puts it over there and deletes it from the original location.