A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Scroll Bars

The scroll bars on the Mac can be hard to understand for new users since they only appear when you need them. You typically use your Mouse or Trackpad to scroll, and most users can avoid the scroll bars altogether. However, if you need them, you will see them when scrolling and can click and drag them when they appear. You can also customize how they work and when they appear in System Preferences.

Video Transcript
If you're new to Mac you may not yet be familiar with how scroll bars work on Macs. For instance, here I am in Mac OS High Sierra and I have a Pages document. You can obviously see it fills more than just what I can just see here on the screen. So I need to scroll up. Now there's no scroll bar on the right like you may be used to from years ago using Windows or a much older version of Mac OS. But you can use either the trackpad with two fingers or your mouse with one finger to scroll.

So I'm going to use on my magic mouse here one finger to scroll up. I'm just swiping from the bottom to the top to scroll up. From the top to the bottom to scroll down. The same thing on the trackpad but with two fingers. So that's how I can scroll. I don't even have to worry about the existence of the scroll bar. But notice that when I did that the scroll bar appears on the right and as long as I keep scrolling up and down I'll see that scroll bar there. Now as soon as I stop it fades away.

But if while I'm scrolling I move my mouse over to that scroll bar it not only stays but it gets a little bit larger so I can click on it. Now I can use it like I could have used a scroll bar in years past. I can click and drag up and down. I can click below it to jump and above it to jump. So the scroll bars work just like they did before except now if I move away it will fade and go away again. So it doesn't get in the way when you don't need it and when you do need it does appear. So a little bit of scrolling and then you move over and now you can select it.

Now this works the same way in other apps as well. For instance, even in the Finder here, here's a Finder window with a list of files. There's no scroll bar on the right but if I use my mouse with one finger to swipe up and down or my trackpad with two fingers up and down I can see the scroll bar there. If I move my cursor over to it, it enlarges and I can drag it just like a scroll bar in the past.

You control a lot of these options using System Preferences. So in System Preferences under Mouse, for instance, it will show you. If I move my cursor over Scroll Direction, it will show you a little animation over here of what it's like to scroll with a magic mouse. If I go to the Trackpad and I go to Scroll & Zoom I can also see here a little animation of using two fingers to scroll up and down.

Notice both had an option to change the scroll direction from Natural to the other way. The other way actually reverses it which seems odd to me now but for years and years both Mac and Windows kind of did the scroll bar in reverse direction to the natural way and a lot of us got used to it. So you can turn off the Natural direction movement if you find that things are happening in reverse. I recommend you don't do this though but get used to having the scroll bars working the Natural way because not only is it how all Macs work, so if you go to another Mac you'll be used to using scrolling that way. But also it's more in sync with how we use touch devices like the iPhone and the iPad. So your brain basically thinking in the same direction using Natural here on the Mac as it would, say, on the iPad or an iPhone.

Now there are some other options in System Preferences you should know about and you can get to those by going to General. Under General you've got Show Scroll Bars. You can see now it's set to how all Macs are by default. Automatically based on mouse or trackpad which is what we've seen. However, we can also switch to Always which will return the scroll bars to what you might be used to to always having them there. Now you can move and get them whenever you want. You also can use the scroll bars as a measure of how far you are in the document. So you can see here I'm in the middle of the document. Here I'm at the top of the document.

You also have the ability to do it When scrolling. So what does this mean? Well, obviously, we saw it before when scrolling. But now also whenever you're actually moving the page. So I have my cursor down here. I'm going to Down Arrow. You can see since by using the down arrow I'm scrolling the document and the scroll bar appears on the right. That's great because it gives you a visual cue as to where you are in the document.

So you go into System Preferences and modify these when you want. My recommendation is to try to leave it on the default so you're used to using it on any Mac. Perhaps turn it on When Scrolling if you find you do a lot of work in documents where you really want to see where you are in the document. Only use Always if you're really having a lot of trouble dealing with not having the scroll bars there when you want them.

Comments: 2 Responses to “A Beginner’s Guide to Mac Scroll Bars”

    Mick Mueck
    4/14/18 @ 1:27 pm

    I ALWAYS displays scroll bars because I like to see the size of my page vs the entire document and I like easy access to page scrolling. The screen area scroll bars take up on a Mac is small – hiding them by default is a bad UI experience (the fact you had to make a video highlights that). I hate how hard it’s become hard to quickly get to the top/bottom of a long document (esp. in iOS). Apple should have added a couple click regions in the scroll bar area for that purpose.

    Mick Mueck
    4/14/18 @ 1:35 pm

    Even with medium sized monitors I often get a race condition between starting a scroll and then moving the cursor to the scroll bar region to perform a scroll bar drag, only to have the darn thing disappear right before I click and drag so I end up losing my previously selected text. All of this unnecessary awkwardness is forced onto Mac users because Apple want to maintain scrolling parity with the tiny screen sizes on iOS devices! Aside from that, I do prefer natural scrolling.

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