HOWTO: Fix file sorting in Finder’s column view on Mac OS X Lion

Filed under: Apple,Learning — Brett @ August 10, 2011 12:23 pm

I’ve been banging my head against this one for a week now: Finder just wouldn’t sort things alphabetically for me. I use column view, and it seemed that my old ^?1 and ^?2 keyboard shortcuts weren’t working.

Mac OS X Lion’s Finder introduces two ways to sort: Arrange By and Sort By.

Arrange By is more useful in icon view and list view. Setting Arrange by to something else, such as Kind or Last Opened, will have Finder ‘arrange’ the file listing into categories which are ‘sorted’.

If you go to the View menu you’ll see Arrange By. If you then hold down Option (?) you’ll get Sort By. Here’s where I got caught out. If you have the submenu open when you start holding Option, you’ll need to have the menu close and reopen before you get the right options.

When working correctly, in column view it seems that the Sort By menu will be disabled unless you have Arrange By set to None.

There’s also a “Arrange” button in the toolbar now, which will display the Sort By menu when you option-click it.

So, if your sorting isn’t working the way you want it, here’s how to reset it:

  • View > Arrange By > None (^?0)
  • Hold Option, View > Sort By > Name (^??1)

I hope this helps you in your file management endeavours. I ? Lion!

Hat Tip: Barney-15E on this thread at Apple Support Communities.


  • Just what I needed! Many thanks!

    #1: Comment by Matt — August 16, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  • Thank you! Apple really flubbed this one up. Weird that all sorting options were disabled until I chose to arrange by none.

    #2: Comment by Joseph — August 17, 2011 @ 5:46 am

  • Thanks for the information on the Mac OS X Lion! The finder and sorting was boggling me for so long!

    #3: Comment by MacMyDay — September 4, 2011 @ 9:21 am

  • I really thought I was going crazy! Thanks so much :)

    #4: Comment by McWitch — October 10, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

  • Thanks a ton man. I almost gave up.

    #5: Comment by Waseem — October 23, 2011 @ 4:45 am

  • thank you for this. I was getting really mad not understanding why is sorting not possible. Man i love the internet and the generosity of people like you to share tips
    thank you

    #6: Comment by tanja — November 25, 2011 @ 10:31 am

  • That really helped! Thaks a lot. I have been trying to figure this out for weeks now…

    #7: Comment by tereza — November 26, 2011 @ 12:18 am

  • Beats me why Apple head off on tangents and leave it to users to find their balls ups. Thanks for the heads up on this sort file nonsense. I was creating new folders and moving stuff in so I could arrange it. Dill me.

    #8: Comment by lee — November 27, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

  • Oh thank you thank you thank you!!! This has been driving me absolutely bonkers since upgrading to lion! For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what to do to get my alphabetical sorting back in the column view. I am sooo glad I found this post! :D

    #9: Comment by David — December 11, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

  • Thanks so much! This was driving me nuts!

    #10: Comment by G — December 12, 2011 @ 9:58 pm

  • Thanks! Was driving me nuts as well.

    #11: Comment by Steven — December 29, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

  • thank u for this. but i still can not sort it the way microsoft windows has it, i.e. folders first and files after, by name, kind or whatever. if i do in arrange view and then resize the finder window the file and folder icons are not rearranged according to window size. disgusting still for me. any idea?

    #12: Comment by ordinary01 — January 5, 2012 @ 6:58 am

  • You might want to try TotalFinder by BinaryAge. It has an option in it to sort folders first like you want. Hope this helps!

    #13: Comment by Brett — January 6, 2012 @ 11:31 am

  • Huge thanks for this. Like everyone else I have been so frustrated by this, and many other, changes in Lion. Thanks again for taking the time to post.

    #14: Comment by Mike — January 28, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

  • Thanks you very much, this have been driving me crazy!

    #15: Comment by zebu — February 13, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

  • Thanks. WTF does Apple keep making changes, then making the changes active by default? C’Mon!

    If it wasn’t for people like Brett, we’d continue to suck thanks to that “imposed change”. Much appreciated Brett, you lift us up from the suck with cool tricks like this.

    #16: Comment by Allan — February 16, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

  • This is great, but I haven’t solved my problem yet. The issue is that I am in a folder in column view and I want to rearrange the files in it manually, so I don’t want to sort them (using “Sort By”) by name or any other option (and there isn’t “none” option as it is in “Arrange By”), and when I try to drag one file (i.e. the first one) to the last position it doesn’t let me to do it.

    I hope you understand me and you know the solution, Thanks

    PD: sorry about my english, I’m spanish..

    #17: Comment by gasbi — February 17, 2012 @ 7:07 am

  • This is great, but I haven’t solved my problem yet. The issue is that I am in a folder in column view and I want to rearrange the files in it manually, so I don’t want to sort them (using “Sort By”) by name or any other option (and there isn’t “none” option as it is in “Arrange By”), and when I try to drag one file (i.e. the first one) to the last position it doesn’t let me to do it.

    I hope you understand me and you know the solution, Thanks

    PD: sorry about my english, I’m spanish

    #18: Comment by gasbi — February 17, 2012 @ 9:39 am

  • YES! YES! YESSS! THANK YOU!!! I was about to go crazy over this, you just made my day! Not that I’d understand the difference between these two options in any way, but at least I could get Finder to again sort alphabetically in column view. Thanks so much!

    #19: Comment by Victor — February 28, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  • Thank you so much.
    This was driving me spare.

    #20: Comment by St.J — March 6, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

  • @ Gasbi: I don’t think you can sort in an arbitrary order, but what you can do is to add a number to the beginning of the file, e.g. 1- file A, 2- file B…etc. and then you just add the number to the files in the order you want them to appear in your folder. Suerte!

    #21: Comment by Alejandro — March 13, 2012 @ 11:08 am

  • THankyou!!

    #22: Comment by Josh — March 14, 2012 @ 12:00 pm

  • Do you know how to PERMANENTLY sort- resp. arrange-by? Whenever the User quits (kills) Finder, or logs out or shutsdown, etc., then returns, one finds the Finder again in Tohuwahbohu. The Settings seem to need to be entered EVERY TIME. (Really Mac? What kind of Programming is this?)

    Anyway, should you have a solution to this further Problem, do let us know.

    #23: Comment by R — March 21, 2012 @ 10:41 am

  • Thanks to you my mac is not taking flying lessons today (and the finder wasn’t/isn’t the only thing going haywire today)

    #24: Comment by behr — March 22, 2012 @ 10:50 am

  • Nice one !

    #25: Comment by phil cox — March 28, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

  • THANK YOU. I have been going crazy for the last week trying to figure this out.

    #26: Comment by jc — April 4, 2012 @ 8:40 am

  • Oddly enough, I followed your tip, but when I used “Hold Option, View > Sort By > Name ^⌥⌘1,” it was still backwards alphabetical order. Meaning, ABCs were at the bottom, and XYZs were at the top of the list. I fixed mine by doing “Hold Option, View > Sort By > Label ^⌘7.” In case anyone had the weird issue like me. Thank you though!

    #27: Comment by K2 — April 21, 2012 @ 8:24 am

  • If you do the Sort by -> Name thing again, it will go from alphabetically descending (Z -> A) to alphabetically ascending (A -> Z). Hope that helps :)

    #28: Comment by Brett — April 21, 2012 @ 9:51 am

  • GREAT!!!

    #29: Comment by tonim — April 25, 2012 @ 1:55 am

  • This really pissed me off last night. Thank you so much good sir!

    #30: Comment by Tyler — April 28, 2012 @ 3:01 am

  • Couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t sort downloads folder by clicking column names until I read this. I set arrange by to none and it works again. Thanks for the info.

    #31: Comment by John K — May 1, 2012 @ 6:11 am

  • [...] “Arranging by” and “Sorting by” are useful new features, but having them enabled by default with no explanation leaves power users like me with unclickable column headers and no explanation, which equals frustration. Read this article for more explanation on how to use the new behaviors:… [...]

    #32: Pingback by TTFN: Fixing Finder Window File Sorting in OS X Lion « Hover Balcony — May 9, 2012 @ 11:36 am

  • I’m beginning to hate apple, I never reply to this kinda info, but seriously I’ll say thank you this time. There’s so many forced changes that keep happening and it’s really unfair and I don’t understand why Apple keep messing around with it’s loyal clients by not introducing changes as optional rather than forcing them and not explaining to you what’s changed and how to change it back if you don’t want the change!!!

    They’re going to lose everyone else to a new company soon that actually cares about people that are happy the way things are! this sorting bullshit is not improving anyone’s working speed. Stop slowing people down by forcing these stupid changes Apple!

    #33: Comment by Lee — May 18, 2012 @ 1:55 am

  • legend!

    #34: Comment by p3t3r — May 19, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

  • oh! awesome work, this was driving me nuts!

    #35: Comment by Jade — May 23, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

  • This sounds like a nightmare. I was looking forward to Lion as well.

    #36: Comment by luminess air reviews — May 25, 2012 @ 5:36 am

  • You rock – I was getting so frustrated!!!!

    #37: Comment by Karly — May 25, 2012 @ 11:00 pm


    *thank you!*

    #38: Comment by peter — May 30, 2012 @ 2:14 am

  • Brett, thanks so much for sharing this information with us!! Now I can finally set “Arrange by” to None in list view, and have folders listed first by applying “Sort by” to Kind.

    #39: Comment by Bert — May 30, 2012 @ 5:46 am

  • Wow! Thanks for this. I really disliked the Arrange By feature. At least now I can get back to the good ole days. But in search of a perfect world, do you happen to know how to make the “option” key behavior the default behavior? I’d rather hold the option key down to get the “Arrange by” selections (since I hardly ever use them)

    #40: Comment by Dan — June 1, 2012 @ 5:40 am

  • [...] Mac OS X (Lion) finder sort files and folders alphabetically → 7 seconds ago [...]

    #41: Pingback by Mac OS X (Lion) finder sort files and folders alphabetically – Matthew G. Richmond — June 4, 2012 @ 8:07 am

  • #38 ARGH! by Peter

    My sentiments exactly!

    #42: Comment by Jeff Simon — June 20, 2012 @ 6:05 am

  • Thank you so much.

    #43: Comment by Mireille — June 21, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

  • Huge thanks. How good people share their wisdom and experience.

    #44: Comment by Andy — June 23, 2012 @ 3:01 am

  • Thx. I live on the sort by function. Apple messed this up

    #45: Comment by Kail — June 29, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

  • THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!! This was driving me nuts.
    I’m always amazed when something like this gets through. Didn’t anyone in the boardroom meeting object?

    #46: Comment by Mia — July 20, 2012 @ 12:29 am

  • You’re awesome! Thank you.

    #47: Comment by Mike — August 10, 2012 @ 2:02 am

  • I have tried to figure out if someone has said exactly what I do to sort the way I want. If they have, I didn’t understand it. I want to arrange by kind and then by name, since I have an unfortunate number of documents/pictures which have files which are not in folders. This is how I do it. Go into Finder. Highlight the folder (such as Documents or Pictures) in which you want to arrange the contents. Ignore the toolbar in the app. Click on “View” in the main toolbar. Then click on “Arrange By” and select whatever you want – in my case “Kind.” When that is done, get out of “View,” hold own the Option key and click on “View” again. This time you will see a “Sort By” option. Click on that and select what you want – in my case “Name.” Now you see “folders” first and ‘files” below them, and everything is in alphabetical order within its “kind” and I’m once again happy being an Apple convert. It has taken me a long time to figure this out, and this discussion is what led me to my solution. I am running Mountain Lion. Don’t know if the same thing works in Lion.

    #48: Comment by Susan Thomas — August 14, 2012 @ 4:43 am

  • Turns out there’s an even easier way. Open Finder. Select your folder. Click on View. Select View Options. A menu appears that allows you to select “sort by kind” and “arrange by name.”

    #49: Comment by Susan Thomas — August 15, 2012 @ 7:31 am

  • This is exactly what I was looking for!! Thanks!

    #50: Comment by Wanda — August 29, 2012 @ 6:44 am

  • Thank you. This has been shitting me for a very long time.

    #51: Comment by Nick — September 3, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

  • Mucho Thankos!

    #52: Comment by JustinTime — December 4, 2012 @ 3:09 pm


    I was banging my head against the wall with this one.

    #53: Comment by Hamish — December 5, 2012 @ 10:13 am

  • Thank you Thank You Thank you! I woulda killed myself trying to figure this out!

    #54: Comment by cat — December 6, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

  • THANK YOU!!!

    #55: Comment by Kristian Pettyjohn — December 13, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

  • Thank you for the many suggestions, but I seem to still have an odd problem.

    My finder alphabetizes only part of the list. For example, a number of files will be in alphabetical order, then there will be a subgroup of files that are inserted that don’t belong. The subgroup itself is alphabetized. This happens several times as if there are subsets. So at first glance it appears that the finder is alphabetized, then on closer inspection, you notice all the files that are strangely out of place. I tried to replicate an example below with spaces just to emphasize the sections.

    a b c d e f g h c d e f i j k l m n o p b c d q r s t

    I am on mac os 10.7.5. Any light you can shed on this would be greatly appreciated. Mahalo!

    #56: Comment by jo arch — January 3, 2013 @ 8:15 am

  • Thanks! ANother work-around is to do the first step as directed (View>Arrange by> None…… BUT the second step that worked for me in column view was Hold Option, *Action* (Drop down menu in the top of the window)>Sort by>Name

    #57: Comment by TK — January 5, 2013 @ 3:29 am

  • And I add my thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been puzzling over this for over a year!

    #58: Comment by Anne — January 5, 2013 @ 5:19 am


    #59: Comment by Eliza — January 17, 2013 @ 4:41 am

  • Funny thing is that in other languages (at least in Norwegian) both “arrange” and “sort” are called “sort by” (“sorter etter”). However, it is really two different things and the option-trick still works …

    #60: Comment by stbo — January 22, 2013 @ 2:00 am

  • Awesome mate!!!! Everyone’s already said it before me, but: Thanks so much for taking your valuable time to put this on the web for others’ benefit – I would’ve went crazy otherwise!!!….

    …ONLY ONE MORE QUESTION: I used your valuable tip to fix up my photo files (in a folder) to Sort-by “Date Created”. It worked well (except for a few “sub-groups” – as another commenter put it previously, which were different file types – not sure what to do there..??..) ANYWAY.. only problem now is the sorted files run backwards (i.e. from most recent –> least recent) …HOW DO I REVERSE THIS ORDER OF “DATE CREATED” within the folder view..??

    Thanks again, Mark

    #61: Comment by Mark — February 4, 2013 @ 12:00 am

  • …By the way, re: above comment: this was all done in the “Icon” view of Finder… not sure that changes anything? AND ALSO, my reason for wanting to order photos by “(earlier) date created” –> to “(later) date created”, is to select these files & upload (in chronological order) to Facebook…

    #62: Comment by Mark — February 4, 2013 @ 12:33 am

  • Thank you for posting this – as a recent Mac convert, I was really bothered that using column view / arrange by kind, that it was listing the items out of alphabetical order. Figures there would be a hidden option menu in the belly of the beast! Thanks again!

    #63: Comment by Jonathon — February 7, 2013 @ 3:22 am

  • Thank you for this suggestion, but unfortunately I still have a problem. Part of the list will sort alphabetically, while a few folders just randomly insert themselves where they wish. And they are consistent about it. Beyond the menu sorting, is there anything else that could cause this? The occasional glass of wine helps, but it sure would be better to figure this out. Even the numbers get jumbled. Thoughts? Thank you.

    for example – listed by name/none

    #64: Comment by joblufish — February 7, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  • Wow! Yikes! Fixed a problem that’s been nagging me for a month. In my case sheet (for example, Save As …) showed items in my home directory in reverse alphabetical order (Z-A), but viewing the same directory in the Finder had them in normal order (A-Z). I recall that the problem started when I accidentally hit two keys instead of one while a Save sheet was open – perhaps Shift-Return instead of the intended Return, or maybe Option or even Control. In any event, the Z-A order sheet list stuck for a month even with the Finder’s view A-Z. Messing with Finder View didn’t help, deleting .DStore didn’t help. I’m still not clear on the mechanism or the impli9cations, but many thanks for making the post and solving the immediate problem.

    #65: Comment by Charles — March 3, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

  • [[p.s Should have added ... I have a suspicion that there's some sort of Command sequence that's active while a sheet is frontmost that changes the view parameters of the sheet.]]

    #66: Comment by Charles — March 3, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  • Many thanks. This was driving me nuts!

    #67: Comment by Belden — March 4, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

  • Does anyone know how to “lock” in a view option to a individual folder without the view option on the parent folder changing also? For example I have a Document Folder, inside that Personal Folder, inside that Receipts 2013 Folder, inside that are all my receipts that have been named. I would like the Receipts 2013 to be sorted by (date created) when I open it not by name but when I change the View option it changes everything thats in the Document Folder and the Personal Folder as well. Can I set a rule that will only set view options for one folder?

    #68: Comment by Bo — March 12, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  • Wow! That is messed up. I just got a massive headache trying to figure this one out. The strange thing is that I had it “sortable” and all of the sudden I lost it.

    Thank you,


    #69: Comment by R — March 16, 2013 @ 10:18 am

  • Another one, who just found out what was boggling me for so long. I hope Apple does not mind you doing their job?
    Thanks and all the best

    #70: Comment by Paul van Nierop — March 29, 2013 @ 11:17 pm

  • thankyou
    this was driving me nuts.
    i even bought forklift to see things in alphanumeric order again.

    so a gift of thanks

    another nuisance of osx is it can’t without severe pain or other utilities print out a list of files as shown in finder.
    simply drag the file to a firefox window (busy or not)

    #71: Comment by hahyonhwatha — March 31, 2013 @ 6:05 am

  • I just this out.
    In order to sort items by Kind in Column View.
    While in Column View, right click>Show View Options>Sort By Kind. Voila!

    #72: Comment by Joyce — April 26, 2013 @ 11:16 am

  • This was driving me nuts! Thank you inner.geek for publishing this, you have just been added as a bookmark. Funny how this just all of a sudden happened…

    #73: Comment by tdpark — May 2, 2013 @ 4:48 am

  • Thank you so much, I am so grateful for finding your post on this. This has been driving me crazy!! and thanks to you, I know now how to get things sorted in the order I want


    #74: Comment by Jane Manthorpe — May 15, 2013 @ 5:16 pm

  • This has been so frustrating, thanks for the advice!

    #75: Comment by Andy — June 12, 2013 @ 11:25 pm

  • thanks.! worked a charm! on 10.8.4

    #76: Comment by pweee — August 7, 2013 @ 2:28 am

  • thanks man that really was bugging me!

    #77: Comment by samsam — August 30, 2013 @ 4:19 am

  • Great tip! I had struggled with this problem for so long without finding a solution that I was convinced that I should just chalk it up to another negative regarding Lion. But thanks to you, now I can sort in list view by clicking on the column headings. Just like in the good old (pre-Lion) days.

    #78: Comment by billinrio — August 31, 2013 @ 8:44 am

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