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

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.

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

  1. Matt

    Just what I needed! Many thanks!

  2. Joseph

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

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

  4. I really thought I was going crazy! Thanks so much 🙂

  5. Thanks a ton man. I almost gave up.

  6. tanja

    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

  7. tereza

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

  8. lee

    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.

  9. David

    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! 😀

  10. G

    Thanks so much! This was driving me nuts!

  11. Steven

    Thanks! Was driving me nuts as well.

  12. ordinary01

    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?

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

  14. 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.

  15. zebu

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

  16. 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.

  17. gasbi

    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. gasbi

    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

  19. Victor

    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!

  20. St.J

    Thank you so much.
    This was driving me spare.

  21. Alejandro

    @ 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!

  22. THankyou!!

  23. R

    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.

  24. behr

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

  25. phil cox

    Nice one !

  26. jc

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

  27. K2

    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!

  28. 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 🙂

  29. tonim


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

  31. John K

    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.

  32. […] “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:… […]

  33. Lee

    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!

  34. p3t3r


  35. Jade

    oh! awesome work, this was driving me nuts!

  36. luminess air reviews

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

  37. Karly

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

  38. peter


    *thank you!*

  39. Bert

    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.

  40. Dan

    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)

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

  42. Jeff Simon

    #38 ARGH! by Peter

    My sentiments exactly!

  43. Mireille

    Thank you so much.

  44. Andy

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

  45. Kail

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

  46. Mia

    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?

  47. Mike

    You’re awesome! Thank you.

  48. Susan Thomas

    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.

  49. Susan Thomas

    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.”

  50. This is exactly what I was looking for!! Thanks!

Comments are closed.