OS X: Move Files Instead of Copying

   Posted by David Kirk in Apple Mac

You do not have to copy and then delete when moving files on your apple box. Here is how to do it all with one command. This tutorial describes how to drag and drop to move a file from one location to another.

When copying files from one location to another, I have always found it an annoying process to drag the files to one location and then go back and delete them from the original location.

The default drag and drop process in OS X is to COPY files.

We want to be able to MOVE files.

To MOVE a file is to actually copy files to a new location and to delete them from the original location.

OS X will move the file if you hold the CMD key while you drag and drop.

One caveat:

Something that confuses people is what happens if duplicate files are found during the move drag and drop. If you release the CMD key to answer the dialog box that appears, the file will be copied but not moved. If you continue to hold the CMD key as you click the Replace button, the move action will be completed.


About David Kirk

David Kirk is one of the original founders of tech-recipes and is currently serving as editor-in-chief. Not only has he been crafting tutorials for over ten years, but in his other life he also enjoys taking care of critically ill patients as an ICU physician.
View more articles by David Kirk

The Conversation

Follow the reactions below and share your own thoughts.

46 Responses to “OS X: Move Files Instead of Copying”

  1. November 12, 2008 at 11:37 am, Boo said:

    I have a MacBook Pro laptop – there aint NO CMD key!
    It’s so damned frustrating using a MAC!


    • November 12, 2008 at 10:20 pm, davak said:

      The CMD key is the Apple key.

      this key: ⌘

      or this key: 


      • July 27, 2012 at 8:56 pm, Al said:

        > My macbook pro hAS A cmd key but no APPLE KEY


        • December 09, 2012 at 11:49 pm, cw said:

          cant tell if trolling, or really reaaly dumb


      • August 19, 2012 at 8:53 am, Todd said:

        > Is there some reason Mac hasn’t figured out the whole move thing. It says to move torrents not copy…..but mac in their infinite wisdom made this hard, kinda like the no right click deal microsoft has. I hate Microsoft but doesn’t it make sense to make this easy and available. I’m not a programmer and just want to do a simple thing simply.


        • December 27, 2013 at 11:55 am, Dit said:

          I personally think one of the reason why there isn’t a Cut option in Mac as you find it in Windows, is to make it safer for the files. I have had some not pleasant experience with the Cut option in Windows. So this is a good thing in Mac


  2. January 01, 2009 at 7:16 pm, B0B said:

    This doesnt work!!! I press CMD then click on the file I want to move then put it over the folder I want it in and all it does is make a shortcut for the file, when I want to move the file.


    • January 14, 2009 at 10:08 am, Timmy said:

      it does work ! it moves the files very quicky


    • March 09, 2009 at 7:54 am, allison said:

      click with the mouse first..then hit the CMD key..


  3. February 09, 2009 at 5:02 pm, loppan said:

    works fine for me. thanks for the info.


  4. April 16, 2009 at 3:47 am, Pete said:

    Doesn’t work for me. Has anyone else been able to get this to work when copying from an external HD to the internal mac drive? What about from an NTFS partitioned drive? This is sad, I’ve been a computer programmer for 10 years and now i’m online trying to learn how to cut and paste files :)


    • September 04, 2010 at 9:48 pm, CJ said:

      Haha. This made me laugh. When I tried to connect my wireless keyboard, it said type in the code and press enter. I kept waiting for the dialog box with the little white blank we’re all used to. But NO. They meant it literally. Type. In. The. Code. And. Press. Enter. I’ve been a programmer for 20 years and I had to go to the Mac store to learn this. Embarrassing, really.


    • July 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm, Dan said:

      If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been a Sr. Programmer Analyst for 20 years, and I’m just like you, learning like a baby.


    • July 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm, Dan said:

      If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been a Sr. Programmer Analyst for 20 years, and I’m just like you, learning like a baby.


      • July 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm, Anonymous said:

        We are all learning stuff every single day.  That’s what makes it fun and challenging. If you wanna earn a little extra money, considering writing some articles and teach us what YOU know. 


  5. May 19, 2009 at 1:15 pm, Jim said:

    Frustrating indeed.

    Using Leopard, this method seems to work with NOT the “list” view, but only (and perfectly) with the multi-pane “column” view.

    Thanks for the “recipe” and the comments. This should reduce my AI (Aggravation Index) for today. But there’s always tomorrow. : )



    • June 28, 2011 at 8:36 pm, Kommon sense said:

      It works fine in any view.


      • May 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm, Frank Rizzo said:

        Doesn’t work. Always wants to COPY first. If the disk doesn’t have enough space for a copy, fails. Macs suck.


        • March 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm, ManifoldSky said:

          It does work and you’re an idiot.


  6. August 06, 2009 at 9:06 am, Markus said:

    Another frustrating thing is: if you want to move several files at once and those files contain (write)protected files. In this case you won’t be able to move the files at all.

    That may also be the case, if you want to move files from a NTFS Volume/Partition…depending on whether there is working write-support for the NTFS file system or not. Afaik you can’t write on NTFS Volumes with the tools of OSX alone but there are commercial software packages which can help you with this (http://www.paragon-software.com/home/ntfs-mac/)


  7. September 12, 2009 at 6:14 pm, Mani said:

    It was very useful for a new Mac user migrating from Win, Thanx.


  8. January 29, 2010 at 3:34 pm, Reuben said:

    Thanks – works beautifully on MBP 2006 OS X 10.5.8


  9. July 31, 2010 at 7:45 pm, Ben said:

    It wouldn’t move folders for me this way just files so I wrote a applescript. Paste this it script editor.

    on run

    tell application “Finder”

    set theSource to choose folder with prompt “Source”
    set theDestination to choose folder with prompt “Destination”

    move items of theSource to theDestination

    end tell

    end run


    • May 16, 2011 at 4:23 am, Sunil said:

      If we are use scripts, aren’t we better off using Linux?


  10. October 03, 2010 at 11:05 am, Jbf said:

    I use Mac and Windows for years and still have trouble with all the multiple naming and symbols for the Command, Alt and Option keys on a Mac. Especially when they use the symbols. Got to be a better more logical way? But Mr “no two button mouse” Jobs probably wouldn’ t allow it. I would bet 10-20% of some potential Mac adopters get frustrated with this issue alone and might be a contributory factor to their not migrating.


  11. January 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm, Oont said:

    I was so happy to buy a mac. But it makes easy things difficult. Why do I have to necessarily drag and drop. Why can’t it simply cut copy paste like windows. Fine windows might have thought of that first. But why can’t apple copy whats good in windows. See windows so easily copied drag and drop and multi touch touchpad. I am resenting my decision to buy a macbook.


    • September 25, 2012 at 5:09 am, ox said:

      > I used UNIX on HP mainframe, Digital, SunMicro station; Microsoft on PC. Now I can’t move file on MacOX.
      how to do it?


  12. March 17, 2011 at 9:04 am, Anonymous said:

    Actually there are pros and cons of using a Mac compared to the PC we are used to.
    At first the Mac will draw upon you it’s sleek and refine design and perhaps even the user friendliness.
    But if you are more of a hardcore user, you will find that Mac can be a pain because we are all used to the PC shortcuts or hotkeys.
    Mac has these but then sometimes you need to hold down up to 3 keys to execute a command and yes .. it gets frustrating.
    However the PC also has it’s own issues, it is just that we have been so used to it tha even the famous blue screen has become something of a norm to some people.

    I just got on to a Mac and though there are things that I wished that it had from the PC, I too wished that the PC has the Mac functionalities.

    My favourite?
    Perhaps the Power supply, it is just a simple snap-on and I wished that PCs manufacturers can somehow copy this design.
    The Mac battery is also much more superior than the PC I guess but batteries have lifespan so it does degrade after some time of use.

    Regardless, I am happy to be able to get onto a Mac and learn something new and perhaps try a little more hardcore usage like the Terminal, much like the Cmd function in PCs, just that you have to be somehow comfortable with Unix like command.


  13. May 28, 2011 at 5:03 am, Bob Crouch said:

    I wanted to highlight twenty or so different songs and move them to a different folder – MAC seems to make a copy but a MOVE ( like PC does) is not easy when dealing with more than one file. By now there should be a MAC equivalent to tagging several files in a folder and then MOVE them to another folder on the drive. 


  14. June 28, 2011 at 8:24 pm, Kommon sense said:

    Simply holding down the CMD key will allow you to select multiple files.


    • August 01, 2011 at 8:47 am, ptrlkrs@gmail.com said:

      Why does something like “cmd x” work fine in office-for-mac, but doesn’t work for files? What it really is, is simply copy-paste with auto-delete of the source file once the copy operation is completed. Shouldn’t be so hard to code?!

      My only concern with having switched to mac is that most, if not all, expert users have this tendency to disregard shortcomings of mac and answer by explaining how to do something in a different, more cumbersome way, regardless of what the user wants or was asking for. It’s obvious what the question is here, and the answer should be either:

      - Yes it can be done. You have to press….
      - No it can’t be done and the reason is…
      - No it can’t be done, we don’t know why.

      Moving files using cmd and carrying the file with the pointer is very inefficient and not at all the same thing as ctrl X/ctrl V on Windows. End of story. 

      You can only move one file, you have to have source and location open before you start, unless you want to spend minutes pointing on different folder along the way, while keeping trackpad pressed so you don’t drop the file. If you slip for some reason while moving, the file will drop into a folder somewhere where you happened to have your pointer, which means going through a number of them to find the file again. And so on…

      Please, honestly, is there a ctrlX/ctrlV type functionality for files on Mac, and if so, what is it? If not, just say so. It won’t detract from my overall positive opinion about Mac and OSX.


      • August 08, 2011 at 3:16 pm, Professor MacShortcuts said:

        Ctrl X = Command X, Ctrl V = Command V, Ctrl C = Command C.


  15. June 28, 2011 at 8:29 pm, Kommon sense said:

    Select file, press copy (CMD+C).  Navigate to destination, paste (CMD+V).  Copy and paste are also available from the ‘Edit’ menu of the Finder.


  16. June 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm, Kommon sense said:

    Macs have been shipping with multi-button mice and track pads for quite some years now.  Is it really so difficult to remember two buttons?


  17. August 21, 2011 at 7:38 am, Brian Aslin said:

    I have heard that it is possible to enable the cut command in Finder. But it works differently to Windows in when it marks the file as deleted. On mac the file is marked before the file finishes copying which is fine unless something disrupts the copy eg power failure.


  18. February 25, 2012 at 1:27 am, Norman Lund said:

    I know it’s much later, but I ran across this and figured I’d answer. What I do is cmd-c to select what I want to move, go where I want to move it then do alt-cmd-v to move it to that location. (or click to where your going to move it, and on the menubar go to “edit” then hold down alt and click on “Move items here”.


    • September 25, 2012 at 5:15 am, ox said:

      >in Safari file, the edit function disabled: you can’t do anything about the file.


    • March 11, 2014 at 8:25 am, Anonymous Coward said:

      > This is the solution I’ve been looking for. Command+C and then Command+Option+V works exactly like Control+X and then Control+V on Windows. Thank you!


  19. March 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm, Cat said:

    Moving files is not copying and deleting them, its merely changing the FAT table to say they are somewhere else. This is probably why the Apple doesn’t have that command due to it’s dodgy and volatile ‘Journal’ based file system.

    NTFS forever!


  20. April 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm, theo said:

    thank you. i’ve been searching for this.

    now how can I make this move as a default action? is it posible?


  21. November 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm, Anil Mehta said:

    Your article move to folder was simple for me and helped me lot
    Anil K Mehta


  22. April 12, 2013 at 10:49 am, John said:

    Wow, it’s interesting how many people have problems with this. First of all, I found this in a search for something I didn’t know and now I learned something.

    Regarding drag copy/move on the Mac. This works on all OS X Macs and to/from all drives. The key ingredient is that the action taken is determined by the state of your modifier keys when you DROP the file.

    While dragging a file, the mouse cursor indicates what action will be taken. You can change modifiers while dragging and you’ll see the icon change.

    Icon unchanged = move
    Plus sign = copy
    Curved arrow = make an alias (shortcut)

    If you’re dragging within the same drive, default is to move…hold Option to copy.
    If you’re dragging to another drive, default is to copy…hold Command to move (just learned this).

    Hold Option and Command to make an alias (always).

    I hope that’s clear enough for everyone.


  23. December 12, 2013 at 3:43 am, Hatem said:

    Doesn’t work at all ! make sure about it !


  24. December 31, 2013 at 3:55 pm, ara said:

    The whole move thing sucks in Mac !!!
    In this xxx MacBookPro it does not work.
    Who f… a… h.. has made the sw?


  25. March 09, 2014 at 11:42 pm, Gene Espensen said:

    Hold the cmd key down while you drag and drop and the file will move


  26. March 21, 2014 at 7:27 am, Beth said:

    Ok, I must fall into that really dumb category (because I don’t fall under troll). I have some files and individual documents on my desk top that I’d really like to move to a new home (on the hard drive) so my computer doesn’t move so slow, and BTW I’m on Snow Leopard. I understand the command Key and click but I must be missing something else. I’m at my desktop when I attempt this and I have a feeling the screen is supposed to be showing something other then just my desktop screen. I hate to ask for step by step but I’ve let this go on for far too long and I’m willing to look like an idiot at this point. Any yes….. Apple you screwed up on this one!!!


Leave a Reply