OS X: Move Files Instead of Copying

   Posted September 5, 2007 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

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  • Boo

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

    • The CMD key is the Apple key.

      this key: ⌘

      or this key: 

      • Al

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

        • cw

          cant tell if trolling, or really reaaly dumb

      • Todd

        > 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.

        • Dit

          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

  • B0B

    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.

    • Timmy

      it does work ! it moves the files very quicky

    • allison

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

  • loppan

    works fine for me. thanks for the info.

  • Pete

    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 🙂

    • CJ

      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.

    • Dan

      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.

    • Dan

      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.

      • Anonymous

        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. 

  • Jim

    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. : )


    • Kommon sense

      It works fine in any view.

      • Frank Rizzo

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

        • ManifoldSky

          It does work and you’re an idiot.

  • Markus

    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/)

  • Mani

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

  • Reuben

    Thanks – works beautifully on MBP 2006 OS X 10.5.8

  • Ben

    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

    • Sunil

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

  • Jbf

    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.

  • Oont

    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.

    • ox

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

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Bob Crouch

    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. 

  • Kommon sense

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

    • [email protected]

      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.

      • Professor MacShortcuts

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

  • Kommon sense

    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.

  • Kommon sense

    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?

  • 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.

  • Norman Lund

    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”.

    • ox

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

    • Anonymous Coward

      > 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!

  • Cat

    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!

  • theo

    thank you. i’ve been searching for this.

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

  • Anil Mehta

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

  • John

    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.

  • Hatem

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

  • ara

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

  • Gene Espensen

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

  • Beth

    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!!!

  • Julio Villanueva

    Cool. I always wondered about this small but useful detail. Thanks 🙂