Smart folders take a preset search query of your choosing and filters for relevant files accordingly, making them one of the most underused and genuinely useful features of Mac OS X.
These folders have the potential to be immensely useful from a time-saving productivity standpoint, but you’ll need to take the time to set them up properly first.
What is a Smart Folder?
Here’s the most important point to remember: a smart folder is technically not a folder. It is more a saved search in a new Finder tab. This is why a smart folder is also known as a virtual folder, because unless you run that saved search, the folder will not appear.
A smart folder is therefore one that searches for the files you specify, and places them all in one location for easy viewing. This is especially useful if the files in question are scattered all over your computer, and cannot be moved together into one folder. The smart folder concept also makes an appearance with a smart playlists in iTunes, smart mailboxes in Mail and smart albums in OS X Photos.
So let’s set up a smart folder and see how it all works.
Setting Up a Smart Folder
Open a Finder window and go to File > New Smart Folder. If you prefer the keyboard ninja shortcut approach, hit command+alt+n. Either way, it opens up a new tab in Finder, which will end up being your smart folder.
You’ll be given a choice of locations to search, just click on This Mac for the search to cover your entire hard drive. Next click on the plus “+” sign in the far right of the screen.
You will then be given two menus – Kind and Any.
If you click on the first one (Kind), you will see some search parameters. Kind is the type of file you are looking for, such as the file format, when it was last opened or modified, its name, contents, and so on.
The second menu is context-based depending on what you choose in the first. With “Kind” selected it list the various types of file (Document, Image, Movie and so on) that you may want to filter for in your smart folder.
So let’s say for the sake of argument, you choose “Image”. Instantly, every image on your computer will appear on the screen, along with another menu, giving you the opportunity to finesse it even more with the type of image. The default is JPEG but you can drop the menu to choose others such as PNG, GIF, and more.
If you want to fine-tune your search even more with further parameters, click the plus “+” on the right hand side, and repeat the process. Remember that every parameter you add will make your results more exacting by omitting results based on your criteria. When you are finally satisfied with what you have selected and want to save your smart folder, click the Save button on the right.
Next you’ll need to assign a name to your search. You can also say whether or not you want the search to appear in the sidebar of Finder. For the sake of simplicity, I named the search “JPEG Images”.
To find all of your saved searches, simply go to Library > Saved Searches. You may want to drag that box to the sidebar of Finder instead, so you have ready and instant access to all of your searches.
It’s super easy to edit a saved search. Just click on the search you want to alter, and then click the gears icon at the top of the screen. Click on Show Search Criteria to be taken to the filters again.
Is That It?
In case you are thinking that this is limited to text files or images, let me show you what else smart folders can do. Remember the Kind menu at the beginning? Well, as you can see, that menu has Other at the bottom, and that opens up a huge number of other potential filters:
There are ones for music files, image editing, encryption methods, email, calendars, fonts, and much more. Just uncheck the boxes for the ones you want to include in your filter, and uncheck any that you don’t want included. It’s all very flexible.
There are so many uses for smart folders, that it is limited only by your imagination. My favorite one is filtering out all the huge files taking up the most space on my tiny Macbook Air hard drive. I can then decide whether to keep them or delete them. And what makes smart folders really smart is that the saved search continually updates, as you add files or delete them to your drive.
Smart Folders You Need
Here are some smart folders which you should be setting up on your Mac. No doubt it will spark more ideas.
Find Out Where All The Huge Files Are
I made it 500MB, but of course, you can change that to whatever you want.
Find & Delete .DMG Installers
Because they do tend to stack up a bit. If you find your downloads folder is constantly clogged up, you should start taking the trash out automatically!
Find Apps You Haven’t Opened In A While
This one has multiple time periods, or you can specify your own. This helps you do a bit of spring cleaning by seeing at a glance what you haven’t used recently.
See All .MOV files But Exclude .MP4 Files
The second part of this filter can be achieved by holding down the Option key while pressing the “+” button. The “+” then becomes three little dots. Click on that, and you will get what you see above. You could use this for any media or filetype — .JPEGs instead of .PNGs, .DOCX instead of .RTF and so on.
Filter By (Multiple) Tags
If you right-click on a file, and choose “Get Info”, you are able to tag the file with keywords. If you want to filter a smart folder by only certain tags (like unfinished work you want to get back to or photos you want printed in one go) then create a filter to do so.
Fine-Tune Your Recently Created Documents List
If you work a lot on your Mac then it may be useful for you to see all of your recent work in one folder. You can specify a custom time period and make it more specific to your needs by focusing on certain file types (like .XLS spreadsheets) while ignoring everything else.
Generate iTunes Playlist By Genre
iTunes also employs uses smart folders, which it aptly dubs smart playlists. Open iTunes and select File > New > Smart Playlist and you will get a box like the one above. You can then filter by artist, album, genre, and many more, or you can have 25 songs selected at random if you want a surprise.
Find Your iPhone Photos in OS X Photos
Just like iTunes, OS X new Photos app also employs smart folders as smart albums. These work in an identical manner, allowing you to run a custom query for specific attributes. One handy smart album filters by camera type in order to show you only your smartphone images — if you have multiple years of photos spanning several devices, be sure to include them all!
What smart folders do you use on your Mac?