Apple has made macOS very good at handling drag and drop. For example, I often pull a picture directly from the Photos app or Safari and drop it into iMessage or Slack. However, one thing that has always slowed me down is moving more traditional files, like PDFs or other documents.
But then I learned that some apps, including many of the built-in ones, have a quick shortcut to access the file you’re viewing. Using this shortcut (officially called the proxy icon), you can easily do things like upload a PDF you have open in Preview to Google Drive without having to search for the file in Finder. Is that how it works:
The trick is to use the title bar, which is the area where Apple puts traffic light-style window controls and the name of the file you have open, as well as other buttons, depending on the app. If you hover over that filename for a second, you might notice a little icon appear on the left. (Some apps don’t require scrolling.) This is what allows us to work our magic. If you click and drag that icon, it will basically click and drag the actual file as if you were using the file manager.
To be clear, this isn’t a new feature in the latest macOS beta or anything. I’m pretty sure I found out about it when someone mentioned it in the context of features that have been around for so long that young wimps like me haven’t even heard of them. So yeah, I’m a little late to the party here. But now that I finally found out, I use it all the time.
One of my most common use cases is when I have to read a PDF for work and then upload it to DocumentCloud so I can insert it into an article. I used to do that by minimizing Preview and then looking for the document on my cluttered desktop, using Quick Look (the thing that previews a document when you press space) to make sure I wasn’t loading something wrong. . Now, I can just drag and drop what I’m reading directly from the Preview, like I do in the GIF above.
I have also found many other ways to use the function. If I have Finder in a certain mode, I can use it to quickly copy the path of the folder I’m in to Terminal. (Bonus tip: If you drag and drop a file or folder into Terminal, macOS will just insert the path.) I even used this feature in QuickTime to make the screen-recorded GIFs you’ve been seeing in this article.
While this won’t necessarily apply if you just use this feature to share files between apps, I do have a warning if, like me, you’re thinking “wait, what happens if I drag the file from the title bar into a Finder window?” is that it will be Move on the file from where you currently are to where you dropped it. I guess that’s a reasonable default, but it could end up being confusing if you assumed you’d copy and paste the file instead of cut and paste.
Unfortunately, this is not something that all apps can do. I couldn’t find a way to capture files from Obsidian or Photoshop, for example, though the latter isn’t exactly amazing. But there are a fair number of apps I’ve been able to use it with, including Pages, Blender, Logic Pro, Nova, and even Microsoft Word of all things. If there is an application in which you frequently view files, it is worth checking if it supports this function; you never know when it will come in handy.
But wait, I have one last bonus tip if you stick to the title bar, though if I’m being honest it’s a bonus because I haven’t come across any situations where it’s useful. In addition to being able to drag the file icon, you can also right-click to see what folder that file is in (and what folder that folder is inside, and so on). From there, you can use the list to quickly open a Finder window by navigating to that folder.
While discovering this system wasn’t a momentous revelation that increased my productivity 10x, it did help reduce the amount of time I spent searching for files I already had open. And that’s great because having to do that can, ironically, be a real drag.