Apple has made macOS very good at handling drag and drops. For example, I often snap a picture from the Photos app or Safari and drop it in iMessage or Slack. One thing that always slows me down, though, is moving around more traditional files, like PDFs or other documents.
But then I discovered that many apps, including many built-in ones, have a quick shortcut to access the file you’re looking for. Using this shortcut (officially called the proxy icon), you can easily do things like upload a PDF you opened in Preview to Google Drive without having to look for the file in Finder. Here’s how it works:
The trick is using the title bar, which is the area where Apple places 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 file name for a second, you can see that a small icon appears to the left of it. (Some apps don’t require hover.) That’s what lets us do its magic. If you click and drag on that icon, you’ll basically be clicking and dragging the actual file as if you were using a file manager.
To be clear, this isn’t a new feature of the latest macOS beta or anything. I’m pretty sure I learned about it when someone mentioned it in reference to features that have been around for so long that young whipsnappers like me have never even heard of them. So, yeah, I’m a little late to the party here. But now that I finally learned about it, I use it all the time.
One of my most common use cases is when I need to read through a PDF for work and then upload it to the document cloud so I can embed it in an article. To make sure I wasn’t uploading the wrong thing, I did this by minimizing the preview for the document on my crowded desktop and then using Quick Look (the thing that previews a document). is) was used. Now, I can drag and drop what I’m reading directly from Preview, as I do in the GIF above.
I have also discovered many other ways to use this feature. If I have Finder in a certain mode, I can use it to quickly copy the path to the folder I’m in in Terminal. (Bonus tip: If you drag and drop a file or folder into Terminal, macOS will simply insert a path to it.) I’ve also used this feature on QuickTime to create screen recorded GIFs that you can use. Looking at this article.
While this won’t necessarily apply if you’re only using this feature to share files between apps, I have a word of caution if you, like me, think “Wait, what happens? If I drag the file from the title bar into a Finder window?” The answer is that Step file from wherever it currently is wherever you left it. This is a reasonable default, I think, but it can be confusing if you consider that it will copy and paste the file instead of copy and paste it.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something every single app can do. For example, I couldn’t find a way to grab files from Obsidian or Photoshop – although the latter isn’t exactly surprising. But there are tons of apps I’ve been able to use, including Pages, Blender, Logic Pro, Nova and even Microsoft Word of all things. If there’s an app that you’ve been seeing files on frequently, it’s worth checking if it supports this feature; You never know when it will come in handy.
But wait, I have one last bonus tip in case you’re sticking around in the title bar – although if I’m being honest, it’s a bonus because I haven’t run into any situations where this would be useful. In addition to being able to drag the file icon, you can also right-click it to see what folder that file resides in (and which folder He folder, and so on and so on). From there, you can use the list to quickly open a Finder window that navigates to that folder.
While discovering this system wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation that 10x-ed my productivity, it has helped reduce the time it took me to find files I already had open. And that’s great because doing so, ironically, can be a real drag.