Photo: David Nield (Gizmodo)

If you’re serious about using macOS to its full potential, then you need to be serious about making the most of the Dock—and that means tweaking and customizing it to suit your workflow, the apps you need, and the way you use your Mac. Here’s how to get the macOS Dock set up the right way for you.

macOS Dock basics

The macOS Dock sits down at the bottom of the screen by default, though you can change this: Open System Preferences from the Apple menu, then choose General and you can switch the Dock to the left or right of the screen using the check boxes.

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All sorts of other Dock settings can be customized from the same dialog box: You can change the size of the Dock, you can change the strength of the magnification effect that kicks in as you move the mouse pointer over the Dock (or turn it off altogether), you can set the animation effect for minimizing windows, and so on.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

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The tick boxes at the bottom give you even more options to play with. Untick the Automatically hide and show the Dock box to have the Dock permanently on screen, for example, or untick the Show recent applications in Dock if you don’t want to take up space with links to apps you’ve just been using.

You’ve got other options for launching apps as well, don’t forget: Cmd+Space will bring up Spotlight search, which you can use to find apps, while a pinch with three fingers and a thumb on the trackpad brings up the iOS-style Launchpad.

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Adding and organizing apps

Speaking of the Launchpad, you can drag apps to the Dock right from it. You can also add app shortcuts by dragging them in from the Applications folder in Finder, and indeed just about everywhere else in macOS where program shortcuts appear. To change the order of icons, just click and drag them.

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If you’ve got an app icon in the Dock, but it isn’t there permanently—it might just be open at the moment, or it might be in the recent apps list—click and hold (or Cmd+click) on it, then choose Options and Keep in Dock to pin it to the Dock permanently.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

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To remove shortcuts from the Dock—all those Apple apps that get included by default on a fresh macOS install, maybe—just drag them out until the Remove label appears. Alternatively, click and hold (or Cmd+click) on a shortcut, then choose Options and Remove from Dock.

Using a Terminal trick you can add spaces to the Dock, if you want to group your icons more clearly. From the Terminal prompt, type “defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-apps -array-add ‘{”tile-type”=”spacer-tile”;}’; killall Dock” and hit Enter for every space you want to add—these spaces can be rearranged and removed like any other Dock icon.

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Adding other shortcuts

The Dock isn’t just for app shortcuts—you can keep links to files, folders, and websites in there. By default you’ll see some recently used folders as well as open applications down on the right-hand side of the Dock (if it’s anchored at the bottom), but this section can be easily tweaked if needed.

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Adding files and folders is as easy as dragging them down from a Finder window. Make sure to put them on the right-hand side of the Dock, rather than dropping them on top of an app (which will open up the chosen file in the chosen app—if you didn’t know about that little trick, now you do).

Screenshot: Gizmodo

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To add websites, drag the website favicon (the little site logo) from the address bar down to the Dock (on secure sites, it may well just be a padlock symbol). Any site you click on in the Dock will open in your default browser, no matter which browser you used to copy the link in the first place.

Click once on folder icons in the Dock to preview their contents and to open files (Cmd+click the icon to change how this appears); you can also choose Open in Finder to do just that. Single files in the Dock open with a single click in whichever program is assigned to handle them. To remove files, folders, or websites from the Dock, drag them up the screen until Remove appears, or click and hold (or Cmd+click) and choose Remove from Dock (which might be behind Options).

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macOS dock extras and features

Dragging files from Finder on top of app shortcuts to open them, as mentioned above, is one Dock trick you might not know about. Another is to Option+click on the Dock icon for the app that’s currently open to go back to the app you were using previously—a handy way of switching between apps.

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Another keyboard shortcut you can use is Option+Cmd+click, which when applied to an app icon, switches to that app and minimizes all the others you’ve got open on screen. Use it when you need to cut down on the on-screen clutter and start fresh with a different app.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

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Other options will appear if you click and hold (or Cmd+click) on icons in the Dock, depending on the program you’re dealing with—you can use it to quickly switch to open windows in a web browser or Finder, for example. If System Preferences is in the Dock, the pop-up menu will lead you to all its different sections.

And finally, to quickly adjust the size of the Dock, move the mouse pointer over one of the separator lines, then drag up or down. You can also Cmd+click on a separator line for quick access to other Dock settings, including auto-hide and icon magnification.

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