Apple + How To

Get to Know Your Mac’s Dock

Posted on December 22nd, 2016 by

How to Use Your Mac's Dock

In a recent article, we discussed how to use your Mac’s menu bar—one of the key elements you use to interact with your Mac. This time around, we’ll have a look at your Mac’s Dock, another permanent fixture on your display. We want to show you just how versatile the Dock is, so you’ll be able to use it to get the most out of your Mac.

You can use the Dock in many ways: you can open apps, you can open files by dragging them on icons in the Dock, you can open folders that you’ve stored in the Dock, and more. In the guide below, you will discover the many configuration options you have for the Dock, and the best way to turn the Dock into a high-powered productivity booster.

Positioning the Dock

By default, macOS puts the Dock at the bottom of the display. You may be used to that position, but you may want to switch it to another location. If you look at your Mac’s screen, you can see that the dock takes up a fairly large percentage of its vertical pixels when it’s at the bottom.

Dock at bottom

Example of the Dock positioned at the bottom of your screen.

You can move the Dock to either side of your display, and it will take up a smaller share of your screen’s width.


Example of the Dock positioned on the side of your screen.

Personally, I prefer having the Dock on the left side of my screen, because it is less obtrusive. In this way, I can have my windows fill the entire height of my display, and see more in each of my apps.

Hiding the Dock

Did you know you can set the Dock to hide when you don’t need it? To do this—and to apply other Dock settings, which I’ll cover later in this article—open System Preferences, and then click the Dock icon. You’ll see a number of settings.


When you check the box next to “Automatically hide and show the Dock,” this element only displays the Dock when you move your cursor to where it is located, either on the side or the bottom of your screen. If you have the Dock at the bottom of your display, it slides out when you move your cursor to that edge; the same is the case if you have the Dock at the side.

If you use this setting, the Dock’s position matters less, since it won’t get in your way. And when you open new windows, they’ll use the full height or width of your display.

Changing the Dock’s Size

In the first two screenshots above (under Positioning the Dock), it shows the default Dock in a new user account, albeit I’ve removed some of the icons to make the Dock a bit larger than it appears by default. (Apple puts lots of icons in the Dock.) The Dock adapts its height to fit the number of icons it contains. If you have lots of icons, it will never be very large, but if you trim its contents, you can have a Dock that is larger and, perhaps, easier to use.

To do this, go to the Dock preference pane and drag the Size slider. This size is the maximum height of the Dock; if you have many icons, it will still change its size to fit them all in the available width (if the Dock is at the bottom) or height (if it’s on the side).

Try different sizes and see what works for you.

Magnifying the Dock

In the early days, the Dock’s magnification was on by default; these days, now it’s off by default. When you select this setting, the Dock icons increase in size when you hover your cursor over them. This has the advantage of providing a bigger target when you drag a file to the Dock, but you may, like me, find it a distraction.


Example of the Dock’s magnification setting turned on.

Try it out and see if you like it, you may find it useful!

Adding and Removing Items from the Dock

As I mentioned earlier above, I removed some icons from the Dock to take screenshots. It’s easy to remove items from the Dock: just click, hold and drag an icon away from the Dock. You will need to move it a bit away from the Dock, and when you’ve gone far enough, a small Remove tag displays next to the icon. Simply release it and it goes poof.

Note that you can’t do this if the Dock’s magnification is turned on. In this case, right click on the icon, then choose Options > Remove from Dock.

You can also add items to the Dock. Take a look at your Dock, and you can see a divider between the Applications section of the Dock (on the left or top) and the other side, which, in the screenshots above, contains the Downloads folder and the Trash (on the right or bottom). You can add any application to the left (or top) section, just by dragging it to the Dock.

Furthermore, if you open an app, its icon shows in the Dock while it’s open. To keep it in the Dock permanently, right-click the icon, and then choose Options > Keep in Dock. To add a file or folder to the right (or bottom) section, just drag it there.

You can also change the order of icons in the Dock. Just click and drag, and place an icon in a new location. As you can see, it’s simple to do and can make the Dock appear more organized for you.

Animating the Dock

The Dock preferences have a few settings for the way things animate in the Dock, or when you minimize windows by clicking the yellow button at the top left of a window. Go to your  menu, choose System Preferences > Dock. From there, you can use the Genie Effect or Scale Effect, for instance; choose the one you prefer. You can also choose to “Animate opening applications,” which means the Dock icons bounce when you launch apps. Again, this is a personal choice; personally, I’ve turned it off. I have found the “Show indicators for open applications” setting to be useful, because it adds a small black dot below or to the side of an app’s icon when it’s open.

Try the animation effects out and see which ones you prefer.

Controlling Apps from the Dock

For some apps, you can click and hold the Dock icon to access controls. For example, with iTunes you can choose Play, or choose the Next or Previous track, as well as change settings such as Shuffle and Repeat. With Safari you can open a new window, and with Mail you can create a new message and more.

You can also quit apps from the Dock. To do this, simply click and hold the Dock icon and choose Quit. And if you ever have an unresponsive app, press the Option key, and then click and hold its Dock icon; that menu item becomes Force Quit.

Final Thoughts…

The Dock is a powerful interface element. It lets you control and work with apps, and even store files and folders. You can drag files onto icons in the Dock to open them with specific apps, and you can quit apps from the Dock. Use these tips to get the most out of your Mac’s Dock, and you’ll be a lot more productive.

Are you new to Mac?

Want to get the most out of your MacBook, iMac or other Apple computer? Whether this is your first laptop or you’ve just switched from Windows, there are a few things you should know about your new Mac, like basic keyboard shortcuts or how to use the various features macOS has to offer. Learn more about what your Mac computer can do for you at the Intego New Mac User Center: Get started now!

About Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about Macs, iPods, iTunes, books, music and more on his blog Kirkville. He is co-host of the Intego Mac Podcast and PhotoActive, and a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS, and several other websites and publications. Kirk has written more than twenty books, including Take Control books about iTunes, LaunchBar, and Scrivener. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →