Basics of Aliases in OS X Mavericks - dummies

Basics of Aliases in OS X Mavericks

By Bob LeVitus

In OS X Mavericks, an alias is a tiny file that automatically opens the file, folder, disk, or network volume that it represents. Although an alias is technically an icon, it actually does nothing but open another icon automatically when you double-click. Aliases are organizational tools that let you have an icon appear in more than one place without having to create multiple copies of the file that icon represents.

An alias is very different from a duplicated file. For example, the iTunes application uses around 290 megabytes (MB) of hard-drive space. If you were to duplicate iTunes, you’d have two files on your hard disk, each requiring around 290MB of disk space.

An alias of iTunes, on the other hand, looks just like the original iTunes icon and opens iTunes when you double-click it but requires less than 5MB of hard disk space. So try placing aliases of programs and files you use most often in convenient places such as the Desktop or a folder in your Home folder.

But there are many other reasons why aliases rock:

  • Convenience: Aliases enable you to make items appear to be in more than one place. For example, keep an alias of your word-processor program on your Desktop and another in your Documents folder for quick access. Aliases enable you to open your word processor right away without having to navigate into the depths of your Applications folder every time you need it.

    While you’re at it, you might want to put an icon for your word processor in both the Dock and the Sidebar to make it even easier to open your word processor without a lot of clicking.

  • Flexibility and organization: You can create aliases and store them anywhere on your hard drive to represent the same document in several different folders. This is a great help when you need to file a document that can logically be stored in any of several folders.

    If you write a memo to Fred Smith about the Smythe Marketing Campaign to be executed in the fourth quarter, which folder does the document belong in? Smith? Smythe? Marketing? Memos? 4th Quarter? Correct answer: With aliases, it can go in every folder, if you like. Then you can find the memo wherever you look instead of guessing which folder you filed it in.

  • Integrity: Some programs must remain in the same folder as their supporting files and folders. Some programs, for example, won’t function properly unless they’re in the same folder as their dictionaries, thesauruses, data files (for games), templates, and so on.

    Thus, you can’t put the actual icon for such programs on the Desktop without impairing their functionality. An alias lets you access a program like that from anywhere on your hard drive.

How to create aliases in OS X Mavericks

When you create an alias, its icon looks the same as the icon that it represents, but the suffix alias is tacked onto its name, and a tiny arrow called a badge (as shown in the margin) appears in the bottom-left corner of its icon. Here is an alias and its parent icon — the icon that opens if you double-click the alias.


To create an alias for an icon, do one of the following:

  • Click the parent icon and choose File→Make Alias.

  • Click the parent icon and press Command+L.

  • Click the parent icon and use the Action menu’s Make Alias command.

  • Click an icon while holding down the Control key and then choose the Make Alias command from the contextual menu that appears.

  • Click any file or folder, press and hold down Command+Option, and then drag the file or folder while continuing to hold down Command+Option. Presto! An alias appears where you release the mouse button.

How to delete aliases in OS X Mavericks

This is a short section because deleting an alias is such an easy chore. To delete an alias, simply drag it onto the Trash icon in the Dock. That’s it! You can also Control-click it and choose Move to Trash from the contextual menu that appears, or select the icon and press Command+Delete.

Deleting an alias does not delete the parent item. (If you want to delete the parent item, you have to go hunt it down and kill it yourself.)

The alias’s parent file

Suppose that you create an alias of a file, and later you want to delete both the alias and its parent file, but you can’t find the parent file. What do you do? Well, you can use the Finder’s Find function to find it (try saying that three times real fast), but here are four faster ways to find the parent icon of an alias:

  • Select the alias icon and choose File→Show Original.

  • Select the alias icon and press Command+R.

  • Select the alias icon and use the Action menu’s Show Original command.

  • Control-click the alias icon and choose Show Original from the contextual menu.

Any of these methods opens the window containing the parent document with its icon preselected for your convenience.