In many windows on the Mac (primarily the Finder and document-focused apps), a tiny icon sits next to the window’s name. It’s called the proxy icon, and as its name suggests, it’s a stand-in for the Finder icon for whatever appears in the window. You can drag a document’s proxy icon to an app in the Dock to open it, to Mail to attach it to the current message, to the Trash to delete it, to an Open or Save dialog to navigate to the proxy icon’s location, and so on. Nearly anything you do with an icon in the Finder, you can do with a proxy icon.
In macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple started hiding the proxy icon by default, revealing it only when you moused over the window name. Luckily, starting in macOS 12 Monterey, Apple made it a setting. I published a tip about how to reveal it permanently last year, and it’s something I set on all my Macs because I use proxy icons regularly.
For this week’s Do You Use It? poll, I’m curious: how often do you use proxy icons? And for those who interact with them regularly, let us know what your favorite uses are in the discussion so we can give them a try too. To prime the pump, read this 2010 article Sharon Zardetto wrote for Macworld.
I re-enabled it the moment Apple tried to hide it. IMHO a key Mac advantage. Wouldn’t want to work on a system without it. Most of the time I use it to drag to an open/save dialog or to get to the parent folder. Sometimes also to view in another app. I’d love if I could shorten the delay or even get rid of it entirely — it’s always bummed me out a bit that I couldn’t find a modifier key that would give me instant access to the proxy icon. Double click is the closest I came.
My most common use is when I want to change the directory in a Terminal window to a long path - I just type
followed by a space and then drag the proxy icon into the Terminal window - that pastes the path that corresponds with the icon.
Sometimes when I’m doing lots of work within an application that requires external file access in a particular folder (such as adding content to a Word document) I’ll drag the proxy icon into the Finder sidebar to get a quick way to get to that folder.
I too use them while working in Terminal (well, iTerm2) fairly often. Both to cd somewhere, and when running some command that takes a directory. While I could probably live without them, they certainly make some things easier.
The proxy icon I really miss is the one for a mail message. You used to be able to open a mail message in a separate window, then drag its proxy icon to create an alias to that message. For example, drag the proxy to a folder, and it creates an Internet location (.inetloc) alias file. Open that file later, and it opens the mail message it points to.
You can still create these mail aliases but it is cumbersome. But they’re so useful for collecting documents, web locations, and related mail messages all together in one place.
Does anyone remember what was the last OS X version with the mail message proxy?
There is an incredibly useful little CLI app I have that at any time returns the path to the foremost Finder window. It goes by posd but for the life of me I cannot figure out where I got it. There’s a link here to an alternate solution that basically does the same thing but using AppleScript wrapped in a shell script.
The beauty of this is that you can then set up a simple alias such as
alias cdf='cd "$(posd)"'
and then whenever you’re in a shell, you just use that cdf to push you to the directory the Finder is currently showing. In a sense, this is the reverse of
which would open a Finder window at your current shell path.
These little helpers are really useful for those of us who often have to go back and forth between shell and Finder.
I use proxy icons constantly, for almost all the applications already mentioned.
You can still do something like that without the proxy icon. Mail displays a line between the displayed headers and the body of the message. Drag from anywhere above that line. It doesn’t create an .inetloc file. It makes a .eml file — an actual copy of the message — that will open in Mail (and probably some other email programs).
I think I found some info about the original application.
If you scroll further down the same StackOverflow page to this entry, you find someone referring to the pos package in the Fink system. (That takes me back.)
Searching the Fink package database turns up pos version 1.2-1. (I haven’t tried to download it from Fink.)
It appears that POS was written by Gary Kerbaugh. A google search turns up Terminal-Finder Interactions in OS X page referring to pos and providing a download link from Kerbaugh’s page at Fayetteville State University. (The link is dead.)
The UC page refers to the same alias, and indicates that posd is an osascript embedded in a shell script. So, maybe the StackOverflow script is similar to the original posd.
Like others here, I find proxy icons essential to how I use the Mac and have done since the days of classic Mac OS. Luckily I skipped over Big Sur so never had to live through the dark days They are such a time saving feature. My uses, including many already mentioned:
dragging a file into Yoink to ‘put it aside’ for using in some other way a bit later (often one of the following uses)
inserting path to folder or file in the terminal
selecting folder or file in open/save
dragging a file to open it in an alternate application
attaching to an email
The one thing that you can’t do with proxy icons which I wish was possible is drag them to the Trash. I mean you can drag them to the trash, but it does nothing. I wish I could trash a file by dragging its proxy icon there (and then have the app automatically close the window). It’s not a frequent need, but has come up surprisingly often to be frustrating when it doesn’t work.
I’ve been using Proxy Icons regularly for as long as I can remember. Primarily, I use them to open files in another app that is not the default. It also comes in handy when using the terminal to save typing file paths and such.