Apple has made macOS very good at handling drag and drop. For example, I often take a photo directly from the Photos app or Safari and put it in iMessage or Slack. However, one thing that always slowed me down is moving more traditional files, such as PDFs or other documents.
But then I discovered that quite a few apps, including many of the built-in ones, have a quick shortcut to get to the file you’re viewing. 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 search for the file in the Finder. This is how it works:
The trick is to use the title bar, the area where Apple places the traffic light-style window controls and the name of the open file and other buttons depending on the app. If you hover over that filename for a moment, you may see a small icon to the left of it. (Some apps don’t need the mouse pointer.) This is what makes us do our magic. If you click and drag on that icon, you are essentially clicking and dragging on the actual file as if you were using the file manager.
Just to be clear, this isn’t a new feature of the latest macOS beta or anything. I’m pretty sure I heard about it when someone mentioned it in the context of features that have been around for so long that young whippersnappers like me have never heard of it. So yeah, I’m a little late to the party here. But now that I’ve finally learned about it, I use it all the time.
One of my most common use cases is when I need to read a PDF for work and then upload it to DocumentCloud so I can embed it in an article. I used to do that by minimizing Preview and then looking for the document on my crowded desktop, using Quick Look (the thing that previews a document when you press the spacebar) to make sure that I didn’t upload the wrong thing. Now I can just drag and drop the thing I’m reading directly from Preview, just like I do in the GIF above.
I’ve also found plenty of other ways to use the feature. If I have Finder in some mode, I can use it to quickly copy the path of the folder I’m in to Terminal. (Bonus tip: If you drag and drop a file or folder into Terminal, macOS appends the path to it.) I’ve even used this feature in QuickTime to have the GIFs you’ve seen in this article recorded on the screen.
While this doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re just using this feature to share files between apps, I have one word of caution if, like me, you’re thinking “wait, what happens if I move the file from the title bar to a Finder window?” The answer is that it will Action the file from wherever it is to wherever you put it. That’s a reasonable standard I guess, but it could be confusing if you assumed it was copying and pasting the file instead of cutting and pasting it.
Unfortunately, this is not something every app can do. For example, I couldn’t find a way to grab files from Obsidian or Photoshop – although the latter isn’t really surprising. But there are quite a few apps that I’ve been able to use it with, including Pages, Blender, Logic Pro, Nova, and even Microsoft Word of all things. If there’s an app that you often look at files in, it’s worth checking to see if it supports this feature; you never know when it will come in handy.
But wait, I have one last bonus tip if you get stuck in the title bar – but if I’m being honest, it’s a bonus because I haven’t come across any situations where it would be helpful. In addition to dragging the file icon, you can also right-click it to see which folder that file is in (and which folder That folder is located, and so on, and so on). From there, you can use the list to quickly open a Finder window navigated to that folder.
While the discovery of this system wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation that increased my productivity tenfold, it has helped reduce the amount of time I’ve spent searching for files I already have open. And that’s great, because having to do that can, ironically, be a real hindrance.