Understanding Stacks in Mac

Posted by Mayank on December 18, 2011 in Mac

A Stack is a Dock item that gives you fast access to a folder. When you click a Stack, the files within spring from the Dock in a fan or a grid, depending on the number of items (or the preference you set). OS X starts you off with two default Stacks: one for downloads and the other for documents.

The Downloads Stack contains files you download from browser, Mail, and iChat. The Documents Stack is a great place to keep your presentations, spreadsheets, PDFs and word processing files. You can create as many Stacks as you wish simply by dragging folders to the right side of your Dock.

Tip: Within the Stack, you can click and drag on the icons in your fan or grid stack to another folder, the Trash, an external disc icon, your desktop, or other locations.


Fan Stacks shows a portion your folder content and arrange the icons so that the closest icon to the Dock is based on the order of the “Sort by” option you have selected.

For example, the default setting of your Downloads folder is the “Sort by” option of “Date Added” – it will expand showing the icons of the most recently added items closest to the Dock.

mac stack


Grid Stacks will show the folder content as a matrix of icons arranged by your “Sort by” option.

Grid Stacks are scrollable and allow you to navigate folders. You can click a folder in the Stack to open that folder. An arrow button will appear in the upper left of the Stack you just opened. Click it to go back to the folder you came from. If there are more icons that can be shown, a scroll bar will appear.

mac grid stack

  • Return to parent folder arrow top-left corner. Click it to return to the parent folder.
  • Scroll bar – Present only when there are more icons to show.

You can customize a Stack by right-clicking or control-clicking on the stack. The customize menu will include the following options:

  • Sort by – You can select to have items sorted by Name, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, or Kind.
  • Display as – Displays the icon in the Dock as the folder’s actual icon or as a stack of icons of the folder contents.
  • View content as – Determines what Stack type is used when you click the icon:
    • Fan – Shows folder content in the Fan stack, organized by your sort option.
    • Grid – Shows folder content in the Grid stack, organized by your sort option.
    • List – Shows the folder contents as a list, organized by your sort option. Each sub-folder will open another list and so on, until you reach the end of the directory structure. To open an application or document, simply click it.
    • Automatic – This lets Lion determine the best view content option. When there are a few items, the Fan stack is used. Once you have loaded your folder with enough items, Lion will change your view content type to the Grid stack.

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