Mac OS X: Automatically Resizing Columns

Within the Finder’s list, column, and Cover Flow views, there’s an easy way to automatically resize your columns to fit the data within them. But did you know that the trick works in other programs, too? Read on to find out more, and all of you heretics who like icon view will just have to go along with the rest of us.

As you may know, you can click and drag the dividers between column headers in the Finder to enlarge and shrink them as you please. In the list and Cover Flow views, though, if you double-click one of the dividers as shown in the screenshot below, the column to the left of that will magically adjust to be the size of the longest item in the list. This is very useful if you have lots of long file names and just want to see them all without having to try to figure out how wide those columns need to be.


See how my cursor changed? That’s where you’ll double-click. This is list view, by the way.


Also, if you repeatedly double-click the divider to the right of a date column (such as “Date Modified”), you’ll cycle through the available date formats. To return this to the long form, just drag that same divider back to the right to expand the column again.

Within column view, things are a little different. To accomplish the task there, you’ll double-click the handle at the bottom-right of the column. You can also right-click there to pull up a handy contextual menu, and you can even hold down Option and then double-click that spot to automatically resize all of the columns at once!


Here’s the place to double-click within column view.


And here’s the contextual menu you get by right-clicking. Oooo, hidden stuff!


One of the great things about this is that it doesn’t just work in the Finder. You can double-click to automatically resize columns in iTunes, within the Message Viewer in Mail, and even in columns on a spreadsheet in Numbers. I could insert some kind of wrap-up sentence here about how much I love Mac OS X, but you guys are probably getting too accustomed to that, so I’ll refrain. But it hurts SO MUCH not to.


Try it out in iTunes, too. Go forth and double-click, my friends.


(Note: I wrote the above about Snow Leopard. In Lion’s Finder, things are different; double-clicking the dividers in list and Cover Flow views no longer works. Also, column view has dropped the handle referenced above, but you can still double-click, hold down Option and double-click, and right-click the dividers between columns shown in the screenshot below to perform the same actions.)