Thoughtful, detailed coverage of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, plus the TidBITS Content Network for Apple consultants.

Dealing with Lion’s Hidden Library

Throughout its history, Apple has been focusing ever more on the new user and others who have no desire to access the bits under the hood. In fact, the very first releases of Mac OS X made a number of key system-level directories hidden. But with Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple is going even further, and in a move that will likely reduce complexity while irritating long-time Mac users, Lion hides a previously visible user-level directory: the user’s Library folder.

What’s a little odd about this is that many users have very good reasons to want to work with items in the ~/Library folder, but other Library folders that users should not generally mess with — the top-level /Library and /System/Library folders — remain visible (though modifying them requires administrator privileges).

Luckily, there are a variety of ways for those of us who do wish to access our user Library folders to do so, and I’ll explain those shortly. But first, a short digression.

Developers, Avoid the Documents Folder -- More concerning is a move we’ve seen among some developers (who shall remain nameless, as we encourage them to reverse these decisions) to move certain application support folders from ~/Library/Application Support to ~/Documents under the theory that users need to access these folders and won’t find them in a hidden ~/Library folder.

On the face of it, the move makes sense. For instance, BBEdit stores its scripts in ~/Library/Application Support/BBEdit/Scripts. If Bare Bones was worried that users wouldn’t be able to find that folder in Lion, they might consider moving the entire BBEdit application support folder to somewhere that users can access easily, such as ~/Documents.

If only one or two applications do this, it’s not a big deal. But were the practice to become commonplace, the ~/Documents folder would quickly become cluttered with these application support folders, reducing usability and causing headaches for users who assume, rightly, that they should control what appears in ~/Documents. Apple agrees, and in the section of the Mac OS X Developer Library about where to put application files, Apple says:

Don’t Pollute User Space

It is important to remember that the user domain (/Users) is intended for files created by the user. With the exception of the ~/Library directory, your application should never install files into the user’s home directory. In particular, you should never install files into a user’s Documents directory or into the /Users/Shared directory. These directories should only be modified by the user.

Even if your application provides clip art or sample files that the user would normally manipulate, you should place those files in either the local or user’s Library/Application Support directory by default. The user can move or copy files from this directory as desired. If you are concerned about the user finding these files, you should include a way for the user to browse or access them directly from your application’s user interface.

In fact, that is what Bare Bones does in BBEdit now — the first item in the Scripts menu is Open Scripts Folder, and choosing it does just that — opens a Finder window displaying the contents of ~/Library/Application Support/BBEdit/Scripts.

So, a plea to Mac developers — please keep your application support files in ~/Library even though it’s hidden, and, if it’s important that users be able to access those folders, provide an interface within your application.

Accessing the Library Folder in Lion -- While Apple clearly believes that most users shouldn’t be messing around in the ~/Library folder, the company is aware that many of us do need quick access to it. So the new way of viewing ~/Library is to hold the Option key and choose Go > Library in the Finder. You can even press Option after you drop the Go menu. Of course, you could also choose Go > Go to Folder (Command-Shift-G) and enter ~/Library in the dialog that appears, but that’s unnecessary effort.

Once you can see the ~/Library folder, you can drag its icon (or its proxy icon from a Finder window’s title bar) to either the toolbar or sidebar of a Finder window. Once there, accessing it is merely a matter of clicking the icon.

If you’d just like your ~/Library to be visible normally in the Finder, that’s easy too; just enter this command in Terminal:

chflags nohidden ~/Library

And if you wish to reverse that action, just repeat the command without no, as in:

chflags hidden ~/Library

That’s all there is to it — regardless of whether you agree with Apple’s decision to hide the ~/Library folder, there’s no reason it has to get in your way.


Try productivity tools from Smile that will make your job easier!
PDFpen: PDF toolkit for busy pros on Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
TextExpander: Your shortcut to accurate writing on Mac, Windows,
and iOS. Free trials and friendly support. <>

Comments about Dealing with Lion’s Hidden Library
(Comments are closed.)

Matt Neuburg  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-20 11:41
A good trick is to go to the Library and then drag its proxy icon into your Finder window sidebar or toolbar. Now you've effectively got a button you can click to go to the LIbrary any time. (So, it's sort of an intermediate solution: you haven't made the Library visible all the time, but it's directly available without the clumsy Option business in the Go menu.) In the past, I always used this approach to go to my Library anyway, so Lion represents no change for me in this regard!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-20 11:47
Indeed. Personally, I found that not seeing the Library folder when I expected to was disconcerting, and I don't use it quite enough to warrant devoting toolbar or sidebar space to it. I probably won't turn it on permanently, though, just so I'm seeing what most users are seeing.
Scott Bleackley  2011-07-21 07:51
Option-Go Menu will show Library as a selection
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-21 08:27
Yes, that's exactly what I say in the article.
Tom Gewecke  2011-07-20 12:23
I think the single most common advice you normally give someone who has a problem is to trash a .plist in Home/Library/Preferences. Explaining how to do this will be something of a pain now...
Dan Beach  2011-07-20 13:38
Perfect, clean, simple answer to the first thing that perplexed my in a new Lion install. Thanks.
Daniel Greene  2011-07-20 17:33
Thank you! I found your post by Googling "mac lion where is library". Both of your fixes work. I did the Terminal one so I don't have to bother with it anymore.
swallows  2011-07-24 19:25
Thanks to TB for pointing out the ~/Library situation in LION and how to proceed if ready access is required. I occasionally see a need to overwrite the MAIL folder inside this library by a newer one, created 'elsewhere'.
achabot  2011-12-22 03:26
I tried the Terminal trick and received a permission denied reply. Haven't got the foggiest idea what to do after that (other than the Go trick). As a long time Mac user (since the original model in 84), I find this stuff getting more and more like, gasp!, windoze...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-12-22 06:33
You might try prefixing the command with


and then entering your admin-level password when prompted. If your account isn't an admin account, you might get that error, or if permissions have gotten slightly wonky on your system (at which point Disk Utility's Repair Permissions might be instructive).
achabot  2011-12-26 09:51
Worked like a charm. Thanks Adam.
There is another very simple way that also puts the Library folder where we are used to seeing it. Do an Option-Go to open the library folder. Then in the Finder window Right-(or Control)-Click on the Library folder icon to bring up the contextual menu, and select Make Alias. The result, "Library alias" appears right where library always was. Works a treat but you can't change the name to only Library as this is already used, if invisible. You can however change the name anyway you like, only one character need be different. "Library." works for me.