Mac OS X Dock explained

What is Mac OS X Dock ? It’s the beautiful thing on the bottom of your screen, the thing you either love or hate, but the thing you can’t live without after you’ve been using it for a while. It provides easy access to some of the applications on your Mac, displays which applications are currently running, and holds windows in their minimized state.

Dock 1

What are these icons ?

The icons are representing applications you have on your Mac. Some have been placed there during the OS X installation, others are placed there by the user. Sometimes you will see the little black triangle, just below the icon, this means this application is running.

Dock 2

When the application that runs in the background needs your attention, the Dock icon will bounce until you click on it. For example, you are encoding a video in iMovie, and since this may take a while, you are reading your emails. Suddenly iMovie wants to notify you that encoding is fished and the icon will bounce until you click on it or on the iMovie windows itself. If you would like to turn this feature off, bad news – you can’t.

Mail and RSS count

Some applications may provide some additional information via the dock icon, such as Mail and RSS readers. On the picture above you see a little red ‘sticker’ on the Mail icon, this means I have 15 unread emails in my inbox.


Dock is divided in two sections, the larger one on the left, and the smaller one on the right. It’s divided by, well guessed, the divider.

Dock 3

On the left hand side are the Dock application icons and applications currently running. On the right of the divider you will find the trash can, minimised applications and any folders you may have placed in the Dock. You can right-click (Ctrl-click) the divider to change some of the Docks preferences, such as position or magnification.

Application status

This may sound a little confusing, so let me explain. When you see an icon in the dock without the triangle below it, this means application is closed. When there is a triangle, but the application is not on your screen – the application is running, or better – it’s loaded into the memory and can be accesses instantly. If you have a triangle and the application is on your screen, this means application is open.

If you now click on the little yellow button on top left of the application window, the application will go into the minimised state and you will see a small icon in the right half of your Dock. This is not the application icon, but rather icon that represents the screenshot of the window the application is using. One cool thing is – if this is a movie in QuickTime, you will see the movie playing in that icon.

Finally, you can have an open application that has a few windows open, that is taking a bit too much of your screen real estate and you don’t really need it right now. You can press Cmnd-H on your keyboard to hide the application. All windows that belong to it will vanish from your screen. The icon will still be in the dock with the little triangle, so click on it to get all the windows back. If you use TinkerTool, you can make the hidden application icon transparent, which is really helpful when your screen gets overcrowded.

How can you add applications to the Dock?

There are three ways to do this. Firstly, you can go to Finder / Applications, select application icon you want to add and simply drag it to the Dock. Please note – this will not move your application anywhere, it’s just creating a shortcut to it – the dock icon.

Secondly, you can start the application from the Finder and once the icon appears in the dock right click (Ctrl-click) on it and select ‘Keep In Dock’. And finally, same as before, but you don’t have to right click on it, rather click and drag it to a different position in Dock. Once you exit application, the icon will stay in Dock.

Removing from the dock

Similar to adding, you can remove icons from the Dock in three ways. One is to right-click (Ctrl-click) the icon and click ‘Remove from the Dock’. You can also simply click the icon and drag it off the Dock somewhere onto the desktop and the icon will disappear in a puff of the smoke (pretty cool).

Puff Smoke If the application is till running, you can do the same as before, but once you see the smoke, the icon will happily jump back into the dock. Worry not, the icon knows it’s persona-non-grata, and will disappear once you close the application.

Rearranging icons

You can rearrange icons in Dock by simply dragging them around. Click and drag an icon in-between the other two, and they will happily move over and make some room.

Hiding the dock

If you need your entire screen and the dock is in the way, you can hide it. There are three ways if doing this. The easiest one is to simply type Cmnd-Option-D on your keyboard.

You can also right-click (OK, by now you already know you can also Ctrl-click) the divider and select ‘Turn Hiding On’ from the menu. Or simply open the System Preferences, navigate to Dock and tick ‘Automatically hide and show the Dock”

Right-click the icon

If you right-click the icon in dock, you will see the menu like this

Dock 4

Remove from Dock clearly removes this icon from the Dock. Open at Login will add this application into your Login items, so next time (and every time after that) you log in, the program will automatically start. Show in Finder is very useful, it will take you straight to Applications folder (or wherever you have this application installed) and will select it for your action.

Force quit

If an application locks up and you can’t close it in the normal way, you can try one of these things. Either Option-right-click on the icon and select Force quit from the menu, or press Cmnd-Option-Esc on your keyboard, select the application that doesn’t respond and click Force Quit.

Customising the dock

You can customise the Dock in two ways. One is to right click the Dock divider and select item from the menu. You can auto-hide the Dock, toggle magnification, change Docks position on the screen or change the effect when minimising windows.

You can also change the size of the Dock icons by clicking the divider and dragging the pointer up and down. A bit edgy, though.

Dock Cust

If you click the “Dock preferences” you will go directly to the Dock section of System Preferences (You can also click System Preferences and then select the Dock).

Pref Pane

One of the things you can do here, but can’t do when right-clicking the divider, is to specify the amount of magnification.

Transparent dock

You may have noticed that the Dock on these screenshots looks a bit transparent. You can do this with Application Enhancer, it’s really easy.

Folders in Dock

Finally, here is a cool thing you can do. You can open Finder, click on the start up disk ico (usually called Macintosh HD) and then select the Applications folder. Click this folder and drag it to the Dock, to the right of the divider.

Now, if you click on this folder, it will open the Applications folder in Finder. But if you right-click on it, it will expand the vertical list of all aplications in that folder.

10 thoughts on “Mac OS X Dock explained

  1. CrimsonCrow says:

    C’mon! Please, identify the icons in your Dockshots!

    “Finally, here is a cool thing you can do. You can open Finder, click on the start up disk ico (usually called Macintosh HD) and then select the Applications folder. Click this folder and drag it to the Dock, to the right of the divider.”

    You can also drag your Home folder, the whole Macintosh HD, etc.

  2. Zach says:

    Instead of Ctrl+Click-ing, you can also hold-click. Click with your mouse button and hold it down for a short time, and it acts the same as a right click. I prefer it to having to use a second button, especially on a notebook’s single button.

  3. w.pasman says:

    For me the dock is like a sore tooth. It’s ugly and mostly useless (except for the trash bin, which used to be on the desktop…). For one, I need more structure in my applications. Second, I want the icons always on the same place, as I remember the place not the name. Fixing places for icons is something that OSX has trouble with anyway…
    The old pop-up windows were waaay better. I’m now using drop drawers which works great, even better than the old pop-up windows, but it’s one of those points where OS 8.6 was better than OSX.
    Why oh why can’t you just remove the dock??? I once removed the entire dock application from the system folder, but then the system got unstable….

  4. to.avi says:

    Avi — you can’t open the Finder? You better take your computer to the Apple store right away. It sounds like your computer got broked.

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