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How to Reveal Your Library Folder in Lion or Mountain Lion

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Did you know that you will find Library folders in three locations on your Mac? There’s a Library folder at the root-level of your hard drive, there’s a second Library folder inside the root-level System folder and another Library folder in each User’s Home folder. In the normal day-to-day course of events, you don’t need to worry about any of them, and that’s fine because they’re all hidden away from you by default. There are, however, occasions when you may need to access the User Library folder (also known as ~/Library) and this article will show you how.


A Word of Caution Before We Begin

The Library folder at the root level of your hard drive is a public ‘library’ of data that is required for all users of the Mac. The Library folder within the System folder is critical for the operation of your Mac. Don’t ever remove, rename or otherwise move this directory in any way. Leave it alone!

Locations of Library folders on your Mac
The Locations of Library Folders on Your Mac

The Library folder under each account user name (the ~/Library) is, by default, invisible in Lion and Mountain Lion versions of OS X. It is the folder that stores settings and information for various apps, among other things, and is the one that we will be revealing in this tutorial.

Tip: The User’s Library folder (~/Library) is hidden by default since most people will not require access to it. It is hidden for your own safety as it is an important folder. Don’t reveal or make any changes to this folder if you are not entirely confident as to what you’re doing.


Temporary or Permanent?

There are two modes of revealing the ~/Library folder. The first is to reveal the folder temporarily. The second is to reveal the folder permanently and there are a number of ways to achieve each.

Tip: The Library folder located with any User account is normally referred to as ~/Library.


Methods to Temporarily Reveal the ~/Library Folder

Perhaps the easiest way to temporarily reveal the ~/Library folder is to open Finder. On the menu bar, at the top, select Go to reveal the drop-down menu and then hold down the Option key (marked ALT) and you will see the ~/Library folder appear. You may now select this ~/Library folder with your mouse or trackpad.

As soon as you release the Option key, the ~/Library folder will be hidden once more.

Library from the Finder Go Menu
Select Finder's "Go" Menu and Hold the Option Key to Reveal the ~/Library Folder.

Create a Shortcut

If you want to be really clever, and learn more about customizing your Mac in the process, another way to temporarily reveal the ~/Library folder is to create a keyboard shortcut.

Click on the Apple on the menu bar and select System Preferences. In the System Preferences window, on the second row of icons, marked Hardware, select Keyboard.

Next, ensure that Keyboard Shortcuts is selected. In the left-hand pane, select Application Shortcuts. Options will be revealed in the right hand pane.

Setting Up a Keyboard Shortcut to the Library Folder
Setting Up a Keyboard Shortcut to the Library Folder

Click on the plus icon, beneath the right hand pane, to reveal a customization window. For Application select Finder, for Menu Title type Library, for keyboard hold down ⌥⌘L (the Option, Command and L keys).

Setting Up a Keyboard Shortcut to the Library Folder
Setting Up a Keyboard Shortcut to the Library Folder
Setting Up a Keyboard Shortcut to the Library Folder
Checking the Keyboard Shortcut to the Library Folder

Now, provided that no particular application is in focus (if you need to be sure, click on the Desktop, first), you will now be able to press that keyboard shortcut to launch Finder directly into the ~/Library folder.

As an added bonus, using this method has also taught you how to setup keyboard shortcuts.

These are just two examples to make your ~/Library folder temporarily visible. It is not an exhaustive list, there are many other ways in OS X to do this. If you can remember these two methods then that should be enough.

The Result of Using the Option Command L Shortcut You Created
The Result of Using the Option Command L Shortcut You Created

Methods to Permanently Reveal the ~/Library Folder

Perhaps the most straightforward method of permanently revealing the ~/Library folder is to change it’s visibility settings using Terminal.

To permanently reveal the ~/Library folder, open Finder and select your home directory (often your name), then open Terminal and place it next to Finder. This will help you to see the effects of the commands that you enter into terminal.

In Terminal, enter the following command to reveal the ~/Library folder:

chflags nohidden ~/Library/

When you press Return, you should see the ~/Library folder appear in the User directory in Finder.

Using Terminal App to Reveal the Library Folder
Using Terminal App to Reveal the Library Folder

If, at any point, you wish to hide the ~/Library folder once more, simply open Terminal and enter the following command:

chflags hidden ~/Library/

When you press Return, the ~/Library folder will be hidden in Finder.

Using Terminal App to Hide the Library Folder
Using Terminal App to Hide the Library Folder

If you prefer not to use Terminal to change the settings on your system, there is a handy menubar application called Invisiblix.

To reveal the ~/Library folder using Invisiblix, launch the application, choose File > Browse Hidden Files, and then choose your ~/Library folder in the navigation dialogue. In the next Invisiblix window, uncheck Hidden to make the ~/Library folder visible.

Likewise, to rehide the ~/Library folder follow the same procedure as above and check Hidden. Your ~/Library folder will now be hidden in Finder.

Once again, there are many ways to achieve this in OS X. Popular system tweaking tools, such as TinkerTool, now include such functionality to reveal and hide your ~/Library folder for you.


Give Me an Example Why I Might Need to Access the ~/Library Folder

Unhiding the Library folder is easy enough, but why bother? Let's look at an example. If you have followed my article for setting up VoIP on your Mac, you may have noticed, in one of the screenshots, that there is the ability to customize the incoming ringtone. To do this, you need to have access to your user ~/Library folder.

This App Allows You to Customise a Ringtone By Placing a File in the LibrarySounds Folder
This App Allows You to Customise a Ringtone By Placing a File in the ~/Library/Sounds Folder

In fact, this is something that you probably will want to do, as the default ringtones are not particularly good for the purposes of an incoming telephone ringtone.

Use one of the methods, described above, to either temporarily or permanently reveal your ~/Library folder. Once you have done so, open Finder and navigate to ~/Library/Sounds.

In this particular example, to customize the telephone incoming ringtone, simply drop an audio file, such as an MP3, into this folder. Ensuring that the file has a sensible name, go to Telephone App Preferences > Sound and you’ll be up to choose your custom ring tone from the Ringtone drop down menu.

The Result of your File in LibrarySounds
The Result of your File in ~/Library/Sounds/

Conclusion

In OS X 10.7 Lion and OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, Apple has decided to hide the ~/Library folders. As most users will not require access to these during their day-to-day activities, this makes sense. Hiding the ~/Library folders means there is less risk of an accidental deletion or change being made to a critical file.

We have seen, however, that there may be some occasions when you do need access to your ~/Library folder. In this tutorial, we have learned different ways of doing so. Now go give it a shot!

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