1. Computer Skills

Alfred 3 Explained—Part 1

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When Alfred 2 was released, you couldn't load Alfred 1 workflows to Alfred 2 directly. The workflows had to be entirely re-written. Even though Alfred 3 has new features and improvements, the Alfred 2 workflows can be loaded easily and used in Alfred 3

Whilst many of them work fine, in Alfred 3, you will need to be mindful of potential problem areas. 

In this tutorial, I'll show explain the many new features of Alfred 3 and some of the possible problems you'll encounter when migrating from Alfed 2.

Size Reduction and Speedup

Alfred 3 came with a big surprise: it runs much faster than Alfred 2

When you check the program size, you'll see that it is smaller as well. Alfred 3 is 6.2 MB in size, while Alfred 2 is 9 MB. The size difference is due to optimizations and less reliance upon 3rd party libraries. They have put a lot of effort to make Alfred 3 the best experience possible.

There are many bug fixes and other tweaks that are too numerous to list in this one tutorial. I am just covering the largest and most visible changes that will impact your usage of Alfred. If you would like to know the full extent of the changes, please consult the full change log.

Text Expansion and Snippets

One of the expanded features is Alfred 3’s snippets

Alfred 2 accessed snippets from the Alfred prompt. With Alfred 3, the snippets are expandable from the Alfred 3 prompt or by typing a keyword. 

In the Alfred 3 prompt, the snippet is placed in the clipboard for pasting by the user, while the text expansion trigger deletes the trigger text and pastes the snippet. 

It doesn’t have all the features of a dedicated text expander program, but works great for most cases.


The snip command, in the Alfred prompt, allows you to see all the snippets and search through it. This command is changeable to whatever works best for you. Evoking the snippet this way puts the snippet in the clipboard for pasting.

When you check the Automatically expand snippets by keyword option, add a keyword for the snippet, and check the A→ column for the snippet, and then type the keyword, the keyword is deleted and replaced with the snippet. 

This works just like most text expander type programs available. You can also add macros to the snippets. The following macros are available:

Macro Expansion
{date} The current date formatted as May 30, 2016. You can specify the date format with a colon and an Unicode LDML format. For example: {date:yy-MM-dd: hh:mm} will expand to “16–05–30: 22:29”.
{time} The current time formatted as “8:43 PM”.
{clipboard} The current clipboard contents is placed into the snippet.

As you can see in the image, you can now make snippet collections and import/export them as needed. You can share your snippets with others and get snippets from others. They are working to add a repository for snippets on the Alfred website.

Pasteboard Menu

Alfred has had a way to see the clipboard history with the default Alt-Cmd-C hotkey. In Alfred 2, the clipboard viewer only allowed plain text views. 

Now, you can view any type of content just like it was a quick view of that item in Finder.

Clipboard History with PicturesClipboard History with PicturesClipboard History with Pictures
Clipboard History with Pictures

Many have requested the viewing of graphic formats in the clipboard viewer. It is now a part of Alfred 3. If only Alfred 3 would show the time length of audio/video files, that would be even better.

Theme Changes

The theme editor and themes for Alfred 3 has changed.

Alfred Theme EditorAlfred Theme EditorAlfred Theme Editor
Alfred Theme Editor

The icon in the upper left corner allows you to adjust the amount of blur in the . In Alfred 2, that feature was a hack. Now, it is a part of the program and works really well.

You will notice that the cog icon that was in the right hand corner of the hat in the Alfred Browser is no longer there. There is no longer an option to show/not show the cog in the preferences. 

The developer took that item out of Alfred to improve the theming. The preferred way to open the Alfred preferences is to show the Alfred Prompt and type Cmd-, (Command and comma).

Font Selecting MenuFont Selecting MenuFont Selecting Menu
Font Selecting Menu

By secondary-clicking on any text area while the Fonts selector is active, a pop-up will show the current font at the top with a list of available fonts. 

You can also scroll through the fonts using the scroll wheel of a mouse or two fingers on the track pad. You can now pick any font that is on your system. 

Just remember that if you create a theme for sharing, other systems will need to have that font as well.

By clicking on the different areas of the Alfred Prompt while the Theme option selected, the bottom text area will tell you what can change. 

By clicking on a corner, it will show the options for changing the roundness by dragging, or the window border color by clicking on it. More areas of the Alfred Prompt are theme-able in Alfred 3 than was possible with Alfred 2.

The Alfred team is working on making themes shareable and downloadable directly from the theme page. This will make sharing of themes and discovery of themes easier.

Be Aware

Most Alfred 2 workflows work out of the box except for AppleScript scripts that hardcoded references to Alfred 2. When you remove Alfred 2 and execute the script, it will ask to pick out the Alfred 2 program. Just select Alfred 3, and all AppleScript calls will then reference Alfred 2 as Alfred 3.

Also, depending on how you remove Alfred 2, the data and cache directories might or might not be deleted. If the Alfred 2 workflow had those directories hardcoded (which, it seems that most of them do), then it might act funny or not work depending on what it stores in those directories. 

If those directories aren’t removed, then the workflows will keep on working and use the Alfred 2 data and cache directories instead of the Alfred 3 data and cache directories.

I have around 80 Alfred workflows on my system and most of them still worked fine after upgrading, but I made sure the Alfred 2 directories where left in place. All of my themes migrated fine. 

The Alfred team worked hard to make this an easy update.


Now that I've given you a taste of the new features in Alfred 3, go have fun using them. The next tutorial will describe the many changes in Alfred workflows. I also have an example workflow that makes use of many of the new features in Alfred 3

For now, practice using the things I've explained in this tutorial.

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