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  1. Computer Skills
  2. OS X
Computers

How to Toggle Within and Between Apps in OS X

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:

Toggling is switching between applications or tabs within the same application using keyboard shortcuts. In doing so, you will be able to move around the Mac OS more efficiently, and get more done in less time.

In this tutorial and screencast, I will show you how to quickly and easily move from program to program while keeping your hands on the keyboard.


What You Will Learn

The various types of toggling I will demonstrate are:

  • Toggling from one on-screen application to another
  • Toggling up a minimized application
  • Toggling between two tabs in a tabbed application
  • Opening a new tab in a tabbed application
  • Closing a tab/window
  • Toggling between two windows of the same application.

Screencast


Toggling in and Between Apps in OS X

Toggling Open and On-Screen Applications

The most basic toggle is simply switching from one on-screen application to another.  Imagine that I have both TextEdit and Safari open and on screen.  Now suppose I want to quickly switch between those two.

I will simply hold down the Command key and tap the Tab key once.  This will launch the toggle pane.  It will look something like this:

toggle-toggle-pane-demo
Tip: The toggle pane you see on your computer will be different depending on the applications that are currently running when you attempt this. As you can see, I was running TextEdit, Safari, Screenflow, Finder, Chrome, and Keynote.

I will continue tapping the Tab key until Safari is highlighted.  Once the program I would like to toggle to is highlighted, I will remove my thumb from the Command key.  This will instantly make Safari the active application.


Toggling Up a Minimized Application

Occasionally, the application I want to toggle to has been minimized to my dock.  In this situation, attempting a basic toggle will not bring that application up and onto the screen.  I will see the toggle bar.  I will be able to tap the Tab key until the application is highlighted.  But when I release the Command key, it will appear as if nothing has happened.

toggling-minimized-toggle

To toggle up a minimized program, I will perform the same basic toggle, but before removing my thumb from the Command key, I will roll it to and also hold down the Command key's next door neighbor: the Option key.  Then I can release them both.

Rolling to the Option key before releasing the Command key tells the operating system that I wish to toggle up that minimized application.


Toggling, Opening, and Closing Tabs

These days many applications support tabbed browsing.  In these applications you will see the ability to use the same window within the same application, but run several different tasks all on separate tabs.  Most web browsers, including Safari, provide a great example of this.  I may have one tab open on net.tutsplus.com, while I have another tab open to net.tutsplus.com, and yet another tab open to wp.tutsplus.com.

In these tab-based applications, I can toggle between tabs by holding down the Command and Shift keys and tapping the [ or ] keys to determine the direction I will be toggling to.  If I would like to open a new tab, I can hold down the Command key and tap the t key once.  If I would like to close the tab I am currently on, I  can hold down the Command key and tap the w key.


Toggling Windows of the Same Application

toggling-multiple-windows

Before there was tabbed browsing many applications simply let you open a new instance of their app, but in a separate window.  This concept still exists in just about every application.

If I was working in Safari, held down the Command key and pressed n (instead of t as shown above), I would see a new window come up.

TIP:  A tab is an instance of a program inside a window.  A window can sometimes have many tabs, but a tab cannot have many windows.  It is important to understand the difference.

Now imagine that I have multiple windows open that I would like to toggle to/from.  I would accomplish this by holding down the Command key and tapping the ` key (located directly below the Esc key).


Quick Reference

All of these toggles may feel a bit different at first, or even hard to remember.  However, any programmer, system operator, or power user will tell you that the time invested in mastering these will be worth their weight in efficiency gold!  To make it a bit easier, here are all the shortcuts in one easy to read/copy/paste location:

  • Toggling between open programs is Command + Tab
  • Toggling up a minimized program is Command + Tab with Option on release
  • Toggling between tabs is Command + Shift + [ or ]
  • Opening a new tab is Command + t
  • Closing a tab or window is Command + w
  • Toggling windows of the same application is Command + `

Conclusion

In this tutorial I have introduced you to keyboard shortcuts that can help you to improve your efficiency when using your Mac. There is no need to keep lifting your hands from the keyboard in order to move a mouse or trackpad. I have introduced you to the concept of switching between open apps and switching between tabs in any given app that uses tabbed browsing.

If you want to go further, Envato Market offers a range of Mac apps and utilities to help you use your Mac even more efficiently. For example, Metadata Editor Pro helps you add tags and other metadata to your images quickly and easily.

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