Restoring sort-by-column in OS X Lion’s Finder list view

Filed under: Mac Tips | Tags: |

Apple’s OS X 10.7 Lion can be an amazingly annoying beast. Things that worked one way in prior versions suddenly stop working.

Recently, I had the darnedest time time trying to sort files in list view in the Finder. The descriptions above each column were grayed out, with no way to click on them to change the “sort by” category. I found I could no longer switch between sorting by name, date modified, size or kind.

So I pulled up the View options (Cmd-J or from the pull down menu “View – View Options”).

Great, I thought, I’ll just switch the “Arrange by” setting to “Date Modified”

Well, that sort of worked. I got a view by date… with Lion’s new method of grouping files.

However, I still could not the headings at the top of each column. Please tell me Apple did not remove the sort-by-column option?!?

Fortunately, that is not the case. Instead, Apple has added a layer of granularity to the Finder views (which was not previously available). In addition to sorting files, you can also group files together (by date, by type etc). In other words, you can organize your views by two separate criteria.

That’s fascinating (not). But, it doesn’t solve the problem.

Ok. Here’s the trick to get the selectable column headings back in Finder. They were always there, just hidden. In the View Options, change “Arrange by” to “None” and leave “Sort by” alone — it will be grayed out anyway.

You will now have a pre-Lion view.

You can click the column heading in the list view in Finder to change the sort criteria as well as changing between ascending (A-Z) and descending (Z-A) sorts.


  • Dennis

    Thanks man. I was going nuts about these ‘white’ columns at the top of the Lion Finder. Never new I had tweaked them.

    • http://www.Planet10Tech.com TomaszStasiuk

      Hi Dennis, happy to help! 
      All the Mac Tips are rounded up here: http://planet10tech.com/category/mac-tips/

  • tonypee

    AMAZING! ive been looking for this for a while!

  • Mrresolution

    Thanks a ton

  • Josh

    Thanks. I found it pretty annoying that what used to be called “Arrange by” is now called “Clean up by” and that “Arrange by” now does something different.

  • Steve

    Thank you!  This was driving me crazy earlier today.  I’m not sure how I created the problem, all I did was drag an image into the folder.  Oh well, back to how I like it.  Thanks again for posting this tip.

  • Max

    THANKS, I couldn’t figure it out if it wasn’t for this

  • Info

    Thank you. This was driving me nuts.

  • Andi Buchner

    Thank you!

  • Rharvey

    Thank you – This has been bugging me for a while! Woo Hoo! Fixed!

  • Mike

    Another thanks here–I had turned on that sort-by thing in a window by accident when I was trying to remember a keyboard combination for something else–it was driving me nuts!

  • http://www.facebook.com/oliver.ueberholz Oliver Leon Ueberholz

    Thanks!!!!! This was bugging me to infinity. My Desktop not having sortable columns to see the newest file or sort alphabetically…

  • chez

    Thank you so much!!! Mac os x has frustrated me so much with stuff like this. Z-A instead of A -Z ….. I ask you!!! Tears in my baby pink eyes!

    • http://www.stasiukfirm.com/ TomaszStasiuk

      You know, I’m really digging TotalFinder (about $14). It give you tabbed browsing plus the ability to have folder on top of the list (not alphabetically among files), show system files. You may like it http://totalfinder.binaryage.com/

  • Glen

    Fantastic – something so simple was annoying me so much. Thanks for the write-up

  • Kevin Perera

    Thanks much – this saved me from going insane! I guess I had accidentally turned this on for a couple of windows, and couldn’t for the life of me understand why they were acting differently than the rest of the finder windows.

  • jezturner

    Lifesaver, I thought I’d broken something.

  • billy

    thank you… geez that other sort was annoying.

  • kari christensen

    Thank you! Thank you! This was annoying me so much. I was happy how finder worked previously and the new categories just get in the way.

  • Guest

    I followed this procedure in OS X 10.8.3 with the Pictures folder. It did not work. Any further suggestions would be welcome.

  • Tiger

    Thank you. This worked like a charm!

  • marc

    Thanks, I really appreciate this, it was driving me nuts until I found this fix!

  • Red

    Thank you! I had this problem with my Desktop folder and it was super annoying. Your fix worked like a charm