File handling in Mac OS X is generally a simple and intuitive business. Moving files is simply a matter of selecting the desired file or folder with the cursor, clicking on it and then dragging and dropping to the desired location.

However, the file movement behavior of OS X differs depending on whether the destination is on the Macintosh HD drive or a secondary or external hard drive.

In this article, we’ll take you through the different methods of moving files in OS X, and show you some easy key modifiers to help you accomplish what you want.

Moving and Copying Files on the Same Drive in OS X

1.) The standard behavior when you drag and drop on the same drive in OS X is to Move the file in question. Select the file you wish to move by clicking on it:

Clicking on a File to Select it in OS X.png

Continue to hold down the mouse button and move the file by dragging and dropping it at its new location:

Dragging File to new Location in OS X.png

As we can see from the screenshot below, the file has moved from its original location on the desktop to its new destination in the folder:

Moved File in its New Location on OS X Drive.png

2.) If you wish to keep the original file at its present location and create a copy of it at the new destination, then hold down the Option key ( or Alt) while clicking on and then dragging the file to Copy the file:

Copying a File by holding down the Alt Key in OS X.png

As the screenshot above shows, two identical files now exist, one on the desktop and the new copy in the folder.

Moving and Copying Files to Another Drive in OS X

1.) When transferring files between the Macintosh HD drive and another drive, either a secondary internal drive or an external one, the default file handling behavior changes. The operating system assumes that you are wishing to backup a file, and so copies rather than moves it. Select a file or folder by clicking on it:

Clicking on a File on the DEsktop in Mac OS X.png

Then drag and drop to the new location on the other drive:

Copying a File to an External Drive by Drag and Drop in OS X.png

As you can see, rather than moving the original file, a copy had been placed on the other drive.

2.) There are times, though, where we want to Move a file to an external drive, rather than just copying it and then having to Trash the original to remove it. This is accomplished by holding down the Cmd () key when we click on the file and then drag and drop as before:

Moving a File by holding the Cmd Key to an External Drive in Mac OS X.png

Now we can see that the file has been moved and no longer exists on the desktop.

Understanding the difference in the way the file handling system works in OS X when moving between the same drive and external drives, and what key modifiers to use, will help speed up your workflow and make moving, copying and backing up important files and folders a breeze.