I'm having a hard time figuring out what constitutes as "recent use" in Lion that will cause spaces to rearrange(I have the "automatically rearrange spaces based on recent use" box checked). I use both the Option + Number keyboard shortcut and the four finger swipe to navigate between my spaces, but I can't figure out what causes them to auto rearrange.

Here is an example:

  • I've got 3 spaces.
  • In Space 1 let's say I've got Safari and Mail open, Space 2 is iTunes, and let's say TextEdit is open in space 3. The spaces are currently in order 1-3.
  • I start in space 1, then I use the keyboard shortcut to go directly to space 3. I do a few things in text edit and then want to navigate back to space 1. Any way that I choose to navigate back to space 1 will not cause the spaces to reorder, they stay in the order they begun in.

I've tried every form of navigating between and using apps in different spaces to get the spaces to reorder, but I can't cause it to happen. However every once in a while It happens automatically, and I can't figure out what actually caused that reordering to occur, it always seems a bit random. Based on the setting name, I would assume that if I were in Space 1, and then used an app in Space 3 it would rearrange the spaces so that Space 3 was in the 2nd spot, since it was used more recently than Space 2. Am I misunderstanding this?

Has anyone been able to pinpoint what causes the spaces in Lion to rearrange? I'd love to be able to make more sense of this.

  • 2
    Spaces in Lion feels a bit half finished, doesn't it? I'd be interested to hear what you figure out.
    – dan8394
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 1:07
  • I agree, there are some great improvements and some drawbacks. Though one of the biggest improvements I've noticed is if you have a running app with all windows closed, when you click the icon for the app a new window opens in the current space, not the last space that had a window for the app. That made my day. Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 1:12

2 Answers 2


From my observations, when you alt-tab or click on an app icon on the dock, the clicked app will automatically be on the second space. This only happens only if the app is in another space that's not in the second one (if it's in the second one then the arrangement won't change).

Control-arrow key and Mission control navigation won't change the arrangement either.

  • This all makes sense now, thanks! You also need the "When switching to an application, switch to a space with open windows for the application" option checked in order for Command+Tab to trigger the rearrange. Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 1:50
  • Yes, that was on by default. I turned it off, then I can't rearrange the spaces manually like snow leopard. So I turned it back on again. Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 2:01

When you're on space one, and go to another space/app via the dock (or however else you go to an app) - that space becomes the second space.

If you're not on the first space, then whatever app/space you go to becomes the space next to it (and not necessarily the second space)

It takes a bit of getting used to as you might think that whatever space you're on, and going to another would automatically make that space the second space - but it doesn't work like that (least not on my machine).

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