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I am looking for a stable way to keep any window 'always on top' on OSX.

Afloat, an app that does that requires SIMBL/easySIMBL, which it seems is not very stable.

Are there any better solutions? It's actually surprising that there is no native way to implement this.

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10 Answers 10

32

I'll note that the iOS Simulator has the option Stay On Top (formerly called Stay in Front). Extremely useful functionality, and proves that there are Apple-supported and sanctioned ways to achieve this behavior.

Might be worth opening a radar, especially for adding to Terminal.

You can duplicate my radar:

Bug ID 27430873: Add "Stay in Front" option to Terminal windows.

Stay in Front option in iOS Simulator

Apple's Activity Monitor app similarly has the option Keep CPU Windows on Top that floats the small CPU graphs on top of all other apps' windows:

Activity Monitor > Window > Keep CPU Windows on Top

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  • 2
    What is this iOS simulator? Is it like an emulator? I have been looking for one.
    – voices
    Mar 4 '17 at 12:54
  • @tjt263 the iOS simulator is bundled with Xcode and mainly used to develop iOS apps
    – pkamb
    Mar 5 '17 at 6:36
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    Oh ok. What's a radar? Like a bug report?
    – voices
    Mar 5 '17 at 8:14
  • @tjt263 yes, bugreport.apple.com
    – pkamb
    Mar 5 '17 at 17:35
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    This functionality is also shown in the pre-installed 'Activity Monitor' - if you go to the 'Window' menu, you'll see an option to 'Keep CPU Windows on Top' - so it does indeed seem like there's an official Apple way to do this. (This is what I see on 10.13.2)
    – keybits
    Dec 15 '17 at 11:48
23

If you are looking to do this just for a say an internet browser window you could look at the open source Helium app. It's free, and you can also download the source and compile your own version if you want.

It's basically an internet browser that always floats above all other windows. Helium App

EDIT:

There's also a newer app from the Apple Mac App Store called Fluid Browser that will do this same thing. It does cost a couple of $s, but it works excellently and has a few more features than Helium (as of 7/6/2016). So you now have two different apps to choose from.

Fluid Browser

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  • I did not like the Fluid Browser experience. Yes, it has a few more features but it's pretty buggy and cumbersome. Helium is very lightweight but does the job.
    – P A N
    Nov 1 '16 at 13:21
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    Can you block ads in Helium or Fluid?
    – powder366
    Feb 5 '17 at 12:33
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If you're looking to watch video while you browse or use other applications, you can use the Picture-in-Picture Extension (by Google) for Chrome.

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    Oh my gosh this is better than I could have hoped for. Just wanted Netflix playing in the corner while I work. I love that the browser window frame disappears but wish Netflix's back & forward buttons and subtitles stayed
    – velkoon
    Mar 23 '20 at 2:09
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    awesome, thank you very much Kevin
    – whitesiroi
    Jul 20 '20 at 4:37
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If you are a developer and your SIP is disabled (csrutil) one can change level property of NSWindow using lldb. Once you attach to process (i.e. App Store) in XCode just type:

(lldb) e NSWindow *$window = [(NSArray *)[NSApp windows] firstObject]
(lldb) po $window
<NSWindow: 0x600000d64200>

(lldb) po [$window setLevel:3]
resume debugging

PS: If app has multiple windows get the correct one using command

(lldb) po [NSApp windows]

To return back just close window or use

(lldb) po [$window setLevel:0]

enter image description here enter image description here

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  • This is pretty neat, I wonder if there is an equally simple way to adjust transparency?
    – Steven Lu
    Mar 26 '20 at 7:29
  • This is a nice proof of concept, but I don't like the fact, that we have to disable SIB to get the desired effect. It's hard to believe that this is not possible in an easier fashion. I guess this is what the slogan "Think different" is all about, once more ... Apr 23 at 12:58
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I've just given up on mySIMBLE and afloat. Fenêtre is a paid for app with a free lite version that works really well.

I use it to play videos window in window while I work or to keep online instructions on top. Not sure what you want to use it for?

5

If you only really want/need "stay on top" functionality for your Terminal.app window (like myself), there is a Quake/Guake-style drop-down visor, SIMBL plug-in available that supports being pinned to the foreground; TotalTerminal.

So it's possible, despite the common misconception that it's not.

As of MacOS 10.11 (El Capitan), to install/run TotalTerminal, you might need to disable System Integrity Protection:

csrutil enable --without debug

It's no longer open source, but the last open source implementation is still available on GitHub. So if you're inclined to, you could investigate exactly how it's achieved. I emailed the developer to ask, but it's been so long since they worked on it, they couldn't (or wouldn't?) really tell me.

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  • TotalTerminal is no longer maintained these days. I ended up switching to iTerm to get the same behavior: apple.stackexchange.com/questions/48796/… Jul 4 '17 at 9:25
  • That's right, I wouldn't suggest using it. But if someone is motivated to implement their own solution, it might be worth browsing the linked source code.
    – voices
    Jul 6 '17 at 0:11
  • For floating terminal, I am using Helium with gotty. gotty allows you to open a terminal in web browser and Helium is a floating web browser.
    – wesley6j
    Jul 13 '17 at 14:25
  • You really, really, really, and I really really mean really do, need to note that you should re-enable SIP after doing what you document.
    – Pryftan
    Feb 23 '19 at 16:25
  • @Pryftan nah, SIP is for pussies.
    – voices
    Feb 24 '19 at 8:42
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There is a free app called Key Codes in the Mac App Store that as far as I can tell stays on top of all other windows. Other than menu items it stays atop all other apps including the Terminal and the Safari URL bar.

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    Brilliant tip Seamus if the op specifically needs that particular app to stay on top. Now, if, hypothetically speaking of course, he wants a different app to stay on top, or perhaps even few different ones, then perhaps not so sterling?
    – mysomic
    Dec 2 '16 at 22:01
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    Thanks! Works great for the use case "please occlude this ghastly thing".
    – ecmanaut
    Mar 3 '18 at 15:27
  • @mysomic i agree.
    – mjs
    Aug 28 at 8:42
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Not really an answer but more like a work-around: you can use Spectacle or a similar app to quickly setup a desktop layout that let you follow the original window.

Of course this won't help when you're waiting for someone else to join a support chat and in the meanwhile decide to use your time for something more useful than staring at a blank window -- like working on another virtual desktop :(

Grab Spectacle from here: https://www.spectacleapp.com

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  • Welcome to Ask Different and taking the time to post an answer. As a suggested improvement, your should provide links to the application(s) that you reference in your post. It makes for a better user experience. For more information on crafting a good answer see: apple.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-answer
    – Allan
    May 3 '16 at 15:46
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    Hello Allan, thank you very much for helping make AskDifferent a neat and tidy place, I will follow your instructions. Cheers.
    – i90rr
    May 5 '16 at 18:49
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just drag your terminal, over the safari window, after typing the F3.

this automatically arranges the terminal, vertically, on the right side of the safari window, for example... so you can do some work and have access to the terminal, while in another window...

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  • Nothing happens when I try this. The terminal window just returns to original position.
    – Natsfan
    Aug 9 '18 at 20:12
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Full disclosure, I am the developer of the app.

My app lets you float multiple windows consisting of images, videos, pdfs, text based files, websites, YouTube/Netflix/Vimeo/Twitch etc:

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/floating-picture-in-picture/id1508833245

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