I have a problem (bug?) with application switching on Lion.

I use two Spaces. Say one has Postbox open, and another has Firefox and Vim.

Vim is in the foreground, and Firefox's window is behind it.

When I Cmd+Tab from Postbox to Firefox, the space is switched correctly, but Firefox remains in the background.

If I Cmd+Tab to Firefox again, or select it in the Dock, the window comes up front normally.

The bug isn't limited to Firefox only, seen it with many apps.

What am I doing wrong?

  • 1
    Timely. I just noticed this happening on my 10.7.3 machine today. Can't say I've ever noticed it before. It's intermittent. Sometimes Cmd-Tab will bring up the app, other times it's still not in the foreground after switching to the space.
    – Ian C.
    Feb 22, 2012 at 21:32
  • 1
    Fullscreen applications don't seem to be affected by this, so my work around is to fullscreen as many of the applications as possible. I prefer the fullscreen version of applications (in most cases) so it doesn't bother me, but can appreciate that this work around wont be suitable for everyone. Using this work around I can switch between applications with command + tab or I can use the 4 finger swipe gesture on the trackpad without problem.
    – nacious
    Oct 3, 2012 at 23:31
  • 3
    Nope, this UX issue is still present on Mavericks.
    – dgh
    Mar 29, 2014 at 23:55
  • 1
    Same thing happens to me when switching between Sublime Text and Chrome. Chrome menubar comes up but window is still hidden.
    – James
    May 2, 2014 at 21:50
  • 1
    Still exists on macOS Sierra Dec 4, 2016 at 5:07

4 Answers 4


To the original poster, you weren't doing anything wrong.

Whether it was intended as a feature or not, it is clearly a usability issue, aka a bug. The problem is that often the affected app window was left stacked on top of all other windows, not behind them. Upon switching back and forth with Spaces Mission Control, the app often gets stuck under other open windows.

The finger-twisting CMD-TAB-OPTION-release fails more often than not: it either doesn't do anything differently or it is impossible to accomplish due to autorepeating keys, making it a worthless gesture.

It is definitely a bug, not a feature. Keep flipping back and forth with CMD-TAB, and the window will pop back to the top, then drop down again, erratically.

Oh, it doesn't appear to affect Spaces, so it seems to be a regression.


It's a feature not a bug :-)

Start tabbing with Cmd-Tab until you get to the application you want to switch to, then press and hold Option before releasing Cmd-Tab.

  • 1
    Are you sure? If I put Skype in front of Sparrow on space 2, switch to Chrome in Space 1 and the Cmd-Tab to Sparrow sometimes it comes up in the foreground, sometimes it stays behind Skype. I just figured it was Skype. I blame most of the world's problems on Skype though...
    – Ian C.
    Feb 22, 2012 at 21:35
  • Atleast in Yosemite, using option seems to be required only if the app was minimized before. And so, it might be a more efficient to just hide (command + H) windows and not minimize them so that they can be navigated to through command + tab
    – sudocracy
    Mar 1, 2015 at 21:23
  • So you are saying I press Cmd-Tab all way to see a minimized window?
    – Mahendran
    Aug 21, 2015 at 7:27
  • 2
    Why do I need to press three key (or combination) to open a hidden window? How is it a feature?? You don't know the window is hidden or not, because there is no sign in cmd+tab view.
    – shantanu
    Feb 7, 2017 at 4:47
  • thanks for the answer, and if it is a feature then can we turn it off ?
    – nomadSK25
    Jun 8, 2021 at 1:19

I agree with jerseyboy, it is pretty much a bug. So, under Lion 10.7.3, in mail, I switch to safari, which is in a different space. Then I switch back to mail, and the space duly switches to where I was. However, the window that was previously on top is now hidden behind terminal and a few other windows I have open on that space. This is an annoying interference in rapid switching between applications.

One slightly less awkward approach to get the application back to the front again is to cmd-tab to the application in question, release (which switches to the right space), and then hit cmd-tab cmd-shift-tab (faking a switch to another application but actually going back to the same one). This sequence is really awkward being 3 combos when one ought to be enough. Come on Apple, at least let us select this behavior in system prefs or a mysterious plist command line thingy.


KeyRemap4Macbook allows remapping command+tab to command+tab+option, if you want this to be the default behavior. It also has some very cool/powerful customizations like remapping keyboard shortcuts only for specific applications - e.g. remap command+tab in Firefox to control+tab to switch between browser tabs.

  • 2
    the app is called Karabiner and the option to tick is under Change Key ->Change Command_L Key(Left Command) ->Command_L to Option_L (Pass-Through Command+Tab)
    – M.C.
    Feb 2, 2016 at 18:10
  • but program messes up copy, paste, cut,.. shortcuts
    – M.C.
    Feb 2, 2016 at 20:30
  • I'm keen to make command+tab+option the default behaviour without having to press the option key. I have Karabiner, but I'm unable to set up a configuration so that command+tab will be mapped to command+tab+option. Has anyone been successful with this? I tried looking for @M.C. 's suggestion however couldn't work out the "pass-through command+tab". Apr 12, 2018 at 1:13

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