As a follow up to Does macOS store the tags of Finder separately from the tagged files?, I now understand that Finder tags are stored in the metadata of files, together in the same disk as the one that the file reside in. If the files are in a corrupt external disk file system, the metadata may not be easily recovered.

However, I can see the list of tags on my Finder side pane. These are clearly the tags that were given to the files in the corrupt external disk file system, and not anywhere else eg. in my local disk. (I know this from my own memory.) Why can the tags still appear on my Finder side pane?

(I ask this both out of curiosity, as well as in a small hope that, if Finder does store something about its tags separately from the files, the actual tags assigned to each file might still be recoverable.)

I am hoping for an answer that does not just tell me whether my tags can be recoverable or not. I am hoping to know more details on how/where does Finder store the tags behind the scenes / under the hood.

P.S. When I click on each tag on Finder, no files appear.

2 Answers 2


I am not sure if this qualifies as an answer, rather it is my observations.

This is (I hope) a fact: The tags which appear in Finder's Sidebar are listed in /Users/gilby/Library/Preferences/com.apple.finder.plist


  1. The tags get into that list because they have been used at some time in past.

  2. The presence of a tag in that list is not connected to whether there are any currently accessible files with that tag.

  3. The presence of a tag is related to its use directly in Finder and not to its use in Spotlight searches even when instigated from within Finder.

Some evidence for those conjectures:

  1. Add a new tag to a file. The tag then appears at the top of the Sidebar's list.
  2. Remove the tag from the file. The tag is still in Sidebar's list even though there are no longer any matching files.

So, it seems that Sidebar's list gets augmented by used (in what way?) tags, but managing those tags is quite independent of whether the tags are still present on any files.

The unhappy conclusion is that the presence of the lost tags in Finder's Sidebar is not any help in restoring tags to files.

  • I've seen this also when connecting to another Mac using different labels for its colours - you get the whole lot added to your neat & tidy tags list.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 10:30

I think Gilby is correct.

If it helps, you can customize which tags are displayed on the sidebar through the Finder preferences > tags. There, you can also delete old tags that no longer apply. The system will prompt you before you remove them, telling you if they're still in use in how many files (see below)

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