Is there a way to show the desktop from full screen apps? I'm used to do it with F11 but it doesn't work if you are running full screen apps. The same is true for hot corners.

I need this functionality for example when I'm writing a mail and I need to drag and drop an attachment from my desktop.


You can directly copy to/from the desktop to/from fullscreen mode using drag-and-drop. You need to go via the desktop "preview" window of mission control (at the top):

Here's a video demonstration.

  • Maybe the OP Question is unclear, but I was under the impression it was attaching something from the desktop, not saving to it that was being queried? – stuffe Jul 12 '12 at 10:39
  • @stuffe Mmmh. You're right this is confusing. Well, this method will still work if he needs to copy from the desktop to Mail.app. Showing the desktop directly from within of fullscreen mode remains unanswered - but copying is possible this way.... :/ – gentmatt Jul 12 '12 at 10:50
  • It's not always accepted as an answer, but the answer is very often "you can't", and I think that's the case as per the bottom of my answer. Going fullscreen removes all the windows/icons/menus metaphors, to show the desktop underneath a full screen app has to involve either coming out of full screen, or switching to one that is already not full screen. – stuffe Jul 12 '12 at 10:55
  • @stuffe Yep, that's right. I hope that ML is going to fix this as well. – gentmatt Jul 12 '12 at 10:59
  • Think of it as a design choice, not a fault. I can't see things changing. We've been chatting about this, so if anyone is interested then catch up in chat and continue the conversation here: chat.stackexchange.com/transcript/message/5333955#5333955 – stuffe Jul 12 '12 at 11:26

There doesn't seem to be a way to show the desktop straight from within the full screen app, but (depending on what methods you use for various kb/mouse shortcuts etc) it can still be done without exiting full screen (although someone may show that doing so would actually be quicker, perhaps, than my method below).

Let's say I have Safari full screen, and I want to view a screenshot by opening it in a new tab (not a particularly useful scenario, but involves dragging a Desktop icon into a full screen app as per your question). Here how I would do it, noting that there are probably loads of other methods depending on your preferred input methods. The bold bits are the actual actions I choose, the rest is commentary on why:

  • When I switch Safari full screen, it creates a new space to the right of the one I am in.
  • From within the full screen app, my desktop gesture of choice (5 finger trackpad spread) doesn't work (neither does F11, but then on my keyboard it's the volume down key, and I don't have "use all F1, F2, etc keys as standard function keys" preference option set, and the FN key is not located particularly well on a full size desktop keyboard, unlike the laptop ones)
  • So I 4 finger swipe to the right to show the previous screen before I went full screen (you may do Left Arrow)
  • Then I 5 finger spread on my trackpad to show the desktop (You may use F11 if it's not been commandeered by the volume down key or FNF11 or whatever the key happens to be depending on the age of your keyboard)
  • Then I hardware click with my thumb and hold the icon I wish to drag with my trackpad
  • Then I 3 finger swipe left (which exists the Desktop view and then swiped across a desktop in one movement)
    • If you are not using a trackpad you can hit F3 once to exit desktop mode, and F3 again to show Mission Control (your mapping and or keyboard layout may differ), then just hover over the required full screen desktop at the top until it flashes and switches you to it in a second or 2)
  • And I am left with the file still help under drag conditions to drop wherever I want within the full screen app

This method uses a variety of inputs including gestures and keyboard shortcuts that may not be available to you depending on your hardware. For example, using the trackpad allows me to perform simultaneous gestures like swiping desktops whilst in the middle of a drag operation that would not be possible with a mouse (maybe with a magic mouse, I don't own one). It's a case of knowing that gestures are actually pretty powerful when you understand that the hardware uses the multitouch to let you do a lots more than you might be used to.

This seems a whole load of hassle, but as actually quite quick once you get into it. As to why you do it this way, I think you need to contemplate the nature of full screen of Mac OS X, and this means appreciating that when you go full screen you lose the whole desktop metaphor, and this includes the desktop in addition to resizable window edges, so you need to quickly nip into a windowed desktop to be able to see behind those windows to the desktop, if you see what I mean.


Here's a simple way to jump to Desktop 1 (or 2). You can turn on this shortcut by:

  1. System Preferences
  2. Keyboard
  3. Shortcuts
  4. under Mission Control
  5. click Switch to Desktop 1

there you will see the default option is ^1. Now you can jump to desktop 1 from any full screen app by pressing control 1

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