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.

4 Answers 4


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, 2012 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, 2012 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, 2012 at 10:55
  • @stuffe Yep, that's right. I hope that ML is going to fix this as well.
    – gentmatt
    Jul 12, 2012 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, 2012 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

  • Unfortunately it didnt work for me
    – Bogaso
    Sep 20, 2020 at 9:36

Sorry to be that guy who revives a dead post over 5 years old.

MY SOLUTION for those who don't want to read my ramblings below: (similar to what gentmatt suggested, with an added step.) Setup a HOT CORNER in System Settings. I use the TOP RIGHT corner for Mission Control and the BOTTOM RIGHT for Show Desktop. However, as the OP mentioned, they cannot access the desktop using various methods or shortcuts when starting in a Full-Screen Space, including Show Desktop. Yet, Mission Control DOES work. So, if you are in Full-Screen and need to go to the Desktop or vice-versa, use the drag-and-drop method. Click and hold on the item, drag the pointer to the top-right corner, Mission Control will show all your open Spaces, drag over to the space you want and hold until that Space appears. If you're attempting to reach the Desktop, then the Space you want will be one that's not Full-Screen, then once you reach that space and you still don't have open desktop space, drag the cursor to the bottom-right corner and your Desktop will clear to drag to. This is more reliable than Cmd-Tabbing also.

Working on a multi-platform environment in graphic design, I'm constantly looking for the quickest and fastest shortcuts to make efficient use of my time, the less buttons I can type or click, the better. I hope this method may help anyone who happens to arrive at this post looking for another possible solution.

  • The description of your "method" is not clear enough and a bit confusing. I would suggest re-wording it and also dividing it into further parts.
    – Alper
    Dec 10, 2021 at 20:21

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .