Is there some sort of known logic behind Apple's choice to make the enter key rename a file/folder, rather than open it as is standard on Windows and Linux?

For those of you coming here for the substitute key combination, ⌘-O and ⌘-down arrow both work. And I fully understand ⌘-down, since ⌘-up goes "up" in the directory tree. But couldn't they have made some other key combination the rename key, and allowed enter to be the "standard" open action?

I understand this is a point of view question, and you could argue Windows and Linux are the weird ones, but "enter" or "return" is, at least in my mind and experience with others, the universal "okay" key. When a dialog pops up, you can smack the enter key for the default action. When you finish typing your password, hit the enter key to submit the form and log in. In terminal, type a command and hit enter. So then why is it browse to the file, select it, and hit enter... to rename?

  • 3
    Because a programmer coded it that way? Jan 22, 2011 at 0:18
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    This really just boils down to "You're used to Windows." doesn't it? Jan 22, 2011 at 6:32
  • 4
    @compulsionstar - FYI, it's been several years since Apple last shipped a one button mouse.
    – Dori
    Mar 3, 2011 at 3:58
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    @Philip It's also 8 months old. But gee, thanks for closing it. It is possible that an answer could have involved facts, so I frankly disagree that it's unanswerable. An answer might be speculative but I asked for a reason that Apple made this decision, hoping to uncover some sort of sense behind it.
    – Ricket
    Aug 16, 2011 at 19:18
  • 14
    Ahh ...it is so frustrating to always see this kind of questions being commented away along the lines of "this is the Apple way, deal with it", and sometimes being closed. IMO Ricket did a thorough job in trying to explain why he thought this question is not speculative and that he took his potential other-OS prejudice into consideration before posting. Oct 7, 2011 at 20:58

5 Answers 5


"enter" or "return" is, at least in my mind and experience with others, the universal "okay" key. When a dialog pops up, you can smack the enter key for the default action.

In the Finder, the default action is file management. The Finder is not a launcher. You have a bunch of files you want to rename, or move, or whatever. What percentage of files do you actually open regularly from the Finder? Why should the default action in the Finder be "Open"?

You can learn to use the navigation standard of OS X instead of ENTER/RETURN. The navigation standard is:

  1. + - goes to Parent Folder
  2. + - goes to Child Folder.

Over time I have found these key operations better than Windows navigation where you have to switch between ENTER and Alt+Up.

  • 80
    Actually, I rename files significantly less than I open them, and I rename directories significantly less than navigating into a directory. Isn't part of file management to navigate inside directories? Since Apple designs revolve thrive on user intuition, most people "intuitively" expect the return key to open a file. This is why I found the action surprising. I think the real answer is in the fact that "that's the way it has always been." And it is not worth changing. Jan 21, 2011 at 16:15
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    @JoshHibschman I think the only people who "intuitively" expect the return key to open a file are Windows users. Ask most people and they would say "i double-click to open a file." I realize that people have different usage patterns, but I rarely open files in the Finder. If it's stuff I use often, it's on the Dock. Otherwise, I use a launcher utility like Launchbar or Alfred.
    – ghoppe
    Jan 21, 2011 at 18:43
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    @Harv I would be happy if it was a single keystroke on OS X. Windows = F2 to rename a file, enter to open a file. OS X you have to press two keys to open a file or dir... I would rather it was one. Of course, it is not a big deal, but an annoyance. Jan 21, 2011 at 22:43
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    So, to summarize, while I think your answer is very good, the statement 'The Finder is not a launcher.' really depends on your workflow. In my case, it is a launcher. Oct 7, 2011 at 21:00
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    Linux is same as Windows, the bloody key is called "Enter" which is exactly what I want to do when I'm focused on a folder. And for your information - most super users don't use the freakin mouse for most of the stuff.
    – YemSalat
    Oct 15, 2014 at 1:25

Because ⌘+o opens it.

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    Two keys is quite distant, considering that it's a primary key in Windows. Sep 14, 2014 at 8:29
  • The way Windows works has no bearing on how OS X does or should operate.
    – bahamat
    Sep 15, 2014 at 19:07
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    @bahamat but the keyboard layout and ease of use does Aug 8, 2016 at 7:21
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    I find command+down works to open, and command+up to go up a directory is convenient. Nov 21, 2016 at 18:31
  • ⌘+↓ opens it, then after you close the application, you need to press ⌘+Tab to return focus to Finder. Apr 18, 2023 at 1:00

It's standard on Windows and Linux, not OS X. Doesn't mean it "should" be standard on OS X. :-)

I think it's simply because that's the way it's always been, since as far back as I remember.. I think even OS 6 had this. I know 7/8/9 definitely had it that way. So I suppose they wanted old users to feel comfortable making the switch to X.

  • 1
    +1 My answer too. Just because it works that way on Windows (and some linux), doesn't mean its a standard! Also, you are correct, earlier Mac OS did have this. Therefore its standard to me that enter renames something vs enter opens a file/folder.
    – jmlumpkin
    Jan 21, 2011 at 13:21
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    Yeah sure. Why would I open if I can rename it Aug 8, 2016 at 7:20
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    I checked and to 9 of 10 ppl I asked the main interaction with an entity in Finder (95% of times) is open a file rather than rename it. So it just boils down to a bad user experience. Putting the "standard" aside - it's madness that you need to click 2 keys for what you're doing 95% of the times and only one key for the other 5%. That's quite ironic because Microsoft does this awful ux design in many of their products
    – refaelio
    Aug 10, 2022 at 12:12
  • @refaelio you're comparing apples and oranges. If you sat down at a unix terminal would you expect to be able to type a filename and for enter to open the file, and would you then complain that it should work that way because that's your expectation?
    – Harv
    Sep 9, 2022 at 6:20
  • @Harv Well, statistically speaking, the UX experience is bad. My expectations are irrelevant. Moreover, Apple used the same logic to flip the apple icon on their macbooks upside down.
    – refaelio
    Nov 6, 2022 at 15:44

I've used Mac OS X on and off for sometime now, and I still can't get my head wrapped around the "enter to rename" functionality. In windows you press F2 to rename a file, because you're performing a function, and that makes sense! Back in OS 7 (what I used for 5+ years before switching to windows) I strongly recall using enter to open things.

I'm going to try ReturnOpen which only works on 10.3 - 10.5, so far it seems to work just fine.


  • 2
    RE: ".. In windows you press F2 to rename a file, because you're performing a function, and that makes sense!" - Actually I am a long time DOS / Windows user that switched to Mac OSX 4 years ago, and I find that pressing ENTER to enter / rename text FAR MORE common sense. Most of the time I am renaming files that I have just created from video conversion operations onto the desktop, and I am renaming files far more than I am executing applications on the desktop (which, instead, I use spotlight and the Dock explicitly for launching apps). Aug 16, 2011 at 10:10
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    You can also Remap F2 to Rename with mac karabiner key remapper. Sep 6, 2016 at 14:19

I'm with @ghoppe. Plus, you get the added bonus of avoiding the mindless or accidental opening of an application (to open a file) or executing code when you're really meaning to just browse your filesystem and, well, "Find" stuff.

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    Why would you 'just' want to browse your filesystem. If I browse it, it is to find something and perform an action on it, which is most of the time to open it. Oct 7, 2011 at 20:44
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    @Rabarberski, see ghoppe's response. Finder isn't a launcher, it's a file manager (despite the name _Find_er).
    – Merchako
    Oct 21, 2011 at 21:02
  • @Merchako Enter renames on the desktop too which most certainly is a launcher. Feb 19 at 16:41

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