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Deleting: Using the Trash

Deleting an item is a two-step process. First, you put the item in the Trash; then you empty the Trash. I discussed the basics of this process in Chapter 3. Here is a brief overview of Trash essentials.

Place items in Trash

To place an item in the Trash, you can (a) drag the file's icon to the Trash icon in the Dock or (b) click the item and then choose Move to Trash from the Finder's File menu (or press Command-Delete).

Until you empty the Trash, files placed there are not really deleted. You can view the contents of the Trash by double-clicking the Trash icon to open its window. Any item in the window can be dragged out again. You can also place an item in the Trash by dragging it to this open window.

Each user maintains his or her own Trash. Thus, anything in some other user's Trash, but not emptied, will not be present when you log in. The contents will return for that user the next time he or she logs in.

Mac OS X does not include a feature that allows you to create a Trash icon on the Desktop, separate from the Dock. A shareware utility called Trash X provides this feature, however.

Empty the Trash

To empty the Trash, do one of the following:

  • Choose Empty Trash from the Finder's Finder menu.

  • Press Command-Shift-Delete. This technique is especially convenient (combined with Command-Delete to get the file to the Trash) as a quick way to delete a file. Just click the file's icon and press Command-Delete, followed by Command-Shift-Delete. The file is gone.

  • Choose Empty Trash from the Trash's Dock menu.

After you delete an item, there is no easy way to recover it. Norton Utilities 7.x for Mac OS X includes an Unerase feature. Beyond that, I know of no utilities that let you recover deleted files. So be careful before you delete anything.

Mac OS X will not let you delete files that are critical to the running of the OS. Later in this chapter, I explain how you can get around this prohibition, but don't be in a hurry to do so. If you are not careful, you could delete the entire contents of your drive accidentally or wreak similar havoc.

Show warning

If you have the Show warning before emptying the Trash option enabled in the Finder's Preferences window, every time you try to empty the Trash, you will get a warning message: "Are you sure you want to remove the items in the Trash permanently?" This is useful because Empty Trash is one of the very few Finder commands that cannot be undone via the Finder's Undo command (Command-Z).

If you choose Empty Trash from the Trash's Dock menu, the Mac will empty the Trash without warning, even if the Finder warning option is enabled.

Eject/Disconnect and Burn icons

If you click-drag a volume or server icon, the Trash icon will change to indicate that placing the volume in the Trash will unmount, disconnect, or eject the volume—rather than delete its contents.

If you drag the icon of a CD-R—that has been set up for burning—to the Trash, the Trash icon will change to the burn icon to indicate that placing the CD-R icon in the Trash will initiate the burn.

Figure 6.32Figure 6.32 Talking Trash: The Trash's Empty Trash option; the Empty Trash warning; the Trash icon changes to an Eject icon.


File Names in Mac OS X

Here's an assortment of items regarding the limits of what you can and cannot do with file names in Mac OS X:

Can't rename a file. Normally, if you click the name of a file in the Finder (or simply click the file's icon and press Return), the name is shifted to an editable text box that allows you to change the file's name. If this text box does not appear, you either do not have the privileges/permissions to make such a change or the file is locked. See "Permissions/privileges problems with copying/moving files" earlier in this chapter and "Problems deleting files" later in this chapter for details and solutions.

Long file names. Mac OS 9 had a limit of 31 characters for a file name. In Mac OS X, the name of a file can be as long as 256 characters. Try renaming a file in the Finder, and you'll see what I mean. The file name can span several lines to accommodate your long name.

Still, a couple of glitches are possible:

  • In many applications (especially non-Cocoa ones), the Open and Save dialog boxes show only the first 31 characters of a file name. If you simply open and save a document that already has a longer name, the full name is preserved even though you don't see it in the Open and Save dialog boxes. If you use the Save As command to save a file under a new name, however, you will be limited to 31 characters (although you can add extra characters in the Finder later).

  • At this writing, StuffIt Deluxe (and perhaps other compression utilities) will truncate a long name to 31 characters when compressing the file/folder.

Do not use / in file names. The forward slash (/) is used in Unix as the separator for directories. Thus, Library/Fonts means the Fonts folder inside the Library folder. Adding the / character to the name of a file can confuse Unix into thinking that a reference is being made to a subdirectory, rather than a file name. The solution is to avoid using this character in file names.

Do not use . at the start of a file name. As discussed in "Invisible files" later in this chapter, a dot (.) at the start of a file name indicates that the file should be invisible, so the OS typically blocks you from adding a dot to the start of a file name. Unless you are deliberately attempting to create an invisible file, do not attempt to work around this block.


"Take Note: File Name Extensions," earlier in this chapter, for related information.

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