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How to Use Dock Stacks in macOS Catalina

Downloads Folder Icon

The Dock is the bar of icons that sits at the bottom or side of your screen. It provides easy access to many of the apps that come with your Mac. And the Stacks feature of the Dock in macOS can be a time-saver.

A stack is a Dock item that gives you fast access to a folder. When you click a Stack, files, and folders within spring from the Dock in a fan or a grid.

macOS starts you off with the Downloads stack. The Downloads stack contains files you download from Safari, Mail, and Messages. You can create as many stacks as you want by dragging folders to the right side of your Dock.

You can change how a stack appears by right-clicking or control-clicking its icon in the Dock.

screenshot of dock stack options menu

Choose an option from the shortcut menu that appears:

  • Sort by – Select to have items sorted by Name, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, or Kind.
  • Display as – Choose to show the stack icon in the Dock as a normal folder icon, or as a stack of icons representing the items the folder contains.
  • View content as – Choose how the stack is displayed when you click its icon. Choosing Automatic lets OS X determine the best view content option based on the number of items in the stack.

Stack Views

Fan Stack

Fan stacks show a portion of your folder content and arrange the icons so that the closest icon to the Dock is based on the order of the “Sort by” option you have selected.

For example, if you select the “Sort by” option of “Date Added”, the Fan stack expands showing the icons of the most recently added items closest to the Dock.

screenshot of a dock folder showing fan stack

If you want to open the folder represented by a stack, click the Open in Finder button. The Finder opens the enclosing folder in a new window so that you can work with its contents.

Grid Stack

Grid stacks show a folder’s content as a matrix of icons arranged by your “Sort by” option.

Grid stacks are scrollable, and allow you to navigate folders. Click a folder in the Stack to open that folder without leaving the Stack. Click the left-pointing arrow button that appears in the upper left of the Stack to go back to the folder you came from. If there are more icons than can be shown within the grid, a scroll bar appears.

List Stack

The List creates a long list of the Stack’s files and folders. Like with the Grid, Stack folders can be accessed without leaving the List view.

Automatic Stack

There’s also an Automatic option. If you select it, a stack will open automatically to the style that best suits its size and content.

Related: How to Use Desktop Stacks in macOS Leopard Through Catalina

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Contributing Author
Dennis has over 40 years of journalism experience and has written hundreds of articles. For the past 20-plus years, he's been an online journalist, covering mainly Apple Inc. He's written for MacCentral, MacWorld, MacMinute, Macsimum News, Apple Daily Report, and is now contributing editor at Apple World Today.
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  • Is there a way to “right-click” on the downloaded file in the stack (monterey)? Most of the time I need to get the info on the downloaded file but I have always go to the finder downloads folder.

  • Is there a way to set the number of files that appear in download stack? Would like to have max 20 downloaded files displayed. Is there a way?

  • Fan stack is not an option in Catalina 15.7. It doesn’t come up like it does in the pics in this article.

  • Is there a way to configure Dock Stacks to ALWAYS show by DEFAUT as follows?

    Display as Folder
    View content as List