How‐to: Fix the size of the open and save dialogs on Mac

OS X’s open and save dialogs have a tendency to decide on their own to become too tall and no longer fit on the screen. The Open/Save and Cancel buttons at the bottom of the dialog will then be made inaccessible to the user. Kind of a problem, isn’t it?

I suspect there is a long standing bug in the operating system here, as it is very hard for user to create this situation themselves. It can happen with any application and it seems to happen fairly often. I seem to be helping people with it all the time, so I thought I should finally write it down.

Method 1

This does not work in all versions of OS X, and it does not always work depending on how bad the problem is. However, it is the easiest and fastest solution so give it a try before tying the alternative method.

  1. Open whatever program you see the issue in
  2. Open up the troublesome dialog
  3. Press and hold the Shift key while pressing and holding on the vertical edge of the window. Drag the edge and release it at the center of the screen.
  4. Repeat step 3 a few times

If this does not scale the dialog back to normal, then we need to go a bit deeper into the system to root out the problem.

Method 2

You can delete the saved setting for the dimensions of these dialogs without losing any other preferences. It will require some minimal command typing in the Terminal program to resolve.

First verify that you are assuming the correct name for the application you are seeing the problem in:

  1. Open Terminal (search for it on your Mac using Spotlight)
  2. Type in “open -a ” followed by the name of the troublesome application. Surround the name in quotes.
  3. Press Enter

A complete example of the command looks like this:

open -a "Mission Control"

This should result in the application opening and becoming the foreground window. If the application does not open, then do not proceed! Figure out what the full name of the application is. Look in the /Applications folder.

To correct a dimension problem with the open dialog:

  1. Quit the application you want to fix
  2. Open Terminal again
  3. Type in “defaults delete -app ”, followed by the same name as you used before, followed by “ NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForOpenMode
  4. Press Enter

A complete example of the command looks like this:

defaults delete -app "TextEdit" NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForOpenMode

Or to correct a dimension problem with the save dialog:

  1. Quit the application you want to fix
  2. Open Terminal again
  3. Type in “defaults delete -app ”, followed by the same name as you used before, followed by “ NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForSaveMode
  4. Press Enter

A complete example of the command looks like this:

defaults delete -app "TextEdit" NSNavPanelExpandedSizeForSaveMode

The specific way outlined above will work on Mac OS X 10.5 and newer. It will work on applications from Apple, downloaded from the Mac App Store or downloaded from elsewhere on the web. Variations of these commands circulate on the web. The older commands using bundle identifiers instead of application names will not work on applications from the Mac App Store.