How to use the Finder’s powerful bulk renaming tools

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file renaming mac finder
You might be surprised by how much the macOS Finder's renaming tools can do.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Renaming a single file in the Finder isn’t too bad. You can click on its name and type in a new one. But what if you want to rename a whole bunch of files at once? Maybe you want to add the same text to the beginning of every file, or add a number to the end of a folder full of MP3 recording to keep them in the right order. Do you have a folder full of photos named IMG_00xx.JPG that need to be called dads_wedding_00x.jpg instead? Or perhaps that intern spelled the company name wrong on every single one of a hundred files, and you need to correct that word on every file?

In the olden days, you would have to either a) research, download, buy, and learn to use a new bulk-renaming app or b), punish your intern by making them correct everything by hand, before finally resorting to a) anyway because the intern screwed it up again. Now, the Finder has powerful bulk-renaming tools built in, so you can just take care of it all in a couple of minutes, and have your intern make you a coffee instead. If they can be trusted to do it, that is.

The Finder has surprisingly good renaming tools

The Finder’s renaming tools were introduced in Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, and are easily good enough for most uses. If your job involves renaming lots files (perhaps you are an excellent intern), then you might consider apps like Many Tricks’ excellent Name Mangler, which offers more powerful renaming tools like reusable, multi-step presets, and the ability to tweak file metadata.

For most of us, though, the Finder is just fine.

How to rename lots of files with the Finder

Pick the Rename option in the Finder's contextual menu.
Pick the Rename option in the Finder’s contextual menu.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Step one is to select all the files you want to rename. If I’m doing anything complex, I might put those files in a folder first, to make sure I don’t hit any others by mistake. If you’re working with small files, like text files, then you might even create a folder full of copies, just in case you screw up. Once you get used to doing this, you won’t need to be so cautious, but the first time it pays to take extra care.

Step two is to right click the list, and choose the Rename xxx Items. This pops open the rename sheet. There are three types of renaming tools — Add Text, Replace Text, and Format.

Add text

Adding text is the simplest option.
Adding text is the simplest option.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Add Text is the simplest of these. You just type in the text that you want to append or prepend to the file name, and choose whether to place it before or after the name. Hit Rename and you’re done. This operation could turn IMG_00xx.JPG into Dads_Wedding_IMG_00xx.JPG, for example.

Replace text

To replace text, just type in the boxes.
To replace text, just type in the boxes.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Next up is replacing text. In our example, this would mean turning turn IMG_00xx.JPG into Dads_Wedding_00xx.JPG. Just type the text you want to remove into the first box, and the text want to replace it with in the second box. There’s a preview at the bottom so you can check it looks good before hitting Rename.

Format text

This is where the real power lives.
This is where the real power lives.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The most powerful of the three options is Format Text. The previous method only let you replace text which already exists in the file name. The option lets you change the file name, and also add numbers to the end, in the form of a counter. This is what you want if you’d like your files to be renamed thusly:

Dads_Wedding_0001.JPG
Dads_Wedding_0002.JPG
Dads_Wedding_0003.JPG

…and so on. In this option, you can choose Name and Index, Name and Counter, or Name and Date. In all three, you give it a base filename. Index and Counter let you specify a string number from which to count up. Index uses the number alone, whereas Counter pads the number with zeros, as in the above example. Date adds the current date and time to the base filename. In all three options, you can choose to put the numbers before or after the base filename. If you leave the base filename blank, then this action will only add the numbers to the original filename.

As you can see, the renaming tools in the Finder are good enough for most purposes, even some more advanced tasks. You can even tie the different operations together to get fancier — you could replace a single word in all the files, and then run the renamer again to add numbers to them. Give it a go next time you want to rename more than one or two files. And don’t panic if it all goers wrong — just hit Command-Z and you can undo any changes you made instantly.