Those trackpad gestures tho


Gestures are clutch for quickly navigating on your mac. (Assuming you use a trackpad)


  • Swipe between Full-Screen Apps and Spaces: 3 or 4 finger horizontal swipe
  • Show all Apps + Spaces (Mission Control): 3 or 4 fingers up
  • ‘Forward/Back’ in the browser: 2 or 3 finger swipes left or right (See note below)

Just like hitting a hot corner with your mouse, executing a gesture fires an interaction. They can be a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, but one day you’ll be in flow and surprise yourself with how naturally you attempt it.

If you didn’t skip the tutorial when you first started up your latest OS, you were probably walked through a number of them, and then left on the Trackpad or Mouse configuration screen in System Preferences.

Own your workflow! You can configure these gestures to do your bidding! I recommend reading through all the options in there to get an idea of what is available, and playing with all of them.

I’ll comment on a few of them here; this is not comprehensive!


Point & Click

  • Tap to click: I usually disable this; otherwise my twitchy fingers do it all the time
  • Secondary click: A big deal when first switching to Mac from Windows (you can also hold control when you click)

Scroll & Zoom

  • Scroll Direction: This was a point of contention when Apple reversed the default here - it’s the first thing you notice when you sit down at someone else’s computer. I prefer ‘Natural’

More Gestures

  • Swipe between pages: Until recently, I’d always disabled this feature: it used to happen accidentally while scrolling down, which was infuriating. I defaulted to hitting Backspace to go back for years, and that still works great, but is too much wrist movement for my liking. Playing with it recently, I’m much more satisfied - the sensors have massively improved, or maybe I’m more precise now. Either way, I like it, and wanted it back; however, it was a pain to get it working again, see below if you’re interested in the details
  • Swipe between full-screen apps: I love this feature because I love using apps in full-screen mode (I find non-fullscreen apps to be difficult to cope with, attention-wise)
  • Notification Center: Most common use-case for me: opening this up to disable notifications for 24 hours
  • Mission Control: Swipe up to show all your apps - from here you can easily drag an app to a new space.
  • Show Desktop: For when your Hot Corner is all the way up there


There are definitely mouse commands that you should have your way with. Just none that I use. #mouseless #noresearch

Aside featuring a Terminal command: Swiping forward and back isn’t working?

Most Googling pointed me to pages telling me to change settings in System Preferences > Mouse, but because I don’t have a Mouse, System Preferences refused to load those settings.

Luckily I found these instructions for disabling it and switched the FALSE to a TRUE, and after firing this command into Terminal, all is well again.

This immediately worked for me in a new Chrome window. Notably, I’d also already tweaked the setting to my liking in System Preferences > Trackpad > More Gestures.

To run the command, open a Terminal session, copy and paste this line, and then take the leap: tap ENTER to fire it, and update your defaults settings the manual way.

bash defaults write AppleEnableSwipeNavigateWithScrolls -bool TRUE

For a brief bit of detail, defaults is a program you can run in the terminal to update system settings - it’s the same thing that using System Preferences will use after you click on the buttons in there. The above command has access to more than just the bits in the menu presented by Apple. This one writes to a plist (aka ‘Preference List’), and sets the appropriate SwipeNavigationWithScrolls value to whatever -bool VAL you pass in.

If all this tickles your fancy and you’re interested in more, run defaults --help for more background on how defaults works - but fair warning, using unfamiliar commands can lead to difficult-to-restore situations! Don’t dive into the rabbit hole unless you’re willing to crawl all the way back out, covered in mud and WTFs.

Gest in jest

If you want more control or prefer to keep your hands on the keyboard, there are phenomenal options out there, all of which require a bit of digging and maybe writing a script or two.

For now, just enough to get you stated:

  • BetterSnapTool: Lets you drag a window to a border or corner for smart-resizing (aka Windows 7 UI)
  • HammerSpoon or Slate let you write a config script to handle your own hot-keys - definitely intended for a hacker mindset - if you have any interest, reach out! I’m happy to write up a getting-started guide or help you get going.

Published: June 14 2016

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