Renaming lots of files at once is a bit more sophisticated in Mac OSX than Windows

In my last post – Renaming Multiple Files in Windows – I described multiple file renaming in Windows. Here is Mac’s equivalent.

Suppose I have several photos that I would like to rename to indicate that they were all taken in Brighton. The way that I would do this on a Mac is as follows:

Select all the relevant files (in Finder) by clicking on the first file and then holding down the “shift” key while clicking on the last file (there are two shift keys on most keyboards – they are at the left and righthand edges of the keyboard and have arrows pointing towards the screen – ie away from you).

Right-click the mouse or trackpad and left-click on “Rename x items…” (where “x” is the number of files you have highlighted). Alternatively, click on the “file” command and then left-click on “Rename x items…”.

The first option to note is the dropdown box that currently shows “Replace Text” (see Figure 1). Leave that as it is for now. Note that you can see what the results will look like by referring to the example at the bottom left of the window. Just type in the text that you wish to replace and the text with which you wish to replace it and click on “Rename”. See Figure 2 for the result.

File Renaming on a Mac - Figure 1

Figure 1

File Renaming on a Mac - Figure 2

Figure 2

The next option allows us to add text to the original file names and to choose whether to add it before or after the original file name. This option is accessed by clicking on the dropdown box next to “Replace Text” and choosing, instead, “Add Text”. See Figures 3 and 4.

File Renaming on a Mac - Figure 3

Figure 3

File Renaming on a Mac - Figure 4

Figure 4

The most flexible option is accessed by choosing “Format” in the first option (see Figure 5). Against the option “Name format” we can choose to add either a date, a number (confusingly referred to as an “index”), or a counter to the name. The only difference I can find between “index” and “counter” is that “counter” pads the number out with leading zeroes. “Aah”, you might say, “that’s to make sure that numbers appear in the correct order (eg 099 would appear before 100)”. But Finder already sorts 99 before 100, so I can’t see the advantage. I spent an inordinate amount of time googling to try to find the difference between “index” and “counter” – and failed.

Then, quite confusingly, there is a box labelled “Custom format”. It doesn’t mean “format” at all. It means “Name” as this box just allows you to re-name the “name” part of the file name. Luckily, there is, once more, an example of how your file renaming will look at the bottom left of the renaming window. Other options in this dialogue box are self-explanatory. See Figure 6 for an example of the results.

File Renaming on a Mac - Figure 5

Figure 5

File Renaming on a Mac - Figure 6

Figure 6

A warning. Your Finder may be set to display “file extensions” (see the option Finder / Preferences / Advanced). These are the letters after the final full stop in filenames. In the examples above, the file extension in all cases is “tif”. These file extensions are the means by which the operating system knows which program to use to open a file. Do not touch the file extension when renaming files. This also applies to renaming files in Windows.

If you need more comprehensive renaming options, then third party programs are available. A quick google for “file renaming software” took me to, for instance. I haven’t tried this program, but it does look as if it could satisfy very complicated file naming requirements.

You don’t have to rename files individually if you want them all to have more-or-less the same name

Light Bulb ClipartI’ve recently been transferring TV programs that I have recorded from DVDs to a Seagate “NAS” drive. “NAS” means “Network attached storage”. At its simplest, this is an external hard drive that connects to the router so that all computers on the network can access it. It also, however, acts as a “media streamer”. In other words, it can deliver content stored on it to (for instance) a Smart TV.

This transfer means that I’m going to end up with loads of files on the NAS drive with similar names. As an example, there were eight episodes in the series “The Planets”. In transferring them to the NAS drive I have put them all in a folder called (natch) “The Planets”. The filenames they started off with are shown in Figure 1. If this setup is replicated with many other series of videos, then I’m going to end up with loads of files called “1DVD_VIDEO_RECORDER.MP4” etc. Admittedly they will be separated into folders that are more meaningfully named, but I’m odd enough to want things better organised than that.

So, how do you rename files without doing them all individually?

Multiple File Renaming - Figure 1

Figure 1

Begin by selecting all the files. If you are selecting all the files in the folder then the easiest way to do this is to click on a single file and then hit Ctrl a (ie, depress the Ctrl key and, while it is depressed, tap the letter “a”). All files will then highlighted. If you are not selecting all the files in a folder then click on the first file and “shift-click” on the last file.

Then right-click on the first file and left-click on the rename option (see Figure 2). This is exactly the same as if you were renaming a single file (except that you can see that there are other files that are highlighted). Go ahead and rename the file and then, as normal, hit the “enter” key.




Multiple File Renaming - Figure 2

Figure 2

You will now see (as in Figure 3), that all the selected files have been renamed with the same name, followed by an incrementing number in brackets. It is important to note that the numbering aspect of the renaming uses the same file order as the files started with. So, in my case, I had already made sure that each episode was given the correct number (1-8) when transferring from DVD. Since I was displaying the files in filename order, this ensured that the final renumbering followed the same sequence as my original numbering.


Multiple File Renaming - Figure3

Figure 3

Suppose, however, that you had 20 spreadsheets that all related to “household budget” and you had given them lots of different names over time. Renaming and numbering according to the alphabetical sequence of these various names may not make much sense. It would probably be more logical to order your files by date before renaming them. That way, the number part of the filename would increment with time (assuming you had sorted them older down to newer and not the other way around!). Of course, if the files you wanted to renumber were mixed up with lots of other files, you might need to copy them to their own folder before changing the order and renaming them.

And in case you hadn’t realised it, sorting files by different columns (eg filename, date modified) is easy: just click on the column header itself (eg “Name” above the actual file names). Click on the column header again to sort it in the other direction (A-Z or Z-A etc).

This renaming works for at least Windows 7 onwards. If you are using anything older, then it’s time to think about updating (particularly if you are still using XP!!!)

Next time I will look at how you rename multiple files on a Mac. It’s more sophisticated than on a PC.

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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