BEWARE! This is an archived article. It is potentially out-of-date, incorrect, or otherwise in disagreement with my current opinions. Proceed with caution!

October 15, 2013


By Drew Barontini

Alfred is a fantastic application that I could simply not live without. It’s the first application that I install on a fresh copy of OS X. I’m going to show you how to set it up to optimize your productivity with the application.

Alfred saves you time when you search for files online or on your Mac. Be more productive with hotkeys, keywords and file actions at your fingertips. – Alfred Website

First Things First, Install It

Head over to and install the application. It’s free, but you should buy the Powerpack , which adds several essential features to Alfred, such as:

  • Create and Import Workflows
  • Clipboard & Snippets
  • iTunes Controls
  • Theming
  • File Navigation & Result Actions
  • Plus many more features…

A large portion of this setup article will cover features that are only included as part of the Powerpack, so in order to get the most out of Alfred (and this article), I highly recommend you buy it.

Bringing up Alfred

Since Alfred is a far more advanced version of OS X’s Spotlight, I simply take over the keyboard command that Spotlight uses by default; cmd+space. To do this, open up System Preferences > Spotlight, and change (or uncheck) the Spotlight window keyboard shortcut option to another keyboard shortcut.

The System Preferences Spotlight Window The System Preferences Spotlight window.

Now, in Alfred, open up the preferences (click the cog at the top right or hit cmd+,) and change the Alfred Hotkey to cmd+space (or whichever keyboard shortcut you prefer).

Alfred System Preferences Alfred System Preferences window.

Simplifying Alfred

The first thing that I like to do with the Alfred window is remove the settings cog (instead, bring up the settings with cmd+,), and remove the Alfred logo. To do this, go to Alfred Preferences > Appearance > Options, and check the Hide hat on Alfred window and Hide prefs cog on Alfred window options. While you’re there, also check the Hide result shortcuts and Hide menu bar icon, if you want to clean things up even further.

Alfred Appearance Preferences window Alfred Appearance Preferences window.


Now that we’ve cleaned up the Alfred window, let’s adjust the theme by going to Alfred Preferences > Appearance > Theme. There are a few additional default themes, but I’ve created my own that I like (feel free to ignore this bit if you like the default theme):

My Alfred Theme My Alfred Theme. Download the theme

Custom Searches

In addition to the default web searches, you can also created your own custom web searches, which is a really powerful feature of Alfred. You can use it to create a quick keyword shortcut for launching a site you frequent, or hook into a site’s search URL in order to search a particular site directly from Alfred.

Keyboard Shortcut for Custom Search Keyboard Shortcut for Custom Search

Custom Search with search term Custom Search with search term.

Adding a Custom Search

Let’s add a custom search by going to Alfred Preferences > Features > Web Search. Click on the Add Custom Search button on the bottom right:

Add Custom Search button Add Custom Search button.

That brings up the panel for adding a custom search:

Add Custom search panel Add Custom Search panel.

Let’s add a custom search of Google News.

1. First, add the URL{query} to

the Search URL field. I found this URL by searching Google News, and then copying the URL, removing any extraneous information, and replacing the search term I used that was in the query with the {query} keyword that will be filled in with whatever search term you type into Alfred.

Adding the Search URL to the Custom Search Adding the Search URL to the Custom Search.

2. Add Search Google News for '{query}' to the Title field.

Adding the Title to the Custom Search Adding the Title to the Custom Search.

3. Add news to the Keyword field.

Adding the Keyword to the Custom Search Adding the Title to the Custom Search.

4. Finally, find an image for Google News that you can drop into the

icon placeholder on the right. This is optional, but it makes recognizing your custom search a lot easier when in the Alfred results.

Adding the Icon to the Custom Search Adding the Keyword to the Custom Search.

Now, let’s try out our custom search. Bring up Alfred and type news (our keyword) followed by what you’d like to search for (e.g. ‘government shutdown’). Your default browser should come up with a page for results of what you just searched for.

Testing out the Google News Custom Search Testing out the Google News Custom Search.

The Google News search results The Google News search results.

Finding Files

Alfred is not limited to finding and launching applications, you can also find and open files, search within a file, and even navigate the file system to find exactly what you’re looking for.

To find a file, bring up Alfred, and either type an apostrophe ' (pressing space again once Alfred is up adds the ' for you), or type the word find followed by the filename for the file you’d like to find. Once you find the file, you can hit enter while it’s selected in the window in order to open it.

Searching for a file in Alfred The Google News search results.


Alfred gives you the ability to store text snippets. You can add Snippets by going to Alfred Preferences > Clipboard > Snippets. First, though, let’s set a keyword for bringing up snippets. Go to Alfred Preferences > Clipboard and set a Snippet Keyword. I use the exclamation point (!) as my keyword.

Setting the Snippet Keyword Setting the Snippet Keyword.

Now go back to the Snippets panel and click the + at the bottom right.

The New Snippet panel The New Snippet panel.

Add Test, test, and Testing the snippets feature out. as the three values:

The New Snippet panel values The New Snippet panel values.

Now if you type ! test (our Snippet Keyword followed by the keyword for the snippet we just created), you’ll be able to paste in the value (‘Testing the snippets feature out.’) to whichever application is active. If there is nowhere to paste it, it will be copied to your clipboard.

Testing out our new snippet Testing out our new snippet.

Obviously, you’ll want to create more useful snippets for yourself, but this illustrates how you can create your own.


The last feature that I want to talk about is Workflows, a feature that was brought to Alfred in version 2.

Create immensely powerful workflows by connecting keywords, hotkeys and actions together to extend Alfred to do amazing things without writing a single line of code! – Alfred Website

The true power of workflows is in their ability to load results directly in the Alfred window. You can set up searches that return results as you type, allowing you to select the result right within Alfred.

Here are a few of the workflows that I use:

The Amazon Suggest Workflow The Amazon Suggest Workflow.

The Colors v.1.41 Workflow The Colors v.1.41 Workflow.

The Dev Doctor Workflow The Dev Doctor Workflow.

The GitHub Workflow The GitHub Workflow.

That’s All, Folks

That’s it for the primary Alfred setup that I go through each time. Hopefully this helps you improve your Alfred workflow.

© 2019 Drew Barontini — Building products under Drewbio, LLC