I try to automate as much as possible, both in the real world and on my computer, as I find myself staring at my screen for more that ten hours a day. My house lights turn themselves on and off, my outlets power down to save energy, and the files on my MacBook Pro are doing all sorts of things while I’m not looking.
Why, you ask? Because if not, my Downloads folder would take over my hard disk, all of my MP3s would be on my Desktop instead of in iTunes, and my MacBook Pro would be 73% cat gifs. I need something to automatically manage all of my files while I’m doing real work. Sorter is just such an application. It monitors folders for file changes and then takes the actions you want to keep your Mac fighting like a champ.
Rules Were Made to be Broken
To get started with Sorter, click the plus sign in the upper left to start creating rules. As you create more rules in different folders, you’ll see them sort themselves out in the sidebar. When you have a lot of rules created, toggle each folder open or closed to interact with its rules and update, edit, or remove your rules.
But first you have to create some rules. Clicking the plus sign brings up a blank rule. The folder to be monitored will default to whichever folder you’ve last worked with in Sorter, so make sure to change that if you’re looking for something else. You can choose a new folder by clicking Select in the center of the window and browsing in Finder. Remember, this is the folder from which the action will begin.
Next you’ll want to choose what the action does and the criteria for the action. Sorter allows you to set as many criteria as you’d like, and the action can occur either when all of the criteria only a single criterion are met. These criteria include things like whether the filename begins with, ends with, or contains X, or whether the file was created before or after a certain date.
After that, you just need to choose the target action for Sorter to complete. The actions are pretty limited but run the gamut of what you will likely need. You can move and delete files and run shell scripts and automator workflows. Sorter will perform more than one action per rule, so if you need a file moved before you run a workflow, it can do that.
Once you’ve completed your rule, make sure you give it a name and then turn it on by clicking the checkbox next to Rule is Active. Though this is the first thing you see, right at the top of your Sorter rule, I wouldn’t recommend making your rule active until you’re done. Until you have everything in place just how you like it, you may start affecting files unintentionally. For instance, I accidentally moved the entire contents of one folder into another and had to sort through about thirty files, because I activated my rule before it was ready to go.
Stuff That Didn’t Go So Well
I’m disappointed that I can’t choose a filetype for my rule to perform its action. I listen to a lot of Asian music, and that’s not always available from places like iTunes and Amazon, even when I download legitimately. I end up with a lot of MP3s in my Downloads folder that I have to import into iTunes. I’ve been using Hazel, a preference pane for watching files and performing actions according to cues, to automatically import those MP3s into iTunes based on their filetype.
That’s just not available in Sorter. I have some videos I moved over from my camera in my Downloads, and I wanted to get them all shifted to my Movies folder. Sorter couldn’t recognize “.avi” as being discrete to those videos, and moved the entire contents of my Downloads folder. When I updated my rule to look for files with just “avi” in their filenames, Sorter didn’t do anything.
The developer’s readme at GitHub says Sorter’s great for automatically archiving PDFs, but I don’t see how that’s the case. If Sorter is looking for something inside that PDF, sure, but that would be true of any file. The lack of filetype support within actions is a real bummer.
While Sorter is lacking some of the functionality of other apps that monitor folders and create rules for files, Hazel chief among them, Sorter is free, saving you a cool $25. There’s something to be said for free, and while you’re not getting all the bells and whistles of a slick paid app, you are getting the core utility.
With Sorter you can still create a lot of the same rules as a more expensive and, let’s face it, user friendly app, you’ll just have to put in a little extra elbow grease. Whereas similar apps may come with predefined rules and more specific actions, you have to build those from the ground up in Sorter. You’re still getting the same functionality, though, at a significant bargain.
Is Sorter going to be the right choice for everybody? Probably not. It’s certainly not as easy as other, similar apps, but it is as customizable, if you’re willing to put in the effort. If you’ve found yourself unwilling to part with cash for one of the more steeply priced apps of its kind, you may be willing to put in that work to make Sorter work for you, and you’ll definitely get out what you put in.