7 File Tagging Applications for OS X

With the inclusion of Spotlight in OS X Tiger, searching on the Mac became a fast and enjoyable process. It’s simple to find files that match a term you’re looking for – either within the file name, or inside the file itself.

But that’s not always enough. If you’d like to associate a particular keyword with a document, it can be difficult to do so quickly (short of including it in the file name, or navigating through the “Get Info” window).

This selection of tagging utilities make adding “tags” to files on your Mac a straight-forward process. Some are free, and others are more powerful, commercial tools for organising your files. Using tags may not be for everyone, but it can offer a thoroughly useful way to stay on top of all the photos, documents, emails and websites stored on your machine.




Tags is one of the most visually appealing applications, but also comes with a fairly hefty price tag. It’s fully compatible with Spotlight, and is built on the “OpenMeta” platform for the widest compatibility possible with other applications.

An excellent solution, but one that requires you to be a passionate tag user to justify the price.

Price: $29
Developer: Gravity Apps
Requires: Mac OS 10.5 or later




Punakea aims to help you cope with the day-to-day struggle of managing your files. It works in tandem with spotlight, and allows you to tag your files and bookmarks, freeing you of the strict hierarchy of the Finder’s folder structure.

It’s a slightly less expensive option at $25, and still retains the style and reliability you’d expect for a Mac utility.

Price: $25
Developer: Nudge Nudge
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5 or later



Nifty Box

Another good looking application for managing all your “stuff” in one place and assigning tags to documents, websites, photos etc. It has various different ways to visualise your tagged data once entered, and plays well with Spotlight.

Price: Free
Developer: Tim Scheffler
Requires: Mac OS X 10.4 or later




TagBot is a slightly dated application, though is still used by many of our readers. It hasn’t been updated for a year or so, but is slightly cheaper than some of the other options at $20.

The utility has a simple interface, and is designed solely for tagging files (there’s no extra functionality, as with a few of the other apps featured). Not highly recommended, but worth a look.

Price: $20
Developer: Big Robot Software
Requires: Requires Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5




Fresh offers an innovative two-panel interface, showing both your recently edited files and a panel of documents you’ve “saved” within the app. These can be displayed at the touch of a button, and make working with recent files fairly straight forward.

But what does this have to do with tagging? Fresh also has a simple interface for tagging files stored within the app. You can pick from existing tags or create new ones, and it allows for quick keyboard input. Useful if you’d like to tag recent files as you use them.

Price: $9
Developer: Ironic Software
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.5 or later




Another application from Ironic Software (they seem to be leading the way in the tagging market), Leap is the most powerful piece of software featured. Like Tags, it uses the OpenMeta convention for good inter-operability between different applications.

Price: $60
Developer: Ironic Software
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.5 or later




Tagit is the free tagging application from Ironic Software, and a baby companion to Leap. You drag a file to the application to tag it, and can do so through a simple and clutter-free interface. Again, it uses OpenMeta as a framework for storing tags, so it’s a simple process to upgrade to Leap at a later date if you really start to find tagging useful.

This seems like a great starting point if you want to try tagging out with something completely free and future-proof.

Price: Free
Developer: Ironic Software
Requires: Mac OS X 10.5.5 or later


I’d be interested to hear what you think about file organisation on OS X. Do you, like me, prefer to stick with a folder hierarchy system? Or do you rely on a tagging/Spotlight approach and throw everything in one folder?


Add Yours
  • Does anyone have a preference between Tagit and Nifty Box? Or aware of any big differences? I can see how tagging can be useful to me, but I’m not willing to pay for it….

    • I recently downloaded Nifty Box. It seems just like Leap except that it is free! It does support OpenMeta (with the addon program OpenMeta Exporter) and AppleScript (a HUGE plus). So far I love it!

  • Gravity Apps officially announced, ‘Tags is *NOT* built on the “OpenMeta” platform but is compatible with it.’

  • I use both a folder hierarchy and tagging, as there are many places where I want a main category and multiple search terms. The perfect example is images, though I actually use Aperture to tag them, they get sorted into folders based on date and shoot while the individual images get a ton of additional tags.

    Personally, I love Ironic Software’s products — I don’t use Yep all that much, but Fresh, Leap and Deep are constant companions. Deep is one of the neatest programs I’ve ever come across. However, my favorite file tagger wasn’t included: Default Folder X from St. Clair Software. Default Folder adds a number of very useful features to your save dialog including tagging when saving. Personally, if it doesn’t get tagged at creation, or for old files on an edit, then it is never going to get tagged.

    (Other notable features of Default Folder include: hierarchal views (most notably in that little “backup” dropdown you get in the center), the ability to click a finder window and have your save dialog jump to the path, favorites, recently used and so on.)

  • I’m totally hooked on tagging with Punakea! I just recently converted from keeping everything in folders. Let me give you one example why; say I download a pattern I want to save. I quickly select the file in my downloads folder, click command+P and my tagging window appears. tag the file with a tag or two: ‘resources’ and ‘patterns’. then forget about it. Punakea, if you set the preference, also manages your files, so your files get moved into a tag folder Punakea creates, with folders inside for every tag. a month later when I want that pattern, I open the main Punakea window, click the ‘resources’ tag-all files tagged resources are listed at the bottom, at the top are more tags to choose from to narrow my search. some examples of tags I have under ‘resources’: borders, PSD, inspiration, pspattern, wordpress and of course the ‘pattern’ tag I click to narrow my search some more. there I can view my patterns as a list of names, or better yet, as thumbnails, so all my patterns are laid out in front of me: http://img.skitch.com/20090921-d6t231mucarfsspc97bc632aj3.jpg

    It’s awesome for all those random tidbits you find and want to keep, but its also great for work projects, keeping client info and files handy and easy to find. I even use it to keep gift ideas for my family. while you’re browsing and see something you want to save for later purchasing, just hit the same command+P and the tagger window pops up with the webloc for the page you’re on. very handy! a quick tag with ‘gift ideas’ and ‘mom’ tucks it away for later.

    • Brooke!

      Thanks for sharing your workflow. It is exacly what I need to keep my icons organized.

      I was trying punakea but was also ready to uninstall because I didn’t realize it could manage images so beautifully :)

      You saved my day!
      I’m thankful :)

    • Brooke!

      Thanks for sharing your workflow. It is exacly what I need to keep my icons organized.

      I was trying punakea but was also ready to uninstall because I didn’t realize it could manage images so beautifully :)

      You saved my day!
      I’m thankful :)

  • Fresh all the way. I don’t see the point in having too many apps for one job. This does it and more, and does it well. Great price point also!

  • TagBot will be two years without an update this November. I presume it’s abandonware.

  • A fantastic article and run down of mac tagging apps. I personally used to used Leap but they have now updated it to use the new ‘open meta’ platform and expect people to pay the ludicrously high price of a brand new application with no reduced upgrade price. No way! Leap – you have lost my custom. Shame on you. Tagit however is just brilliant. And I love the ‘cloud’ of tags you get in Punakea.
    Thank you for the reference to Default Folder X, I have been wishing mac had a ‘tag on save’ feature forever.

    • If you open Leap v1 and check for updates, a Leap 2 upgrade box appears. Click the Upgrade Now button it and it should provide you with a discount code. The upgrade price for me was $19.

  • Hi miss here completey Together (http://reinventedsoftware.com/together/). I think it is an amazing tool and I like the quick access to search, favorites or importing and tagging files via the “shelf”.

  • I tag my files with the File tagging plugin of QuickSilver. Simple, powerful and free…

  • That’s a nice list and Nifty Box looks like a great opportunity…

  • I really like Yojimbo for importing web pages, notes, bookmarks, serials, passwords etc. then tag them and have them all in one place. Yojimbo is sort of like Nifty Box but for me its better because of the features

  • very helpful, thanks

  • Great overview of tagging apps! I’ll be looking into some of these apps.

    I use Evernote on my Mac and iPhone to keep all my ideas and projects in one place, and I’m very happy with it. I’d love to find a way to tag e-mail, does anyone have any suggestions?

    • If you use Mail try MailTags from indev.ca (their act-on software is also excellent). Mail is one place where I use a Getting Things Done action/filed/later folder structure instead of a hierarchy and the two together allow for quick tagging/project assignment for later retrieval and very quick folder sorting. Think it was an old macworld article that taught me the method, but I’m having trouble finding it for you. You might run over to 43folders and take a look at some of the things there.

    • Do you mean you use Evernote to the exclusion of everything else? How brave of you… I also use Evernote and love it. I toy with the idea of “replacing” the Finder with some sort of tag-based system, if only to be able to find related files that aren’t in the same place. Tagoman looks promising, and I like the way it writes to Finder comments, but now I need a decent ‘front-end’…

  • Would people like to see a screencast review roundup at Mac OS X Screencasts?
    I’m not sure if I should invest any energy into this idea…

    • That review round-up would be so welcome. I think it’s clear that the tags model offers more speed and flexibility than hierarchical folders.

      I think you’d get an initially positive response that would continue to grow overtime, as tags become more popular. Familiarity via Google is one of the reasons that people are gravitating to tags. But I think the key reason is the volume and speed that info currently comes at us – often with fire-hose velocity – is handled much better with tags than folders.

      Another thought – Tags applications can have very subtle but really powerful distinctions. It’s not one size is best or fits all. Screencasts are a great way to showcase these distinctions.

      Energy? Yes. Worth the investment? IMO… Oh Ya!

  • Tried many tagging apps, liked the Tags look, been using Tagit for a while and now I use Tagger: http://hasseg.org/tagger/

  • After a quick look at the offerings ‘Tags’ looks like the it has a more convenient hot-key popup tag applicator window rather than having to physically drag the file onto a dock or similar.

    Ive been using Tagbot which has a right-click application method but development appears to have stalled (and it’s tag viewer has stopped working for me – 10.4.11)

  • very nice post. looking forward for more posts

  • I’m more of a folder hierarchy person but i think tags will be really useful. I’ve been searching for a good list of tagging apps and i think i just found an awesome entry :) thanks!

  • Only Leap seems to show the tags under the files. I was looking for an app that did this so that I could see the files in a folder that are NOT tagged. I just can’t justify $60 for the software though. Tags 2.x looks very nice though.

  • Like the it has a more convenient hot-key popup tag applicator window rather than having

  • Nice round-up! For committed users of tagging, two important questions:
    – How SCALEABLE is tagging? Can it manage a server with over 1,200,000 files?
    – Does any of these apps support sharing/synchronization of tags across computers?

  • I love tagging, but my major problem with ALL of these apps (and all the apps in the whole world currently for that matter) is that none of them support hierarchical tagging. Every app so far has flat-list tagging, meaning all your tags are in the same cloud. This is ok when its just a small list, but when you have upwards of 100 tags (and believe me, I’ve consolidated as hard as possible), it gets WAY too cumbersome, not to mention impossible to find the tags you need when using an app with an alphabetical list (Leap, Tags, etc).

    I wish the Ironic Software developers who are making OpenMeta would realize the potential in making tags fit under hierarchy. This way, I could have my tags on “Math” and “Psychology” and “Logic” fit under the Meta-Group (as I call it) “Scholastic”. Next, I can tag my photos with their locations, and fit them all under a Meta-Group of the country, or the date, or the people with me, etc.

    Whatever the case, without hierarchy to tags, they are all just sitting around, getting jumbled together, making things worse than before I ever tagged! The other downfall to this is app devs are making the tag lists alphabetical. There needs to be more options! I need to be able to sort by “Tag Count” or by a Rating system, or by my own choice of order.

    Does anyone else share in my frustrations on this topic? Something really needs to be done about this! I’m emailing Ironic Software to complain, please join me:

    Email them: [email protected]

    • By the way, Nifty Box is the only app I’ve ever found that will allow you to folderize your tags (which is exactly what I’m talking about needed), but durn it, not only does it not support OpenMeta which I must have, the developers stopped working on it permanently!

      Devonthink finally incorporated OpenMeta, but they dont do tag folderizing, and it takes /WAY/ too long to import files.

      Together /would/ work, except it doesn’t allow OpenMeta yet either.

      Yep is one of the best, but IMO they ruined it for 2.0. When it was at v1.8 it had so many better features (Page Count column, Author column, write metadata to PDF itself, etc) and they removed them. How could they make the software worse instead of better?…

      I hate to rant, I really do, I’m usually the most positive optimistic person, but these limitations are majorly serious for me, and my scholastic research progress screeches to a crawl until its fixed.

      Unless someone else has a bright idea?

      • Same feelings here – I want to use use tags for my project management workflow. Project titles, references, etc etc.

        Evernote seems to be the best option – but I don’t know if they support the OpenMeta?

      • DEVONthink works really well with OpenMeta, their groups (folders) are seen as tags so any file put in a series of nested groups adopts the group names as tags as well as the individual tags that you apply either in DEVONthink or externally and then import.

  • Just to let you know, Leap is available at the moment on the Mac App Store for $25. It’s practically a steal. I’d recommend getting the bundle but if all you’re looking for is Leap then that’s your best deal.

    Also, I’m the developer of a small OpenMeta-powered utility called Filr. It’s available at http://novastormsoftware.com/filr/ (via the Mac App Store) and costs $3.99.

  • I actually use Tag Folders (http://web.me.com/jonstovell/Tag_Folders/Tag_Folders_Home.html). I’ve tried a number of the other apps that use OpenMeta, and Tag Folders seems to be one of the more simple ones.

  • FYI re DevonThink: You can simply index your folders rather than import if desired. You can still view the file’s contents within the DT viewer, annotate PDFs, etc– it’s the true file, so what you do follows that file as you’d expect. Plus, the tags **can** be “folderized”– just drag & drop one tag onto another, or multiple tags onto a tag. Since it’s openmeta, in Finder/Pathfinder, a DT tag like Tag1/subtag2/subsubtag3 shows as individual tags: Tag1, subtag2, subsubtag3. DT may appear “too expensive” as first glance, but the one app takes the place of several– OCR (Pro Office version), tagging, phrase and other searching, photo tagging (yes, indexing pics is a breeze as well), add ToDo/Event/reminder… the list goes on. Combine it with any of the dozens of scripts that come with DT Pro Office (not sure about other versions), and you’ve got auto-OCR, auto-index, & auto-updating so as you feed the Finder folders, those additions will pop up in DT as well.

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  • I have a question. I was using Tags for quite sometime and was pretty used to literary tagging everything that came into my hard disk. The thing is i had some system problems and had to back-up everything, make a fresh installation of the OS and reinstall all programs and paste everything back on my disk. So far i have not figured out how to reassign the old tags my files had. Does anyone know if there is a way i can do this? Or are the tags completely lost in the process and now have to re-tag everything??? ( If yes i have to say that this is a major drawback on the tagging concept…)

  • Pretty sure most of the cloud based apps are tagging apps in mac, such as: evernote, Pocket, Dropbox, etc. the best part is the tags are all synced with all clients, even for the iOS apps. And two more apps I think they’re tag based too, from icyblaze guys, the iDocument, sparkbox http://www.icyblaze.com One for document tagging, one for webpage/image tagging.