Become an Alfred Expert: Advanced Tips & Tricks

We’ve covered Alfred quite a bit here on AppStorm, but I wanted to take some time today to showcase a few features that you might not have come across before. I used to be the type of person that loved to have an application launcher, but only ever used it for – you guessed it – launching apps!

Although Alfred does give you a fantastic way to open software using just your keyboard, it goes well beyond that fairly basic functionality. Today we’ll take a look at a few more advanced techniques, and show you how powerful this simple piece of software really is…

Standard Features

The basic, free version of Alfred is pretty awesome just one its own. There’s no need to purchase their Powerpack for the following features, and they are a solid indicator of what Alfred can do right out of the box.


One of the cool features announced in Apple’s Spotlight was the ability to use it as a simple calculator. You’ll be pleased to know that Alfred sports exactly the same functionality. Just hit your keyboard shortcut to launch Alfred, and type a calculation!

An example calculation

An example calculation

Once you’ve figured out how this feature works, head into Dashboard, and remove that calculator widget that’s been sitting there for months. No harm in freeing up a tiny bit of extra RAM!

If you want to enable advanced calculations, open preferences and tick “Enable advanced calculator with keyword ‘='”. This allows you do do things such as =sin(23).

Perform System Commands

Next up, did you know that Alfred is very capable when it comes to controlling your system itself? You can start your screensaver, empty the trash, log out, sleep, shut down, eject your optical drive, and quite a bit more!

Even better, all the commands for these functions are completely customisable – a big time-saver if you use them regularly.

Controlling Your System

Controlling Your System

Check Your Spelling & Define Words

If you regularly find yourself opening the OS X Dictionary app (or using the Command-Control-D shortcut to define a word), you should consider making the most of Alfred for all your spelling needs…

Just type “define word” to be presented with a short definition, then hit return to open the full Dictionary entry. Or, you can type “spell word” to have Alfred suggest a word that matches the first part of your query.

Define and spell. That's swell.

Search Google Fast

Want a ridiculously fast way to open a particular search in Google? Invoke Alfred, type your search query, then hit Alt+Enter. Boom. I wish there were a few more steps to pad this one out, but unfortunately, it’s just that fast!

Create a Custom Search

Although there’s a huge range of pre-packaged search terms and query formats in Alfred, it’s really simple to create your own. As an example, let’s create a search query that will automatically search Mac.AppStorm.

Here’s what I would need to enter in Alfred’s preferences:

Creating a Custom Search

Creating a Custom Search

To figure out what goes in the “Search URL” field, perform a search on your favourite site, and copy the resulting URL into this field in Alfred. Look for the text that you typed in for your search, and replace it with the following: {query} – This tells Alfred to dynamically insert your new search query into this part of the URL.

Here’s what it looks like when you come to execute this new custom search:

Searching AppStorm for "Alfred"

Powerpack Features

If you like what you see in the free version of Alfred, you should consider purchasing the Powerpack for £12. This unlocks a range of extra functionality, and makes the app even more useful. Here are a few advanced tips and tricks for Powerpack users!

Email With/Without Attachments

If you’d like a quick way to pen a new email to a contact, Alfred is the way to go. Just type “email”, followed by the first few letters of a contact. Hit return, and a new message will pop up in your default email client.

Sending a normal email

Sending a normal email

There’s also a great way to quickly send an email with an attachment. Open Alfred, type “Find”, followed by the name of the file you want to send. Hit the right arrow key, select “Email To”, then type the first few letters of a contact name. Hit the return key, and you’ll be good to go!

Emailing an attachment

Emailing an attachment

Clipboard & Snippets

There are countless applications out there that are able to store and retrieve a history of clipboard entries. It’s a handy tool to have installed, as there’s nothing more frustrating than accidentally overwriting an important snippet that you’ve copied to your clipboard.

Alfred steps in to help here, with a simple solution for storing anything that’s copied to your clipboard. The feature is disabled by default – you’ll need to activate it in preferences. Afterwards, just type “clipboard” to be shown your history log.

You can also store persistent “snippets” that will remain available indefinitely – a simple solution for being able to expand commonly used phrases or sentences with a couple of keystrokes.

Viewing Your Snippets

Viewing Your Snippets

File Actions

Although Alfred is great at helping you find the file you’re looking for, it’s also possible to perform a range of actions on a file after you’ve located it. After typing “find filename“, locate the file you want, then hit the right arrow key.

You’ll then be presented with a list of different file actions:

Handling File Actions

Handling File Actions

Each of these works brilliantly, and can be far quicker than navigating around using Finder and your mouse. Give it a try next time you want to move a file from one place to another, attach it to an email, or delete it!

Show Recent Documents

If you want to open a file that you’ve recently accessed, Alfred gives you a really quick and easy way to do so. Just start by typing in the name of the application in question, hit the right arrow, and then select “Recent Documents”. It’s that easy!

Here’s an example showing my recently accessed documents in Pixelmator:

Recent Document Access

Recent Document Access

Control iTunes

There’s no need for that quirky iTunes shortcut app in your Menu Bar any more – at least not if you’re a Powerpack user. Open Alfred, type “iTunes”, and select “Show the iTunes Mini Player” (you can also set up a custom shortcut to go straight there if you’d prefer). The first time it runs, it will take a few seconds to index your iTunes library:

Indexing iTunes...

Indexing iTunes...

After this process completes (it took about five seconds on my library of several hundred gigabytes), you’ll be good to go. You can search for albums and artists, control the currently playing track, and even rate songs!

To pause or play a song, type “Alt + Cmd + down arrow”, use “Alt + Cmd + Left/right arrow” to select previous or next song on your playlist. Or to rate a tune, just hit “Alt + Cmd + number from 1 to 5”.

Handling iTunes Tracks

Handling iTunes Tracks

Share Your Own Tips!

I hope that these tips and tricks will help you to get more out of Alfred. It’s such a powerful piece of software, and I can’t believe that it was originally just a simple application launcher for me.

If you have any tips and tricks of your own to share, I’d love to hear them. Just drop me a note in the comments.

Happy Alfred-ing!