We've all experienced this: You open a new document inside an application such as Word, Excel, Textmate, or others. You work on it for a while and save it. Then you wish you could rename it. What do you do? You either click "Save As..." or exit the application, rename the file, then reopen it.

Why isn't there an established "Rename" option under the File menu in applications? The operation of creating a copy of the file and deleting the old version is not so complex, but we always task the user to do this instead of simplifying it as a menu item.

  • I'd certainly use that. – thursdaysgeek Apr 25 '11 at 21:15
  • I guess you'd rather want a "relocate" than a "rename", because renaming would be limiting, while relocation would also allow you to move it to another place. – Thomas Tempelmann Apr 26 '11 at 12:53
  • I'd just like to point out that not long after I asked this question OS X Lion came out with Duplicate and got rid of Save As, and then Mountain Lion came out and allowed you to rename a file on the fly via the title bar. – furtive Dec 4 '12 at 6:57

I think that the two main reasons are K.I.S.S. and Featuritis. It is harmful to have two actions that do virtually the same thing (Rename and Save As). And of the two I prefer to leave Save As because it's less dangerous and more useful. Without it, I effectively leave the user no way to create a copy from within my app - he must do it in the file system.

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    Save As is less dangerous because it only does half the job. A "delete previous copy" checkbox in the Save As dialogue near where the file name can be modified would amount to the same thing, although it would take a while for people to notice it. – furtive Apr 26 '11 at 1:10
  • Well that depends on your definition of "the job", doesn't it? :) Btw, I completely agree re the checkbox. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 26 '11 at 5:37

OK, here's the story on Mac OS X

As written in my other reply on Windows vs. OSX, I explained that OSX has the capability to detect renames or moves on disk based on a file's (and folder's) unique File ID.

And programs written in Cocoa, using the document based classes to manage opening and saving files represented in their own windows, this should all work unless the programmer screwed it up. And even Carbon apps get this right if they're written properly (i.e. following Apple's guidelines):

Apple actively wants every app to support that the user can, while a file is opened in an app, rename or move that file (on the same disk, i.e. volume), and the app should learn of the change and keep referencing that same file. A good example of this is that, on OSX, you can also rename a folder containing your file, and it should not cause problems (on Windows, it usually does!).

So, to answer your question: You can usually rename a file you're working on, only that this isn't working the way you like it to: Apple has never suggested to add a Rename command, and instead suggests to either (or both) offer a "Save As..." and/or a "Save A Copy As..." in place of your preferred "Rename", resulting in more freedom: Not only can you rename but also move the file to save this way. Adding another "Rename" would only lead to confusion, if you think more about it.

Plus, you can rename and move the file on disk in Finder, if the app is written properly.

  • So what you're saying is that within the app only the bare essentials should be available for managing a file, that every action for managing a file should be done via Finder and that the changes should be transparent. That makes sense. – furtive May 14 '11 at 6:10
  • Glad to see that my writing made some sense after all the confusion I was in at start :) So, yes. What you're saying is how Apple likes it to work. I've watched Apple try quite some different concepts in the past 25 years on keeping the document "in touch" with the application that handle it. They've also tried very different approaches, and MS Windows did, too. In the end, Apple seems to have settled - for now - on a few things: The "proxy" icon in the title bar that you can cmd-click on to get to the Finder window, plus the way apps can track the file as I explained above. – Thomas Tempelmann May 15 '11 at 14:10

This action is generally deferred to the filesystem's tools: from experience this is because files rarely need renaming.

It's preferable to reduce the complexity of menus, so it's probable that this feature isn't ubiquitous simply because there's not sufficient demand (that demand is inferred from data collected about users' behaviour through techniques such as in-application analytics, observation and questioning).

This feature is available in some feature-laden specialist tools, such as Notepad++.


Actually depends on the quality of the software. Good software supports it - like for example Coda. When I have a document open and I rename it from Finder or elsewhere - Coda gets a notification and automatically knows the new name of the file. Coda actually knows if I move the file I'm editing and so just keeps in open from the new location. It's all about software design...

  • Finally I have a working criterion for "good software"! :) – Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 26 '11 at 5:39
  • PhpED on windows does the same thing, very useful feature. – TomvB Apr 26 '11 at 8:10

Uh - major fail, this post. I found this question when browsing StackExchange questions and somehow assumed this was a Windows question. Turns out that TextMate is a Mac app :) Oh well, I'll leave it here anyways, so much information. Will write another on the actual question to clarify the points.

Look at Mac OS X - there, it's actually often possible to rename an open file, and the application will notice the change by updating the file name in the window's title bar.

The reason for not allowing the user to do this generally is that a program must be aware of the change so that it knows where to save the new version to. And there are two major reasons why this is not happening:

  1. Most programs do NOT leave the document file open, locking it thereby to prevent modification by other tools in the meantime. But they usually should. They just don't because that's harder to maintain (to program). Most programs just load the file into memory, and create a new file in the old place when you Save.

    If the program would leave the file open (writable) and just write back to the open file in the end when it wants to save the changes, renaming, and even moving of the file on the same volume, would not cause any confusion - it would keep saving to the same file. However, that might not even be what the user wants: He might think: Oh, I want to move the existing file somewhere else or rename it so that when I save, I keep this older version as a backup. Therefore, people thinking of files as things getting recreated at Save, may not even like the method you propose in your question - it would irritate them because then they can't keep a backup any more by renaming the old file manually.

  2. Now, to keep the user better informed what will happen if the user renames (or moves) the on-disk name, the program would have to learn of this change. On Mac OS X this is easily possible because it has capabilities that DOS-based Windows doesn't: The File ID: Each file, when created, gets a unique code. So, there's two ways to remember a file on OSX: By its path (folders) and name, or by its ID. And many apps on OSX, either because they're using "proper" frameworks (pre-written code that performs many standard operations for common apps) or because they follow Apple's well-written guidelines covering these topics, will use this feature to detect changes to the loaded file, and then adopt to it.

This means, that a Mac user is much more likely to know (eg. by experience) that he can move an opened file around or rename it and still get it updated when saving.

On Windows, where there are (or for very long haven't been) such ways for applications to detect a change in the loaded file's name, this mechanism is therefore not employable.

In summary, there's several things why this works on OSX but not on Windows (and Linux):

  • While OSX has a long history of supporting this "feature", based on Apple's early experiements and resulting guidelines since the 1990s, Mac programd and their users are more used to this feature and can deal with it accordingly.
  • OTOH, Windows (built upon DOS, a very very simply and inefficient file system compared to the Mac's HFS) has never taught programmers nor users to deal with this feature and so no one expect it, and might get confused if randomly some apps would start following this paradigm now.
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    Thomas, thanks for the overview, but have you even read the question? It is not whether it's technically possible, whether on Windows, Mac or anything else. And it is definitely not about whether it's possible to rename an open file from the file system. The question is why the programs currently working on those files do not offer this feature on their menus. The technical possibility of renaming has nothing to do with it. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 26 '11 at 9:04
  • What's your point, Vitaly? I very clearly state at the top of this reply that it's not answering the question properly. – Thomas Tempelmann Apr 26 '11 at 12:50
  • The same goes for your other reply, I just didn't want to post the comment twice. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Apr 26 '11 at 13:11
  • @Vitaly - this is a prime example of an answer that should be downvoted. It doesn't answer the question in any way. Since you agree with that statement, that's what the downvote is for. It will keep the answer buried below the better answers. – Charles Boyung Apr 26 '11 at 15:27

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