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How to Enter and Leave Full Screen Mode in Mac OS X

Posted by Jim Tanous on March 25, 2015

Apple introduced full screen mode in OS X Lion and, while the feature has changed a bit since its 2011 launch, the basic effect is still the same. In short, OS X full screen mode takes a compatible app into a “true” full screen state, occupying the entire display and hiding the menu bar and window buttons. This can be great for maximizing the use of smaller displays, but it can be confusing for users who are accustomed to OS X’s traditional window-based interface.
A common problem, judging by the number of emails and comments we receive from readers, is when users unintentionally trigger full screen mode, and then don’t know how to exit it. This is especially problematic in OS X Yosemite, because Apple changed the way that the buttons in a window’s title bar work, making it easier to inadvertently enter full screen mode.

OS X Lion Full Screen Button

In OS X Lion through OS X Mavericks, the full-screen button was in the upper-right portion of a window.


From OS X Lion through OS X Mavericks, users could enter full screen mode by clicking a small icon in a window’s upper-right corner that displayed two arrows pointing away from each other. In OS X Yosemite, Apple eliminated this icon and instead changed the function of the green zoom button on the top-left side of the window. This button had traditionally been used to maximize a window to the largest needed dimensions, but clicking it in Yosemite instead triggers full screen mode.
os x yosemite full screen button

New in OS X Yosemite, the green button on the top-left side of the window is now the full screen button.


With this change, it’s easy to envision many users accidentally entering full screen mode, but the trick is that these same buttons disappear when an app is in full screen mode. The only way to access them is to hold your mouse or trackpad cursor at the upper-left portion of the screen and wait a second or two for the buttons and menu bar to appear — a step that is not immediately obvious to those new to OS X.

Related: Here’s how to access the traditional zoom button functionality in OS X Yosemite.

If you can get this hidden bar to appear in full screen mode, you can easily exit the mode by clicking the green button again. A faster way, however, is to use the keyboard. There are two ways to leave full screen mode in OS X by using the keyboard:

  • Press the Escape key
  • Use the keyboard shortcut Control-Command-F

While the Escape key is easier to remember and use, it doesn’t always work with all apps. Also, it will only take you out of full screen mode; it can’t enable full screen mode from the Desktop. Therefore, you’re better off memorizing Control-Command-F if you plan to frequently use full screen mode in OS X. With the use of this shortcut, you can quickly take the active app into full screen mode, such as when you want to focus on just one thing at a time, and then leave full screen mode just as easily.

11 thoughts on “How to Enter and Leave Full Screen Mode in Mac OS X”

JohnH says:
Simply beginning this article with this simple sentence would have been more helpful:
Hold your mouse or trackpad cursor at the upper-left portion of the screen and wait a second or two for the buttons and menu bar to appear.
I don’t really care about the history of the problem.
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Miles Raymond says:
Is there any way to switch the default back to maximize from fullscreen ?
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Cristian Nica says:
This was useful. Thx!
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Dee says:
A million thank yous! I was going nuts and couldn’t find this answer anywhere else! You saved my sanity – and my deadline!
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Josefreak Salem says:
This no longer works in El Capitan. The only way I was able to get Remote Desktop full screen to close, is to Cmd-TAB to another windows so that the dock shows, then Ctrl-click the Remote Desktop icon and select quit.
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AnimuLover2Wins says:
Can some 1 plz tell me how 2 full screen on Mac??
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ColCh says:
Yea!!! Thank you a lot! Very usable feature for me
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slye753 says:
so much better than yosemite and faster also
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Cathy Goodwin says:
This doesn’t work for me with iTunes 12 with Yosemite. I tried everything: hovering upper left, control-command-F, escape…I have no choice but to quit. Yosemite sucks.
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Laimonas Narbutas says:
There is one more problem about the fullscreen mode which is not mentioned here ๐Ÿ™‚ When You have terminal window with few tabs open and make it fullscreen You will get a new screen for every tab! It is insane ๐Ÿ˜€ I use Mac Book Air + two displays 24″ connected and I usually open fullscreen browser in one lcd and fullscreen terminal with few tabs in another. And when I use ctrl+-> or ctrl+<- I get few completely empty screens and that makes no sense at all.
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Timo Maas says:
how to disable this button, I dont want it.. I am new to mac and this OS sucks!!!
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Jaime Angel Toribio Arrieta says:
I really like the fullscreen view but in safari, escape is used to leave fullscreen videos and fullscreen view so if you accidentally press escape twice all safari leaves fullscreen view … and it happens all the time!! … please anybody knows how to disable the escape button for this???
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delapaco says:
I don’t know what I am talking about, because I don’t care, and it sucks.
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william dean says:
Thank you, I hope Apple heres you.

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