How to Unhide Desktop Icons on macOS

One day I realized all of the desktop icons on my 2019 MacBook Pro were missing, but still visible in Finder. I thought maybe it was a bug in Big Sur 11.4 but I eventually found the solution.

There is a command to hide the icons on the desktop:

defaults write CreateDesktop FALSE; killall Finder

I don’t remember running it, but by setting CreateDesktop to TRUE and restarting Finder, all my icons showed back up!

defaults write CreateDesktop TRUE; killall Finder

To make this easier in the future, I added a function to my shell:

# Pass TRUE or FALSE - toggles desktop icons on and off.
function toggle_desktop_icons()
if [ -z "$1" ]
echo "You must pass 'TRUE' or 'FALSE' to this function!"
echo "Try 'toggle_desktop_icons true' or 'toggle_desktop_icons false'"
echo ""
echo "Aborting!"
return 0
defaults write CreateDesktop $1; killall Finder


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Hey, I'm Andrew 👋

I'm a senior product engineer at Podia, co-host of Remote Ruby and Ruby for All, and co-editor of Ruby Radar. You can explore my writing, learn more about me, or subscribe to my RSS feed.

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05 June 2021
08 February 2022
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