9 things you may not know about Services in OS X

Services is a little-known system features of OS X that provides commands and shortcuts that you can access from a Services menu. Services allows you to quickly perform actions in other app without first launching and interacting with that app. It’s a shortcuts that saves you from taking more steps.

Where does services come from?

Services are generally provided by OS X applications and third party programs that you installed on your Mac. You can also write your own services.

Go to Finder app and right-click on an mp3 file. A contextual menu will appear. Select Services from the menu to list the available services. In this example as show below, the “Unarchive To…“ options are services provided by The Unachiver app, “Add to Evernote” is a services provided by Evernote app, and “Encode Selected Audio Files” is a services provided by iTunes app. By selecting from the Services menu, you can directly launch and run the commands in The Unarchiver, Evernote or iTunes from within the Finder app.

things you may not know about Services in OS X from Finder

Using Automator to create services

OS X provides the Automator tool that you can use to create your own services. Automator uses the AppleScript programming languages when creating services, allowing you the complete control to simplify and automate any tasks under OS X. Once a services is saved from within Automator, your services will appear as a selectable option in the Services menu.

To get started with writing Services with Automator, you need some understanding of working with AppleScript. We will be covering the basics of writing services using Automator in future posts.

Access Services menu in Finder

You access services via the Services menu. Services menu appears when you right-click on file or folder in Finder, as illustrated in the first example above. 

Access Services menu from app menu

Services menu is available under each Mac app’s menu under AppName > Services. The following shows the Services menu under TextEdit app. It contains “Capture Selection from Screen” services from Grab app, and “Import Image” services from Image Capture app.

things you may not know about Services in OS X app menu

Access Services menu under contextual menu

In OS X, right-click or control-click on an object will display a contextual menu if the object provided one. For example, when you right-click on a file object under Finder, a contextual menu is displayed, and Services menu is located at bottom of the menu.

The following shows the contextual menu when you select a block of text under TextEdit app. Services menu is located at bottom of the menu. The services available includes “Tweet” or message the text selection, and adding the selected text to Evernote app with “Add to Evernote”.

things you may not know about Services in OS X contextual menu

The following shows the contextual menu when selecting a block of text under Safari. When there are few services available, the list of services are displayed at the menu bottom instead of grouping within a Services sub-menu. 

things you may not know about Services in OS X using Safari

For the case of Safari, you now have a “Search With Google” service which will search Google for the selected block of text.

Available services depends on context

Services menu will present to you different options depending on the selected object and context.

The following shows the Services menu for Pages app when you’re editing a document and have a block of text selected.

things you may not know about Services in OS X Pages 1

When you’re editing a Pages document without any text selection, this is what the Services menu displays:

things you may not know about Services in OS X Pages 2

When you have no open document under Pages, the Services menu is blank.

things you may not know about Services in OS X Pages 3

Where are services installed?

Services by OS X applications are mostly located from within the apps. If you’re writing your own services, save them under /Users/<username>/Library/Services folder where <username> is your OS X username.

If you’re copying or downloading services from somewhere else, place them under the same /Users/<username>/Library/Services folder.

If you’re using Automator to create your services, by default Automator will save your services under this folder.

Keyboard shortcuts to services

Using the Services menu from the app menu can be frustrating if you use them often. You can setup keyboard shortcut to specific services that you use regularly to save you time.

Go to System Preferences > Keyboard, and click on the Shotcuts pane. Then click on Services option on the left to display the list of available services.

things you may not know about Services in OS X keyboard shortcut

Scroll to and select the service that you want to assign a keyboard shortcut. Click on the add shortcut button and enter the keyboard shortcut you want. Please ensure that the keyboard shortcut you’ve chosen is not used by another application. 

Hide unwanted services

If you have a lot of applications in your Mac, chances are you may have a lot of services. You might have too many services to make using the Services menu a tedious task. Fortunately you can hide those unwanted services from appearing in the Services menu.

Go to the same preferences pane at System Preferences > Keyboard where you setup keyboard shortcuts for services. Simply uncheck those services that you do not want to hide them from appearing on the Services menu.