Quick File Tagging in OS X with Punakea (& Tagger)

Filed under Miscallaneous

Even though I am a little pedantic in some ways (like most engineers are, I suppose,) I always seem to have trouble organizing the files on my computer(s) with any kind of reasonable folder structure or naming convention. I often find myself desperately trying to find a specific file that I know I have somewhere but I'm not sure where, and sometimes I just want to find a bunch of files that are somehow related but not actually saved into the same folder. These are problems that tagging is trying to solve (and doing a reasonably good job at it, I might add.)

There are many solutions for tagging files for OS X and other platforms, but I've tried to be judicious about adopting any method or solution that would somehow seem like too much of a hack and not something that makes an effort to integrate into the OS. The file metadata system in OS X is something that I believe can be used to solve this issue, and Punakea, which is a tagging application that saves tags you add for files into their "Spotlight comments" metadata fields, was the first thing that seemed like something I should try. Well, I did try it, and quite liked it, so I started researching ways to make tagging files with it as quick and effortless as possible.

I wanted to be able to simply select a file in Finder, hit a keyboard shortcut to go into "tagging mode", type in some tags, and hit another keyboard shortcut to save the tags into the file and leave the "tagging mode". People have found quite effective ways to do this, most notably (in my opinion) by invoking Punakea's tagger window via assigning a Finder shortcut for its "Tag File" service. This worked quite well, but I had a pet peeve about the fact that the tags field in Punakea's tagger window was fully selected by default, which meant an extra "right arrow" key press to move the insertion point to the end of the list before starting to type in any extra tags. This, combined with the fact that I was eager to learn some more Objective-C, prompted me to write Tagger.

Tagger is a simple application that takes one file as an argument when it launches and allows you to edit its tags. Here's a screenshot of what it looks like:

Thanks to the lovely fact that Nudge:Nudge, the makers of Punakea, have released the tagging framework they use in Punakea as open source, I was able to just use that in Tagger as the basis for working with the tags. This fact also makes Tagger and Punakea (and also any other applications that use the same framework) inherently compatible. In future versions of Tagger I'll probably try to work on adding alternative tag storage methods (a custom format for tags saved into Spotlight Comments is probably first on the list.)

I have set up a separate page on this site for Tagger, where you can find more info on how to use it, the changelogs for different versions, and of course the download links.


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pate March 10, 2009 at 3:20 PM

Very useful but a big bug:

  • it only works when the files are on my main partition.


Ali Rantakari March 10, 2009 at 3:25 PM

Hi Pate,

Does this bug occur in both Tagger and Punakea?

myname March 11, 2009 at 3:31 AM

Hello. Nice Application but what I don’t like on Punakea and Tagger is the fact, that the Spotlight comments get filled with so many useless characters. I’m using Tagit (http://www.ironicsoftware.com/tagit/index.html) and maybe you can make something like Tagit but a little better? ;)

Ali Rantakari March 11, 2009 at 1:21 PM


I have looked at openmeta (the tagging framework Tagit and other software from those guys uses) and actually even took some first steps in getting it integrated to Tagger, but then found out that there is some controversy surrounding openmeta related to the fact that they’re using a namespace owned by Apple to store the tag metadata, so I thought I’d see if that would be fixed and then make a decision on whether to use it or not. See more info on the related discussion here:


pate March 11, 2009 at 1:36 PM

Only Tagger (I knew it in an instand when I was clicking the submit form button that I should have mentioned that up first).

The error message is:

Could not get file to tag. Tag a file by either dropping it on top of Tagger or selecting it in Finder and then launching Tagger.

pate March 11, 2009 at 1:37 PM

This only happens when triggered via Launchbar. When I drag and drop (or use launchbars open with feature ?+D) it works as supposed.

@myname: here’s a summary on openmeta: http://tr.im/heBT

PS: I couldn’t send this ‘post’ in the blog via yesterday (hadn’t the nerves to test other browsers) - this time I tested it all Firefox, Camino, with and without TextExpander. BUT it simply that theres a limited wordcount. :[

Cheers, Patte

Ali Rantakari March 11, 2009 at 3:07 PM

Hi Pate,

Thanks for the bug report. I’ve just uploaded v0.6.1 onto the server – the issue you’ve described should be fixed there. Let me know if you have any further problems.


Also, there seems to be some sort of problem in Wordpress with the commenting, sorry about that. I’m having trouble getting this comment posted myself!

myname March 12, 2009 at 8:49 PM

Hi Ali. Thanks for your reply. I didn’t know anything about that controversy. Really sad that Apple don’t support Openmeta. But maybe it comes in 10.6, implemented by Apple. ;)

pate March 25, 2009 at 1:35 PM

I still love tagger after testing it the last weeks. BUT it would be great if it’d allow me to tag files that are in a hidden folder.

I navigate via a shortcut to my hidden folder, but trying to tag the files inside it via tagger doesn’t work.

Ali Rantakari March 25, 2009 at 2:08 PM

Hi Pate,

I just created a hidden folder, added a file into it and tried to open the file with Tagger. It works for me, both by selecting the file in Finder and launching Tagger via a global shortcut as well as dragging and dropping the file on top of Tagger’s icon. I tried both methods of hiding a folder – prepending its name with a dot (.) and setting the HFS+ invisible bit. In both cases it worked fine for me. Are you using the latest version?

Ali Rantakari June 9, 2009 at 1:25 PM

The latest version of Tagger (0.7) now uses OpenMeta.

Benko June 15, 2009 at 11:32 AM


Thanks for your work. Unfortunately, Tagger 0.81 doesn’t seem to work for me. It works well to put tags on files… but the search with spotlight doesn’t find anything…

Is there any special things to do ??

Please help

Ali Rantakari July 11, 2009 at 6:26 AM

Hi Benko,

First: sorry for replying so late; I was on holiday abroad for 3 weeks with no steady access to a computer.

You’re absolutely right – I, the big dum-dum that I am, forgot to add the feature of installing the Spotlight importer for OpenMeta tags (which is needed in order to enable this feature of searching for tags with queries like “tag:todo”) into Tagger (this importer was installed on my development machine already, so I didn’t have this problem myself and thus failed to notice that it was indeed missing).

Please download the latest version of Tagger (v0.8.2) and run it – it should automatically notice that you don’t have this importer installed and offer to install it for you. You can also invoke this installation from the menu whenever you want.


  • Ali
tom sep March 14, 2010 at 8:21 PM

I would recommend TagoMan – open meta based and fully AppleScriptable