Most, if not all, Linux distros come with a way to keep application windows “always on top” and pinned to the screen. Despite sharing the same architecture, macOS makes this more difficult, but it’s possible with some work.
In this post, we show you how to keep application windows always on top using native functionality on the Mac and third-party window managers. We also mention Afloat – a common way to achieve this on Mac but an approach that has a lot of caveats.
Using Afloat to Keep Your Application Window “Always On Top”
The traditional way, and probably the only way to keeping your Mac application window always on top is to use Afloat. For many years, this has been a top-notch solution that many users rely on.
Even so, there are a few negatives about Afloat in 2021:
- It hasn’t been updated in six years, which means it may not work with current Mac models or Apple Silicon chips.
- It requires dependencies such as SIMBL. In fact, there are many sources for it, and some go in and out of favor depending on the Operating System (OS) and compatibility.
- The setup takes some work and relies on two apps working well on your machine.
- You have to disable certain security settings on your Mac, which for an end user, is too much of a hurdle (and dangerous to boot).
Despite this, you may want to give Afloat a try. Though, user beware – Afloat is an outdated and complex piece of software to install on your Mac.
Other Ways to Keep Your Application Window “Always On Top”
If you use macOS Catalina or later, there’s a solution that keeps your windows visible but not necessarily on top.
You’re able to use Split View to tile windows and switch between them as needed. First, though, head to the System Preferences screen and choose Mission Control.
Here, check that “Displays have separate Spaces” is active, then open some apps. With the toolbar of one app, hover over the green window button. You’ll see a pop-up asking you to choose a tile format.
Once you choose one, it will be replicated within your Spaces.
It’s not the best approach, and we can see how it may not be the best option for you. Instead, you may want to consider a dedicated window manager.
Using Dedicated Window Managers to Keep Your Application Window “Always On Top”
The unfortunate news is that there is no native way to pin elements to the screen in the way Afloat does. This is disappointing, but there are some great alternatives to help keep windows visible rather than always on top.
The kicker is that you have to be disciplined in order to keep a window within a specific part of the screen. Though, you get lots more choice than Apple’s native functionality.
Though, there’s a free, open-source solution that mimics almost everything both of these apps can do: Rectangle.
It sits in your toolbar and lets you add windows to a number of different areas of the screen. In fact, there are a wealth of locations at your disposal.
Each also has a quick shortcut available to give a power user an instant way to organize windows. For further control, you can set windows into areas of the screen divided by fourths and sixes too. This means you can create unique layouts based on your situation.
Of course, you need some discipline here in that to keep a window always on top, it would need to be within its own part of the screen with no other windows near it. It’s more correct to say that this approach lets you keep a window visible at all times rather than pinned to the screen.
It seems strange for macOS not to have a way to keep windows always on top given that this is available within Linux and both have the same core architecture. Still, there are ways to keep windows visible, and with some discipline, you can still act as though windows are always on top. If you’re feeling brave, you could try to install Afloat. Though, note that it’s tough to get working, and buggy at the best of times.
Here are a few other ways to manage your windows on Mac – check them out! How do you keep application windows always on top, and will any of our suggestions help you? Let us know in the comments section below!
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