Multiple Monitors, Moving Menu Bar

Mon, Apr 28

Working with multiple monitors is a must when doing any serious coding work. Code on one side, output on the other. No more swapping applications from the foreground to background.

Mac OS X make working with multiple monitors a snap: plugin in the secondary monitor, open System Preferences, click on Displays, click on the Arrangement tab and arrange the displays by dragging and dropping. That’s it. In the figure below the larger box is the secondary monitor (larger view area) and the smaller is my laptop.

There is one default setting that I want to mention here that hopefully will save you some time. When you set up an additional monitor the menu bar stays on the original display. Depending on your arrangement, this may be no worry. In my case I wanted the secondary monitor to be the primary display. When working on an application in what is now my primary display, it’s anything but intuitive to move the mouse back over to the laptop display to click a menu item.

I spent some time searching for a tip, trick or hack to fix this little problem, to no avail. I went back into the system settings any number of times looking for a preference setting. I even did a search for a Mac Defaults option to specify where the menu should land. Again, no luck.

Here’s the punch line, the fix was so obvious, it wasn’t obvious. If you look closely at the figure above, notice the second line in the description area…”To relocate the menu bar, drag it to a different display.” Heh, was that there the whole time…??

So here’s the tip: to move the menu bar simply drag-n-drop as you prefer.

Okay, so here’s where I have a question for you. I recently upgraded to Leopard (10.5), and I’m curious if this feature existed on Tiger (10.4)? Essentially I’m looking for an excuse as to why I didn’t see the obvious solution to my question, right in front of me. Maybe you can help me out here :)


Here’s a picture of Mac OS 8’s display control panel from 1997:

Notice the “To relocate the menu bar:” part? It’s been there a while :)

by Rich Cavanaugh on Apr 28, 2008. #

Sorry to say, it’s been that way since at least OS 8.

by steve on Apr 28, 2008. #

Thanks (I think). Bottom line is: “Read the directions” (or perform better searches) :)

by john on Apr 28, 2008. #

I don’t work on mac, but it seems nice.

by Sebastian on Apr 28, 2008. #

Just want to say, that you are not the only one. I was looking for that myself and did not see it until your blog. Thanks.
The problem might be that some things are too simple for smart developers as we are ;-)

by klaus on Apr 28, 2008. #

Man, I can’t believe how dumb I’m feeling, because I couldn’t figure this out and gave up. I had resigned to having the iMac as my primary display, but this is so much nicer!

And to think the instructions are right there in the text. I didn’t read that either and 2 other guys here in the office missed that also. All developers.

I think the thing that makes this not intuitive is that the toolbar doesn’t highlight when you click down on it to drag but the whole screen does highlight.

by John D on May 1, 2008. #

Don’t feel dumb. I think this is just a great lesson to all of us developers about how users don’t read help! Especially on the Mac, where you expect everything to be obvious, if the interface doesn’t afford a certain behavior, it’s totally understandable to miss a feature, even when it’s literally spelled out for you.

by Andrew Hedges on May 1, 2008. #

That feature has been there since at least System 6 in 1989-1990.

by Me on May 28, 2008. #

It seems so obvious now – Scotch mist! Thanks for posting this.

by Tom on Aug 24, 2008. #

It’s nice to be able to move the menu bar to the larger monitor … and I do that … but is there any way to have menu bars on *BOTH* monitors? No matter which monitor I set the menu bar to, it is always seems to be on the top of the wrong monitor.

by Karen on Sep 3, 2008. #

Yo! This SO helped me out today! I laughed my friggin butt off at the intuitive fix! Sometimes, as in my case, it helps to read the fine print. Thanks!

by Dude on Sep 7, 2008. #

Does anyone know how to fix it when your appearance bar disappears from your display? I hooked up my laptop to my projector and lost the appearance bar.

by Pam on Oct 2, 2008. #

thank you, thank you, thank you. STARING ME IN THE FACE THE WHOLE TIME!!!!!

by Mike on Nov 11, 2008. #

You rock.

by KB on Dec 19, 2008. #

I was totally going to write off Macs (newly converted mac user here) because I couldn’t set up my multiple monitors like I do in Windows XP.

Turns out this is even easier and more intuitive than Windows.

Thanks for the blog, you do totally rock.

by Bammy on Dec 20, 2008. #

So did anyone ever find a way to get multiple menu bars…one on each screen?

I posted this question on a Mac forum ( Newbies/switcher from PC section)
and ended up with loads of unpleasant comments, basically saying how dare I question the way it is in the Mac world if I don’t like the way Apple does it I should go back to Windows/Linux, CP/M
A few helpful comments but basically all very unpleasant, never come across that sort of reaction to a question on how to do something in all my days (since mid 80’s) of computer usage, from CP/M thru Windows/Linux forums and BB’s. Even when speaking to Mac users face to face the reaction tended to be the same….no offers of help…just unpleasant defensiveness that I dare question MAc and “Why do you want to do that anyway”

by Neil on Jan 9, 2009. #

yes this is my main issue. other people have to have this issue too, i can’t be the only one! say i want to run photoshop on one monitor and illustrator on another, right now i have to go back to the first monitor to do anything with the menu bar. why can’t it switch over when i drag the program window to the second monitor? i love macs, but pc’s do this! come on! i just need a way to DETACH the menu bar and move it over, so i have TWO bars…not one. this is so frustrating and really cramping my work.

by melanie on Feb 20, 2009. #

Neil … coincidentally, I actually just read that thread, and then saw your comments about it here. FWIW, I totally agree with you: the negativity and defensiveness was a bit bizarre. No matter what logo is on it, it’s a frackin’ machine. There are many, many things I wish my Mac did better, and this is one of them. So what? Platform holy wars are so tedious.

I am also baffled and frustrated by the menu bar problem. I can’t figure out what to put on the secondary display, because nothing seems useful without the damned menu bar! I’ve spent a good hour searching for clues and answers, and there don’t appear to be any, except maybe using that little DejaMenu application as a workaround.

by Paul on Feb 24, 2009. #

Thanks Paul, you are right.
Most of this negative attitude seems to come from …….what is the word……Macaholics????? those that have the iPod, iPhone & iMac, and have used PC’s in the past and had bad experiences with them but never recovered.

Here at home I have 2 mates who are defintely Macaholics, always slagging off PC’s They do not know and do not want to know, what a command line or shell is….on a Mac or PC or *nix/BSD system…and nothing wrong with that…..sometimes I wish I did not know :)

As you say they are all machines…alll frustrating ….all good, all with limitations. depending on what you are trying to achieve……..I hate them all equally…they all just suck time

As for this menu bar thing. I am still waiting (5weeks so far) for my Mac Pro to arrive, so while waiting I got impatient and I built a Hacintosh Mac out of a spare mobo and PSU I had lying around….just sitting on the bench with no tower and innards hanging out everywhere….got ethernet running, no USB or sound but that was not important.

So to get to the point ….being playing with this HackMac for a week or so now, and still nothing better than Deja Menu but I will keep looking.

by Neil on Feb 24, 2009. #

I am having a problem with this feature. I have diconnected my external monitor/tv and
my computer still thinks it is connected. how do I kill this process? I think it killing my video card.
I still have the arrange option with an external device connected.
on Mac osx – I upgraded to tiger only

by jewels on Mar 4, 2009. #

i have done all the instructions but can i somehow get the sound to come out of the 2nd monitor? someone help ive tried everything :(

by Ben on Mar 30, 2009. #

We must assume here that yo uhave a monitor with built in speakers.
Sound will not come out of the second monitor with just the video cable. You will need to run a second cable from the audio out on the Mac to the ausio input terminal on the second screen.

by Neil P on Mar 31, 2009. #

Oh geez. I’m an idiot. That drove me crazy for the whole day. Thanks for this post, I would’ve probably gone and download something I really didn’t needed.

by Roselle on Apr 21, 2009. #

I found a site that helped me with respect to the menu bar for the second monitor.

It’s a program called ‘DejaMenu’ which is free and uses a keyboard shortcut combination to give you a floating menu bar on the specific screen and application selected – I like it…

Here’s the link:

by Scott on Jun 8, 2009. #

For Jewels… always select the option to “mirror displays” in the arrangement tab of the system preferences for Displays before disconnecting your second monitor; then, afterwards, in the same preference dialogue, click on detect displays.

by Eugene Martin on Jun 22, 2009. #

I agree, I’d love to have a application specific menubar appear on the right monitor for the right application. Or even just mirror the menubar across all three monitors. For now DejaMenu is an excellent work around

by George on Jul 3, 2009. #

Well, hardly excellent workaround, but as good as it is going to get till Apple gets its act together

by Neil on Jul 3, 2009. #

i dont f ing believe its that simple, only a year of being annoyed

by Justin on Aug 26, 2009. #

Anyone get the problem that I have been having recently, that of apps
opening in windows that do not appear, fully on any screens, so you cant get to the title bar to drag and move them? Bloody annoying

If you have this, or often only run with one screen turned on, and your app opens on another screen, I have found a way to quickly, with a keyboard shortcut, bring it back on to the primary screen.
The app is called Window Wrangler, I leave it now as an auto start up item, so when ever I get an app open but cant seem its window, I go to it using CMD Tab, then Alt, CMD, and down arrow to make the open window jump back to the Primary monitor

Hope it helps someone


by Neil on Aug 26, 2009. #

Thank you guys. I was also racking my brain trying to figure out how to setup a primary external monitor. One other thing I discovered that might be useful to some. When I first moved the menu bar, the doc remained in the LCD MacBook monitor. It could not be moved to the larger external monitor. Then I noticed that if the MacBook monitor is not below the larger monitor on the arrangement screen, it will move with the menu bar. Nowhere it tells you that in the documentation even if you read it, and most of us don’t.

Any my problem is solved, thanks to all.

by FAS on Oct 16, 2009. #

Dude. Thank you. I’ve been using macs forever and didn’t realize I could do this. Good deal.

by Anonymous on Nov 15, 2009. #

Anyone come across a fix for the following?

My setup is a G4 laptop on my desk, while behind and above it an HP LCD. The “Display” pane, on “Arrangement”, is set so the menu is way on top. All good, & I can mouse across and up and down the whole big approx. 13″ x 19″ extended desktop.

The problem is when trying to resize and scroll within a window spread over the two displays. Invariably, a long lanky window spread over them will–as I work within the application–snap and resize to a smaller size fitting within just the upper display. Any ideas how to keep applications/windows spread over the two displays, vertically, while actively working on them (as opposed to just looking/admiring, in which case all is fine).


by Jeff on Dec 7, 2009. #

I didn’t spot it either! Thanks so much for this, it’ll save me a lot of hassle!

by Paul Herring on Dec 31, 2009. #

Can I Have the menu bar and dock on my secondary display with out the mirro setting ?

by Will Cox on Feb 23, 2010. #

Does anyone know if there’s a way to attach menus to windows (like in MS Windows) instead of screens? It’s the one thing that continually drives me batty — multiple large screens & flipping back and forth to get to a menu becomes a real pain.

by Don on Mar 16, 2010. #

Just late fan mail – your answer to moving menu bar only one I’ve found. You are a legend!

by BCurious on Mar 24, 2010. #

Nice to know that I’m not the only person that didn’t see the ‘obvious’!

by Dan on Apr 11, 2010. #

Thanks. Help me a lot!

by Nir Levy on Apr 13, 2010. #

Love the original post. It was so obvious a caveman could not figure it out for two weeks. My neck was hurting turning back to the other display. THANK U THANK U THANK U

by Anonymous on May 27, 2010. #


Thanks for the tip on DejaMenu. Just what I’m looking for.

For me, I arrange my windows stacked one on top of the other. I’d love to have the menu bar centrally located on the top of the lower monitor, except I can’t drag applications over the menu bar. Apple does some things amazingly well, however, the menu bar could use alot of work.

by Greg on Sep 17, 2010. #

Brilliant, I’ve been looking for this for ages – guess it should be obvious; but it wasn’t!!


by Simon Gallagher on Oct 20, 2010. #

Joy – thanks!

by Jon Collins on Nov 3, 2010. #

I have a Mac and I have a different dual-monitor problem. Sometimes when a Word file opens on my “internal” monitor, the drag bar is hidden by the Word menu bars and I cannot click on the drag bar to move the file to my larger, external monitor. I have an inelegant solution — go to monitor preferences (shortcut: Option/F2), turn on “mirroring,” move the file down a little bit on the external monitor, and turn off “mirroring.” Now the file is on my “internal” monitor is a place where I can access the drag bar. I would love a more elegant solution.

by Michael on Nov 24, 2010. #

you my friend are a genius, i have been looking for this tip much as you did originally. i feel stupid but also glad that i am not the only one who struggles with the blatently obvious. In short, I THANK YOU!!

by bidders on Dec 1, 2010. #

Is there a way to move the menu bar to another screen without all of the icons from my primary desktop moving with it?

I thought the ‘Macaholic’ term was pretty funny, though wouldn’t ‘Machole’ be more appropriate??? JK

by Peter on Dec 1, 2010. #

For those of you looking to have 2 menu bars I ran across this during a google search:

I installed it a few minutes ago so cannot speak to how it works in the long run, but initially it seems to work OK. I can click on an open window in my second monitor and it changes the menu bar on my second monitor to work with the open program. It also changes it in on my primary monitor so if I want to use a menu function on an open program on my primary monitor I need to click in that window first. Not a big deal but not perfect. It would be nice if the menu bars worked independently of each other, remembering what program is open on its respective monitor. But until that day this seems to work pretty well.

by Peter on Dec 1, 2010. #

I don’t think it is that obvious. I read it and tried to drag the “real” menu bar. Of course this didn’t work. I think this is a case of a great feature with poor instructions. It should say “To relocate the menu bar, drag the white bar on one of the blue images below to a different display.”

Or something to that effect.

by Ben on Jan 12, 2011. #

Thanks for opening my eyes :)

by Ice N on Feb 2, 2011. #

OH MY GOODNESS!! I spent hours trying to move the menu bar but could not figure it out! When I found this article, I could not stop laughing at myself. WOW. so simple that I couldnt even see it. Thanks!!

by chaz on Feb 10, 2011. #

Thanks. I’m a UI designer and did not notice the text.
Furthermore, upon reading the text I attempted t drag the menu bar itself, as per the instructions, instead of dragging the little representation of a menu bar shown on the dialog.

I also find the inability to mirror the menu bar across screens to be bizarre. Apple have designed the menubar to be primary control for all applications, and the primary indicator of what application is active. This basically requires the menu bar to be active on all monitors unless we’re only working with only one application (in which case the need for multiple monitors is severely diminished).

Apple isn’t great and awesome, just quite a bit less awful than the competition (IMO). They are NOT above criticism, and have a million-and-one things to improve in their system.

by Ari on Feb 19, 2011. #

Years after you posted it, this blog entry is still doing people like me a huge favor. Thanks!

by Matthew on Apr 14, 2011. #

Like many others, I saw that long ago. But, what I can’t do is to get the screen background that is on my primary monitor to show on the second, additional monitor — with or without the menu bar. Any help here?

by Gene on Apr 14, 2011. #

If you want to have the Menu Bar appear on both monitors you can get a freely distributed app called Secondbar from here:

He also makes Better Touch Tool, which I just wouldn’t want to be without. Being able to dock windows to certain parts of the screen (a-la Windows 7) is always handy!

Now if only I could figure out an easy way to move Illustrator from one monitor to the other easily… More looking… I’m sure I’ve done it easily before…

by Sheldon on Apr 15, 2011. #

Nice to find this. It still doesn’t address my main (related) complaint about OS X, which is that menus aren’t anchored to applications. So even if you get to use your lovely multiple screens, you always have to return to the screen with the menu bar. That, unfortunately, is a pretty fundamental difference between Mac OS & Linux/Windows, so I despair of ever being able to fix it. But perhaps Apple will some day see the light! If anyone knows how to make menu bars follow windows (instead of anchoring at the top of screens), I would love to hear how to do it!

by DB on Apr 15, 2011. #

Sheldon — you are my hero! Just saw that your post responds pretty much directly to my complaint.

by DB on Apr 15, 2011. #

OMFG! That is so ridiculously easy and I’ve been wondering for ages… Thanks

by Chris on Apr 20, 2011. #

Hello, My name is Brenda, and I am a Macaholic….ha! love it. Its being added to my Spell Check Dictionary as we speak.

Funny, I was wondering about how to switch the primary monitors and was just as puzzled. lol it didnt take me long to figure it out, so im feeling quite proud of myself right now, as opposed to the many of you who are still laughing at yourselves when the thing was RIGHT IN FRONT of you, lol…I originally came here to find a way to have the menu bar on both screens, or at least have it change according to the window i happen to be in. Gonna try that solution up there, see how it goes…

Kudos for posting this……

by Brenda on Apr 22, 2011. #

My issue involves not being able to move windows past the Menu Bar. My external monitor is set up above my laptop. I want the menu bar on the lap top, but then it acts like a barrier preventing me from moving windows up to the external, secondary screen.

Anyone have problems with this and solutions?


by Anne on Jun 1, 2011. #

hi john

thanks for this posting. i’am new with mac and had the same problem until i found your article!


by martinf on Jun 15, 2011. #