I am using a MBP with OSX El Capitan. If I need to move a window from one Desktop space to another desktop space, I just need to hold the title bar and press Ctrl + 2 to move the selected window to Desktop space 2. For presentation purpose, I would like to have several desktop ready with the applications and then show respective Desktop space on external monitor/projector. Is there any shortcut key or Automator script, which can do this? In the mission control, I have setting checked "Display have separate Spaces", so I am not able to move the Application from one display to another display.

3 Answers 3


I don't know about El Capitan, but on current macOS, Ventura, it is possible to move desktops between displays:

  1. Open mission control (eg: 3-finger swipe up, or on the F3 key). The "spaces bar" will appear on the top of each display.
  2. Drag the space from its spaces bar to another display's spaces bar.

However, there is one, sometimes extremely confusing, limitation.

TL;DR you can only move inactive desktops, not your current desktop, from one display to another

First, some background:

  • there are two kinds of spaces: full screen spaces, and desktops.

  • each display (ignoring mirrored displays) has an ordered list of spaces, and one of these is that display's current space. This is the space that is visible when you are not in mission control. When in mission control, it's the space that has a heavy border in the spaces bar.

  • in addition to a current space, each display also has a current desktop.

    The current desktop is not necessarily the current space!

    If the display's current space is a desktop, then that is also its current desktop. However, if the current space for a given display is not a desktop, then the display's current desktop is instead its first (ie: lowest-numbered) desktop. When you open mission control, the majority of each display (aside from the spaces bar itself) will temporarily switch to showing the display's current desktop, even though the spaces bar shows the current space as being selected.

The one limitation to dragging spaces between displays is that the current desktop for a display cannot be moved to a different display. (It can, however, be rearranged within its current display's spaces bar.) All other desktops can be moved between displays.

A corollary of all of this is that if a display has only one desktop, you cannot move that space to another display.

As a workaround, if you want to move the first desktop from one space to another, first switch to another desktop on its space (create another desktop first if one does not already exist), and then it will become possible to move the first desktop from that space.

  • 2
    Excellent explanation. Are you the developer for this feature? =) This is the kind of explanation we developers are always giving people about how the edge cases that no one has considered have some basic constraints on how the feature can possibly work. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 1:21
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    @SergioAcosta I'm not the developer of this (or any other macOS) feature, but I am a software developer. I was befuddled by the confusing behavior of this feature, so I experimented with it to try and understand how it works. Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 17:38
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    Wow, this limitation is ... a bit nutty. I spent five minutes trying to move my space from one monitor to the other and didn't find this answer until after I just moved the stuff into a new space on the other monitor. This seems like a terrible UX - and it was. :(
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 22:50
  • 1
    @Catija I agree 100%. My #1 gripe with macOS is the window management is pretty terrible all around. Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 7:04
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    @MikaelLirbank Small nitpick: You can't move your active desktop. You can move your active space, as long as your active space isn't a desktop. For example, I'll frequently full-screen my IDE, making a new space for it, and then move that new space to my larger external monitor while it's the active space. Commented Jan 9 at 2:08

To change this up — for example, if you want the monitor on the right to be your primary display — got to System Preferences > Displays > Arrangement. This window will show you the layout and relative resolution of all monitors currently connected to your Mac with each monitor represented by a blue rectangle icon.

One of the display icons will have a white bar at the top, representing the menu bar. To set the monitor on the right as the primary display, click and hold on the white bar at the top of the right icon and drag and drop it on the left icon.

That's it you're done...... Tell if this helps you.

  • 1
    The question is asking about Spaces / virtual desktops, a Mission Control related feature, not multiple screens.
    – Daniel Beck
    Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 12:00
  • Daniel is right. I am looking for solution to Spaces. Commented Aug 3, 2016 at 12:08
  • This answer was useful to me on the context of the title, which is what I was looking for: "Move desktop from one display to another", thanks!
    – maledr53
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 10:40

Not exactly what you're looking for, but I believe "Desktop 1" is the default for external displays. Any additional spaces on external displays get appended to the end of the spaces list.

It may be useful to "reserve" Desktop 1 for your presentation space.

How can I stop OSX from combining spaces when I unplug a monitor?

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