4 Common Mistakes Mac Users Make When Trying To Search For Files

It is common to hear a Mac user complain that the file search function in macOS Finder doesn't find files they know are present. The reason is often that the user has made one of these mistakes. When searching for a file, the search usually starts in the folder in which the user is currently looking. You need to change the scope of your search to look elsewhere as well. By default, searches look in the content of files as well as the file names, but you can narrow your search to only the file names. If you are looking for something other than a file's content or name, you need to start the search differently. Many users search for files using Spotlight, but if you know you want a file, then it is better to search with the Finder.

Comments: 18 Responses to “4 Common Mistakes Mac Users Make When Trying To Search For Files”

    Rich S
    6 months ago

    Thank you, Gary. This is enormously helpful. I’ve been a Mac user for centuries, and it is impossible to remember every aspect of the ins-and-outs. Using the Finder’s greater customizability for searching – as opposed to Spotlight – was a reminder of something I’d forgotten or lost track of. This is something that will be helpful on a daily basis. Greatly appreciated and thanks again!

    Ramon
    6 months ago

    I am one of those who complain that Spotlight takes forever to find anything. The Finder is better when you’re not trying to find text inside files, just titles.

    John Jung
    6 months ago

    thanks for tips. I have had very good search success with Tembo from Houdah software.

    jasper robinson
    6 months ago

    Do you know a way to get Finder to ignore all these unwanted mail mail messages? I thought maybe some of the ‘content’ related search options would work but I’ve not been able to work this out & can’t find any documentation that describes exactly what the terms do. I know about excluding folders from Spotlight but that stop Outlook features like mail -> event from working.

    6 months ago

    jasper: Not sure what you mean. Only Spotlight searches should return email messages, not Finder searches. And you can exclude them from Spotlight like you mentioned. Do you see email messages show up in Finder searches? You mentioned you are using Outlook for email — do you mean the app? If so, then maybe Outlook is storing them as files?

    jasper robinson
    6 months ago

    Sorry-that’s unclear. I’d like to, say, create a SmartSearch folder that searches for recent files/folders. I ask Finder for (CONTENT MODIFIED) IS WITHIN LAST 2 DAYS. This works but I get lots of .olk15event and .olk15message files from Outlook. Is there a Finder criterion that I can add that means “But don’t look in ~/Library”? The two criteria together would then ignore all my Outlook junk and leave only the good files.

    6 months ago

    jasper: Yes. Add the criteria “Document Container” and “is not” for that folder. Or, just make the original location your Documents folder instead of something above that.

    warren dodge
    6 months ago

    Hoping this relates to the post: I am often frustrated with spotlights ability to find emails that I know exist. Any ideas appreciated.

    6 months ago

    Warren: Searching email is tricky. First, try searching in Mail to see if that helps. But also realize that email in most cases (iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, IMAP, etc) is on the server. So it isn’t like search files on your Mac. The email server has to be asked to do the search and return the results. In some cases you get cached messages that happen to be on your Mac. But in most cases the server has to dig around and return results. So it takes time and a lot of email services are bad at search. Your Mac can’t find email in some cases because it is actually the server doing the searching, not your Mac. So it really depends on the details.

    Teena
    6 months ago

    Great tips Gary — I’m a long time Mac user who never uses Spotlight. I always use Finder (and choose NAME rather than press Enter, but over the past year Finder doesn’t always find my files. When I go searching manually I mostly find them. I use hyphens in all my file and image names, which never used to be a problem, but now Finder seems to have a plan of its own when searching. Sometimes the results include the hyphenated files and other times it doesn’t. Have you seen this before?

    6 months ago

    Teena: No, most of the time when it doesn’t work it is one of the reasons above. The location mistake is the most common. If you are sure there are errors, I would try rebuilding your Spotlight index.

    Charlotte Sanders
    6 months ago

    Thank you! I am one of those Mac users who has bucked almost all of its abilities. Search has always been a Big problem. I was aware to look to see where it was searching. Most often I selected all Mac. However, I normally have not been able to find a specific file. I am hoping this will help me significantly!

    Terry
    5 months ago

    I tried all you suggestions but still have a few files that never show up in a search. I know where they exist and I can find them in the finder directory but the search would not show them. I think I finally found out why. They are .numbers files that are password protected. This is either a bug or they intended to hide files with a password. I would be curious if you get the same result by putting a password on a .numbers file.

    5 months ago

    Terry: Yes, that is right. Password-protected Pages/Numbers/Keynote files won’t show up in searches. Obviously, Spotlight can’t index the file because it is encrypted. Not being able to find it by name seems to be on purpose too. So if you are going to use password-protected files, it is good to place them inside a good organizational structure so you can find them by neighboring files and the parent folder.

    Terry
    5 months ago

    I am still finding unusual behavior when searching password-protected files. As you pointed out they will not show up in a search because they are encrypted, but after I update a protected file it then will show up in a search. After a period of time it will drop off the search list. Still seems like a bug here as the results are not consistent.

    5 months ago

    Terry: I would say that this has to do with indexing. When you have the file open, or unencrypted, then the Mac is able to index it. But when you lock it, then it is not. So the indexed version remains in the index for a while until the next indexing pass.

    Holly
    4 months ago

    Thank you for this post! I am able to find files using these tips. However, I walk my colleagues through the exact same steps I’m using and the files do not show up for them. I definitely go to a top level and even copy paste exact file names into that top level search and Finder does not pull the files up. We are on a shared filing system and all see the same files. Any ideas why they aren’t able to find files using the search, but I am? Thanks!

    4 months ago

    Holly: Hard to say but it probably has to do with that “shared filing system” you mentioned. Not sure what type/brand/etc of system that is, but it sounds like your Mac has indexed the files there and their Macs have not. Do you have an IT department or someone in charge of that system? I’d start by asking them.

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