How to Search Items With Spotlight

If files, downloads, documents, files, apps and more clutter your desktop, there is nothing wrong with this picture. In fact, Apple makes it easy to find all files, and with Spotlight, you can hunt down files without having to go through the mess. Spotlight is a system-wide search tool designed to look for everything in Mac OS X. It searches through the data in files and any metadata associated with files. In short, adepts of Spotlight don’t spend much time sorting their files.

A Beginners Guide to Apple’s Spotlight [Video]

Video uploaded by Carl Pullein on March 24, 2020.

How to Search Items

It is possible to access Spotlight by using the text fields located in the top right of the Finder window, as well as in supporting applications (Mail, Address Book, iCal, Preview).

In System Preferences you can type the name of any preference or function located withing a preference in the text field in the top right of System Preferences. The appropriate icon will be highlighted, with other unrelated icons dimming away.

Search tool is really unavoidable, as it searches fast for file, folder names, contents of text documents and metadata, which contains information about the files everything from the exposure time of a digital photo to the recipient of an email, Google searches from Safari and more. If an application is not supported by Spotlight, you can find Spotlight-compatible apps with plugs-in.

To perform a complete system search, click the magnifying glass icon in the top-right of the screen or press Command key + Space. Type in whatever you’d like to search for and a list of top results will appear. You can click the result to open it, or press Show All or the Enter key to pen the results in a Spotlight window, which is basically a Finder window with an additional panel of Spotlight search options.

All regular Finder windows also feature a search box on the top-right. If you type in that box, the Spotlight panel will display, as well as the results relevant to what you are typing. To get started, click into the search box or choose Find from the File menu or hit Command key+F.

How to Use Spotlight Shortcuts

You can use the shortcut combination to access the Spotlight text field in the top right of the desktop by pressing the ᴂ key + spacebar. After you press this combination, start typing to find the item you are searching for. The most likely result is deemed the top hit. Press Return, and you’ll be taken straight to the item. You can use the or keys to navigate through the list of items. You can also open Spotlight in a window by using Option + ᴂ key + spacebar. You can also choose Show All from the Spotlight menu.

Useful Spotlight Shortcuts

Here come some useful Menu and Window Shortcuts:

  • ᴂ+ spacebar gives you access to the Spotlight menu from Finder.
  • Option+Enter allows you to select Show All from the Spotlight list.
  • ᴂ+ Return opens a folder containing the selected item in the Spotlight list.
  • ᴂ + ↑ or ᴂ + ↓ leads you to the previous or next category in the Spotlight list.
  • Option + ᴂ + spacebar opens Spotlight window from Finder.
  • ᴂ + 1 opens Icon view.
  • ᴂ + 2 opens »List view.
  • ᴂ + 4 opens Cover Flow view.
  • ᴂ + A opens Select all.
  • ᴂ + Y or ᴂ + spacebar opens Quick Look.
  • Option + ᴂ + y runs a full-screen of the selected items.

Powerful Spotlight Searches

There are ways to get more out of Spotlight than just using it in a straightforward manner, when you enter one search at a time and then select items from the results. For example, you can use specific keywords to search for specific file names. Here are some of the keywords you can use in Spotlight, but there are much more of them:

Keywords and Their File Association

  • Application, Applications, app – applications.
  • Audio, music – music and audio files.
  • Email, emails, mail – e-mail messages.
  • Created: date. Files created on a particular date. The date format depends on your Date & Time settings. This association also accepts Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday for iCal events.
  • Created: < or Created: > is for files created after or before the date specified
  • Event, events – iCal events.
  • To do, to dos, todo, todos – iCal to-dos.
  • Images, image – Images.
  • Pdf, pdfs – PDF documents.
  • Word – word documents.

Refining Your Search

If you are searching for files and folders while ignoring metadata, emails, other results, or perhaps home in on results relating to a particular date, use the + button and dropdown menus in the Spotlight panel to add extra criteria. For choices, select Other from the first dropdown and you’ll be offered criteria ranging from tempo and lyricist to exposure mode. Choose Author, for example, and you’ll be searching for all the files on your Mac created by a particular person. Sometimes these operations will not work flawlessly, as not every application adds the relevant metadata. But it can be hugely useful nonetheless.

Generally you’ll type your search terms and specify the location you want to search, and the grey locations strip will, by default, include options for your whole computer, your home folder and, perhaps, the folder you were viewing when you clicked Command key + F. You can click the tops of each column to re-sort your results by Name, Kind, etc. and use Quick Look (Command Key +Y) to preview results.

Smart Folders

Don’t forget that you can save a Spotlight window search by clicking the Save button. Once you have named the search, it resides in the lower portion of the Finder sidebar as a Smart Folder. This folder will automatically update as you add, delete or edit files, allowing you to quickly reach fresh results without re-searching.

Essential Search Tips

You can search for more than one word, including incomplete words.

Type “!” before a word to exclude it from the search. For example, if you type Sell electronics online !iPod, would find all your your Sell electronic recordings except iPod.

Under System Preferences-Spotlight-Search Results you can stop Spotlight finding any particular type of file. You can also change the order in which results are displayed, by dragging items up and down the list. You can set new search shortcuts.

You can stop Spotlight searching a particular location within the Spotlight preferences Privacy pane.

To see some of the metadata taht a file contains, select the file, press Command key+ I and look under the More Info section.

Spotlight menu also can offer up a handy dictionary definition of your search term.

Boolean Logic in Spotlight

Boolean logic is named after George Boole, the inventor of this form of logic, and it is the basis of computer programming. You may uses logical expressions and boolean operators to narrow search results. To use Boolean operators, you must enter them in all uppercase letters. Otherwise, Spotlight will use them as just another search term. But when you enter Boolean operators, Spotlight uses them to refine searches. These commands are as follows:

  • NOT: The result shouldn’t contain the item. For example Planets NOT Moon returns results for occurrences of Planets on your Mac that aren’t Moon.
  • AND: Planet AND Moon will return results of all occurrences of Planet Moon.
  • OR: You’ll see both items specified. For example Planet OR Moon will return all items that have either Planet or Moon mentioned in them.
  • “” Entering these terms inside quotation marks will find the precise term.

Note that by default, the priority of the logical operations in NOT, AND, OR, regardless of which way you enter the Boolean operators. But if you use parentheses, you can specify different order: “(iGotOffer AND Sell used iPhones) NOT game” will search for occurrences of iGotOffer that appear in conjunction with Sell used iPhones, but not occurrences that include game.

How to Adjust Spotlight Search Results

You can control Spotlight results (enable, disable search results, rearrange the order of results) by using the Spotlight Preference Pane. To open Spotlight Preference Pane choose System Preferences and click Spotlight. Use check boxes to determine which items Spotlight should include in its search results. Removing some items will make a search faster and shorten the results. On the other hand, removing items form a Spotlight search may be a bad idea, because removing them limits Spotlight’s functionality.

In Spotlight’s search results, drag Documents to the top of the list, above Applications and System Preferences. Now if you type in the exact term of an application or preference, it’ll appear in the Top Hit section anyway.

Spotlight Tips

  • To prevent Spotlight from searching certain folders, click the Privacy tab, then drag items from Finder to the window. You can also use the Add (+) button to add items there via a dialog.
  • If you want Spotlight to return more accurate results and run faster, you can add folders and volumes you don’t need to search.
  • As a calculator: Just type math equations into Spotlight, and the Calculator search result will display both the equations and the answer. You can type in even complex commands, such as pi*20*20 or sqrt(128).
  • As a Dictionary: When you type a word, Spotlight will show its definition. You can select it to open the Dictionary utility at that definition.
  • As a Program Launcher. To launch a program, press ᴂ+ spacebar, type the program name and press Enter to launch the program. Many say that this protocol is even faster than using the Dock.
  • You can add comments to files and folders. Adding comments you can ensure that certain items are returned in Spotlight searches, even if they do not contain the specified search item. For example, you can tag in comments the name of a fruit and the document containing recipes of fruits salads will be found even if the specific fruits is not mention in the recipe. To add a comment to a file, highlight the file in Finder, press then ᴂ+I to bring up its info window, and add a search term to the Spotlight Comments text field.
  • Indexing the hard drive or your Mac: a bit like the way a search engine indexes the Web. Creating an index can take a few hours, so Spotlight may not work on a drive that’s only just been added.
  • To go straight to a Spotlight window, press Option+Х¨Space.
  • Applications appear as the highlighted top hit in the Spotlight menu. To quickly find and launch the Apple Web browser, for example, press “Space”, type Safari and hit Return.
  • The Spotlight menu search box can handle mathematical calculations, everything from basic addition and subtraction to logarithmic formulae.

How to Use Automator

You can use Automator to add Spotlight comments instead of adding them manually. The Automator app comes with Mac OS, and you can use it to create a quick application that will enable you to quickly add Spotlight comments to multiple files:

  • Open Automator.
  • Select the Application template.
  • Click Choose.
  • Drag the Set Spotlight Comments for Finder Items from the list of Actions (the second column) to the main window.
  • Click Options.
  • Select Show This Action When Workflow Runs check box.
  • Choose File – Save As to save the application to Finder, giving it the title Add Spotlight Comments. You can save it everywhere, but being an app, it will feel better in the Applications or Utilities folders. You can also add it to the Dock.

When you drag files to the Add Spotlight Comments app, a dialog appears asking you to enter the comments. Enter the word that will be associated with the files, click Continue. The comments will appear as comments to all those files.

With these amazing tricks you’ll get more out than you ever thought possible.



This post currently has 3 responses

  • Spot lets start off perform on this writeup, I seriously consider this astounding internet site needs much more consideration. Ill apt to become once again to find out to read considerably a lot more, thank you that information.

  • How can I use spotlight to search for a sentence? It always give results for each word not as a sentence..

  • Actually, at least under 10.14.x, is not possible to change the Spotlight type of files’ order: I can only check or uncheck a type.
    Is there a Terminal command to prioritize a type of file? For example: PDF results alway put at the top? Thanks and regards.

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