Search For Files On Mac

Use Mac OS X Spotlight search to find missing files The first point of call for many people is to open Spotlight and look for the file: Press Command-Space to open Spotlight. Mac OS X includes a program called Spotlight that does more than just find files; it can do math and find word definitions, and you can download plug-ins for.

Just a few days ago, we reviewed some very useful basic tips for improving file searching on your Mac using the Finder. This time, we’ll take a look at more advanced file searching tips that will allow you to harness the real power of your Mac’s searching capabilities through filters and the many ways in which they can be used.

Let’s get started.

1. Adding Filters to Searches

We already showed you in the previous post how you can set the Finder to search only within the currently open window. This time, let’s take a look at how to use the powerful filters that the Finder supports.

Using Keywords for Searches

A lot of Mac users don’t know that Finder windows support keywords to define the target of searches. For example, in the search box of any open Finder window, you can use keywords such as kind:, to:, date:, from: and more. Used before your search term, these keywords filter your content with great accuracy.

Using Advanced Filters in Finder Windows

If the filter keywords mentioned above are not enough for you, there are more advanced filter that you can access by clicking on the Options icon and selecting the Show Search Criteria option.

This will open a far more detailed filter menu where you can pinpoint exactly which kind of file or document you are targeting your search for. This is thanks to the different filter levels that the option provides, allowing you to add as many as you need.

2. Saving and Creating Shortcuts of Your Searches

If you happen to search for any particular kind of file or document often, you can use the advanced search filters mentioned above to have your favorite searches at hand and thus avoid having to sort all those files manually in specific folders.

To do this, first you have to perform an advanced Finder search as shown above. Contrary to Spotlight searches, I find the ones performed using the Finder’s advanced filters far more accurate, but even more importantly, they allow you to save them.

Once you create a search you are happy with, look for the Save button and click on it. This will save your advanced search as a Smart folder.

On the dialog box that pops up, name your new search, select the location where you want it saved and also make sure to check the Add to Sidebar option.

From then onwards, your search will be accessible right from any Finder window with just one click. Even better, since these are smart folders, you can tailor your search to be dynamic, which will allow it to be always up to date with the files or documents you are interested in. For example, you could have it display only Word documents edited in the last week. Very powerful and convenient if you ask me.

Additionally, by right-clicking on that search on the sidebar of any Finder window, you can also place it on the Dock of your Mac, edit it and even rename it, making it all that more flexible.

There you go, now you have all you need to always find any file or document on your Mac, and it’s all just a few clicks away.


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The Finder is the first thing that you see when your Mac finishes starting up. It opens automatically and stays open as you use other apps. It includes the Finder menu bar at the top of the screen and the desktop below that. It uses windows and icons to show you the contents of your Mac, iCloud Drive, and other storage devices. It's called the Finder because it helps you to find and organize your files.

Open windows and files

To open a window and see the files on your Mac, switch to the Finder by clicking the Finder icon (pictured above) in the Dock. Switching to the Finder also reveals any Finder windows that might be hidden behind the windows of other apps. You can drag to resize windows and use the buttons to close , minimize , or maximize windows. Learn more about managing windows.

When you see a document, app, or other file that you want to open, just double-click it.

Change how your files are displayed

To change how files are displayed in Finder windows, use the View menu in the menu bar, or the row of buttons at the top of the Finder window. You can view files as icons , in a list , in columns , or in a gallery . And for each view, the View menu provides options to change how items are sorted and arranged, such as by kind, date, or size. Learn more about customizing views.

When you view files in a gallery, you can browse your files visually using large previews, so it's easy to identify images, videos, and all kinds of documents. Gallery View in macOS Mojave even lets you play videos and scroll through multipage documents. Earlier versions of macOS have a similar but less powerful gallery view called Cover Flow .


Gallery View in macOS Mojave, showing the sidebar on the left and the Preview pane on the right.

Use the Preview pane

The Preview pane is available in all views by choosing View > Show Preview from the menu bar. Or press Shift-Command (⌘)-P to quickly show or hide the Preview pane.

macOS Mojave enhances the Preview pane in several ways:

  • More information, including detailed metadata, can be shown for each file. This is particularly useful when working with photos and media, because key EXIF data, like camera model and aperture value, are easy to locate. Choose View > Preview Options to control what information the Preview pane can show for the kind of file selected.
  • Quick Actions let you easily manage or edit the selected file.

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Use Quick Actions in the Preview pane

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With Quick Actions in macOS Mojave, you can take actions on a file without opening an app. Quick Actions appear at the bottom of the Preview pane and vary depending on the kind of file selected.

  • Rotate an image
  • Mark up an image or PDF
  • Combine images and PDFs into a single PDF file
  • Trim audio and video files

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To manage Quick Actions, click More , then choose Customize. macOS Mojave includes a standard set of Quick Actions, but Quick Actions installed by third-party apps also appear here. You can even create your own Quick Actions using Automator.

Use Stacks on your desktop

macOS Mojave introduces Stacks, which lets you automatically organize your desktop into neat stacks of files, so it's easy to keep your desktop tidy and find exactly what you're looking for. Learn more about Stacks.

The sidebar in Finder windows contains shortcuts to AirDrop, commonly used folders, iCloud Drive, devices such your hard drives, and more. Like items in the Dock, items in the sidebar open with just one click.

To change the items in your sidebar, choose Finder > Preferences from the Finder menu bar, then click Sidebar at the top of the preferences window. You can also drag files into or out of the sidebar. Learn more about customizing the sidebar.

Search for files

To search with Spotlight, click the magnifying glass in the menu bar, or press Command–Space bar. Spotlight is similar to Quick Search on iPhone or iPad. Learn more about Spotlight.

To search from a Finder window, use the search field in the corner of the window:


When you select a search result, its location appears at the bottom of the window. To get to this view from Spotlight, choose “Show all in Finder” from the bottom of the Spotlight search results.

Mac file search utility

In both Spotlight and Finder, you can use advanced searches to narrow your search results.

Delete files

To move a file to the Trash, drag the file to the Trash in the Dock. Or select one or more files and choose File > Move To Trash (Command-Delete).

To remove a file from the Trash, click the Trash to open it, then drag the file out of the Trash. Or select the file and choose File > Put Back.

To delete the files in the Trash, choose File > Empty Trash. The storage space used by those files then becomes available for other files. In macOS Sierra, you can set up your Mac to empty the trash automatically.