How to use the Spotlight Window for complex searches

How to use the Spotlight Window for complex searches
Mac Tip #480, 30 March 2011

The Spotlight Window lets you really take charge of your searches, using some very powerful search parameters. Here’s how to access the power search.

See Tune up Spotlight on your Mac and How to use the Spotlight Window for simple searches for some important information about using and adjusting Spotlight.


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Call up a Spotlight Window

Spotlight Window with Home folder search by File Name.

Spotlight Window with Home folder search by File Name.

When you call up a Spotlight Window as explained in earlier Tips a Search Toolbar appears below the main Finder window Toolbar.

In the Search Toolbar enter the text to search for. Below that are some controls to restrict or refine the search by folder and file name or content.

Access more search parameters

This search finds only Folders.

This search finds only Folders with the name ‘demo’.

To call up additional search criteria click the + button to the right of the Save button in the Search Toolbar. Two buttons appear below the current line of buttons. By default they read Kind and Any.

Click on the Any button to see a drop-down menu of possibilities such as Application, Document, Folder and so on.

Select an option to restrict your search to only that kind of item. This means you could find all folders whose name contains demo while ignoring any documents whose name contains demo, for example.

These search criteria are additional to the ones you’ve already selected in the line above: searching your Home folder or the whole computer, by file name or contents.

Remove an additional search

To remove those additional criteria click on the - button at the end of that line. The search terms are removed and the search results reflect that change.

Add even more search criteria

Every time you add a new set of criteria, that line has a + button at the end of the line. Click the + button to call up an additional line to set additional criteria.

Caution: if you add too many criteria you risk getting no results as you may have narrowed the search too much. Try a broader search first and use additional criteria to filter the results.

Other search criteria.

Other search criteria.

Use Other parameters

When you first add another level of search criteria the first button is set to Kind. Other options include various date options, file extension and other possibilities.

But hidden at the bottom of the list is Other….

Choose Other… and another window opens up with dozens of attributes to choose from, including items such as Copyright, ISO speed for photos, Fonts used in the document, associated email addresses and many more.

Options may vary depending on what software you have installed.

This is powerful searching indeed! Click on the item you want to search by.

To add an item to the menu options select the checkbox beside it. In future you can simply select it from the menu and don’t need to choose Other… to access it.

After making your selection click the OK button to return to the main Spotlight search Window.

Search iTunes files by duration.

Search iTunes files by duration.

Look carefully at the criteria in the Search Toolbar as new options may have become available. You may need to double-check the first button and re-select the type of search you just defined with the checkboxes. Then additional options may be available to define that search.

For example, my screenshot shows that I chose to search files by Duration. Once Duration was selected as the search type I was able to choose whether the duration would be greater or less than, equal to or not a certain length of time.

In my test search results came only from files in iTunes. The search did not return any of my MacTips movie files, although I expected them to. On further investigation that turned out to be affected by the number of minutes I chose. When I increased the duration the search also found some files from my Movies folder and other folders too.

However, it still didn’t find all the files I expected it to. This may be related to the fact that I had unchecked Movies as a folder that Spotlight should show results from… See Tune up Spotlight on your Mac.

Sophisticated and complex searches need careful handling.

Rename searches

In a future Tip I’ll explain how to edit, rename and remove a search that’s saved in the Sidebar.

Share your favourite Spotlight tips in the Comments at the website.

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  1. Maureen said:

    I can’t seem to get either spotlight or the simple search function to return results that include documents created in InDesign. I often am looking for a key word or phrase that is included in a INDD. The search results simply don’t show any INDD documents at all. Any suggestions?

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Sorry, Maureen. Your comment was overlooked after being caught up in the spam folder. When I Google on this all I can see is complaints dating back for years about the same problem. Try submitting a feature request to Adobe and also check the Adobe Help forums.

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