Spotlight – #10 Noob2Pro 2

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Spotlight – #10 Noob2Pro

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We are about a third of the way through the Noob2Pro series, todays post will be on Spotlight. The searching tool built into the Mac operating system. Spotlight is designed to find the files you want. It built deep into the system and you will find you use to a lot to find the files you want. There is a lot of options which you can use to take control of Spotlight. I am going to mention a couple of them here.

Spotlight runs in the background, its based on a massive metadata database which contains hundreds of thousands of entries based on the files located on your hard drive. This database is by no means slow, its really quick and very powerful. The good thing about Spotlight is that it runs constantly, as a result any changes you make to files, no matter how smaller, will be updated in the database.

Spotlight can be accessed from two areas. The menu bar option located in the top right hand corner, or the search field in a Finder window. Either option will yield the same results. I prefer using the Finder option, simply because it’s simpler to access the files and folders. To do a search, simply type the word you want to search. Spotlight will look into every file and folder for your search term. This also includes inside of files, Spotlight is so good at its job, is that it indexes the layer in a Photoshop file.

spotlight results

With all this data and the ability to access it so quickly you can be overwhelmed. A simple search term can bring back million of results, getting out the stuff you don’t want is essential. There are a variety of ways you can do this. The quickest is to adjust what results are returned. In System Preferences > Spotlight, you are given a large list of search result types. In this list I recommend you uncheck items that you know you want use, for example I have removed, presentations, fonts and Mail messages. This means these files wont turn up when you do a spotlight search. A point to note, although Mail messages is unticked, messages will still be archived in the Spotlight database and your can search for mail messages in Mail app. As well as remove results for file types you don’t want you can also do this for files, simply go to Privacy and add folders you don’t want to be searched. Add folders which you know will never search, for example past archived files.

Spotlight preferences

Removing certain file types can only do so much. You need use some power commands to get what you want. The best method is to use the “kind” operator. This operator is used to pick out specific file types. An example of this operation is:

keyword kind:image

The key point is the word after “kind:”, you can have a variety of words which is usually found in the kind column in Finder. The best way to learn how to use this function is to experiment. You can only use one kind variable (for example you can’t use “kind:image pdf”). If you have an operator with more than one word, example being “plain text”, put the words in double quote marks, after the double colon. For example kind:”plain text”.

There are a variety of different, slightly more complicated ways, to find what you want. If you type multiple words in the search field, Spotlight assumes you want to find items that contain all of the words but not necessarily in that order. Thus, typing “mac tricks tip” finds documents that contain all three of those words, but the words can appear by themselves anywhere in the document.

If you want to force Spotlight to search for a string of words together, you put double quote marks around them. For example, “apple store” only returns results where the word “apple” is directly followed by the word “store”. This is a great way of finding exactly what you want and removing items which are only slightly connected to your search term.

You can also search by using the word or. If you type the search phrase “mac” OR “apple”, Spotlight will find documents that contain the word “mac” or the word “apple” but not both at the same time. I find this option slightly harder to use, simply because I only want to find one key term at a time.

Spotlight can look for one word and exclude another by separating them with the word “not.” For example, “mac NOT tip” then Spotlight will only show me the results where documents contain the word “mac” but not the word “tip”. You can also use the hyphen right before the word to remove it from results.

The final word of advice I would like to part with you is the ability is to narrow down and save searched. In Finder you will notice a grey bar with a couple of options. Here you can add various variables to cut down the results you receive. Its useful if you want to find something specific. The options allow you to use hundreds of different variables including “City, Focal Length, Phone Number, URL” to name a few.

finder spotlight

If you press the “Save” button it will save your search for later use. You can put this in your “Save Searches” folder and it can appear in your sidebar. You can also put it where ever you want and open it for later use.

Hopefully you can now use Spotlight with a bit more power. It is a really powerful tool which I recommend you use. If you have any tips of your own, please leave a comment below.


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