How to Improve File Search on macOS | Tips & Tricks

Searching on your Mac can be a little bit of a pain. The built-in box for Finder is powerful, but if often searches for way more than you expected. The following are some search techniques for you to file search on .

When searching in the Finder search box, you can limit your scope by specifying file attributes with certain search operators.

Text operators

The operator is specified like so

The file type can be almost anything, from a word like “document” to an extension like .docx.


Similarly, you can use the date operator to limit your scope to files of a certain date or recency. Using date:today will only search for files from today.

You can further narrow your search by using the created and modified operators which accept an eight-digit date, like so:

Smart operators

We're not only limited to text-based operators. We can also use a series of smart operators.

First, set a basic search in a Finder window, then click on the “+” button below to add the first operator.


This will automatically set a “Kind” operator, but you can change that by clicking on the first box. For now, we'll set the Kind to “PDF” so we only see PDF files in our search.


Click the “+” button again to add another operator. This will reveal a different operator. Let's click the first dropdown and select “Created date.” Now we can limit our search to files created in the last few days.


If you want to search within different categories, click the “kind” or “last opened date” dropdown to reveal other options. These smart operators are extremely powerful and can narrow your search dramatically.

By default, Finder will search your entire system when you type in the search box. Set it to default to your current folder instead for more precise searches.

1. Open Finder's preferences under the Finder menu.

2. Click on the “Advanced” tab.

3. Change the dropdown box to “Search the Current Folder” to limit your searches.


If you don't mind putting in a little legwork ahead of time, you can make it easier to find important files in the future. Let's say you have a variety of documents for your taxes, but they aren't all in the same folder. If you set one of the built-in color tags to “taxes,” you can search based on that term and find files from anywhere.

Using Tags

Tags can be customized in Finder's Preferences window under the “Tags” tab. Right-click on a tag and choose “Rename tag…” to apply your own name.


Tight-click on a file and choose the color tag to apply.

Later, you can search by the color or name of those tags.

If you make the same search regularly, you can save it for later as a saved search, which will appear in the sidebar.

First, search for the terms you want to save in the Finder window, then click the “Save” button underneath the search window.


Make sure that “Add to Sidebar” is checked to keep the search in your sidebar for later.


These we've shown are just for Finder. You can expand your searching power with other tools. EasyFind will search through every file on your system, including system files. Path Finder is a Finder-replacement utility that includes powerful search and filtering tools. Alfred can search by file name instantly, with more power to expand than Spotlight.

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