Finding files and folders in Mac OS X

In Mac OS X, you search for items by using the Finder's toolbar or the Finder's Find command.

This document applies to Mac OS X 10.3 and earlier.

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Toolbar search

You can search for items from the Finder's toolbar. When you type in the Search field and press Return, Mac OS X searches for items whose names contain the terms you typed. Mac OS X automatically searches only inside the disk or folder you opened or selected in the Finder. In the image below, Mac OS X would only search the contents of the Pictures folder inside the home folder. Searching with the toolbar only finds files and folders based on their filenames. To search by content, use the Find dialog as described below.

To search your entire home folder, click Home in the Toolbar to select it, then perform your search.

You can search your entire hard disk by clicking Computers. If other disks are available, any disk may be searched.

The Find dialog

In the Finder, choose Find from the File menu (or press Command-F). The Find dialog allows you to:

  • Search specific places on the computer
  • Search files by content, also known as find-by-content indexing
  • Adding advanced search criteria

You can select specific places to search. You may either use the Add button or simply drag specific folders you want to search into the "Specific places" list.

Your search criteria appear in the pane below "Search for items whose:". For advanced searching, just click the plus or minus buttons to add or remove new criteria, or choose a new criteria from the "Add criteria" pop-up menu. In the image above, two additional criteria have been added (date created and extension).

Tip: You click the plus button to add criteria of the same type, but use the pop-up menu to add a different type of criteria.

Tip: Because many files used in Mac OS X do not have Type or Creator data, it is not an accurate way to search for files. Rather, try searching for the applicable filename extensions such as ".jpg" (JPEG) or ".cwk" (AppleWorks).

When searching by content, you don't need to use an indexing schedule. The indexing occurs when you search the first time. To update your index, select the disk or folder in the Finder, then press Command-I to open the Info window. Click Index Now in the Info window to update an index at any time. You can also delete the index in the Info window.

Finding invisible items

If you are searching for an item that would normally be invisible in the Finder, or if you need to search a folder that would normally be invisible in the Finder, you have two options. Using the search criteria in the Find dialog, select Visibility is Off (invisible) or Visibility is Any (visible or invisible). To use the Toolbar Search for searching an invisible folder, choose Go to Folder from the Go menu to select the folder, then search it.

Note: Finder can't make invisible files or folders permanently visible. It is normal for Mac OS X to store some files in invisible folders (directories).

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