Finding files on a Mac: alternatives to Spotlight
Spotlight is very useful for searching on a Mac, but it has some limitations. There are several third-party applications which provide additional features and alternative interfaces for finding items by name and searching file contents.
Here we focus on our favorite FREE Mac search app: EasyFind. We’ve listed links to a few other options at the end.
Some of EasyFind’s advantages:
EasyFind does a “brute force” search, so it works for ANY available folder or drive.
- As a result, it consistently finds items in local data—on all directly-attached internal and external drives—AND items on all connected servers and other network-attached drives.
- Spotlight only returns search results from drives which your computer has already “indexed”. Pre-indexing drives makes Spotlight very fast and efficient, but some drives may not be indexed and thus return no search results at all. Network volumes are less likely to be completely indexed, and some cannot be indexed at all.
In Spotlight you normally can only search “This Mac” or the active Finder window. EasyFind provides many more “where to search” options. As shown on the right side of the illustration below, you can choose from a comprehensive list of locations. From top to bottom, these include:
- Select: It will prompt you to navigate to a drive or folder to search
- Active (frontmost) window in the Finder
- Multiple volumes at once! You can choose to search ALL local and network volumes together, or local volumes, or only removable ones—e.g. flash drives and CDs/DVDs.
- Choose any drive: In this example the startup drive—”Macintosh HD”—is the only drive available. But if any other internal, external, removable, or network drives were connected, they will appear in that section as well.
- The “main-level” folders in your startup drive: Applications, Library, System, and Users, along with any other folders that might have been added at that level.
- All folders in your “home” directory: Desktop, Documents, Downloads, etc.
- Finally, once you begin to use EasyFind, an additional section of recently-accessed folders or drives is added at the bottom.
Spotlight does provide a lot of options for searching, but many of them are hidden, obscure, or only pop-up momentarily while you type into a search box. WIth EasyFind, various options are more consistently and clearly spelled out in the window.
Just type the word(s)—or any string of text/characters to seach for—in the search field along the top of the window, and choose from the options, as shown on the left side of the example window below:
- Search for: The first three options are for searching files and/and folders by NAME. The last option is for searching the contents inside of files.
- Operator: As you would expect, if you type more than one search term, “All Words” is an AND operator, “Any Word” is like an OR operator, and “Phrase” searches for all of the text—any combination of characters including spaces—exactly as typed.
- Comparison and Include: Normally—unless you are doing system admin or development work—you’ll want to keep “Ignore case” checked, and the other items NOT checked. For details on these options, the “Unix-Wildcards” operators, and other features, go to the “Help” menu and select “EasyFind Help”. Then choose “How to Use” or ”Usage”. EXCEPTION: Typically the files you normally access are not in invisible folders. But in some cases an application might use temporary or cache folders which are hidden. So if you are searching for such a file—an email attachment or recovered file, for example—and can’t find it anywhere, try temporarily enabling the “Invisible” option.
Another very powerful feature: As you can see from the search results in this example, EasyFind shows the full PATH for all “found” items in a list view, so you have a perspective on where everything is. This makes it easier to compare/resolve duplicates, etc. Of course you can click on the column headers to sort by Name, Date Created or Modified, Size, Kind, and “Where” (Path).
Finally, you can check out the shortcuts along the top of the window: Reveal in Finder, Quick Look, Share options, etc. And as you’d expect, there are plenty of keyboard shortcuts: You can see those by exploring the various menus.
Spotlight is tremendously useful, but as you can see EasyFind provides a nice alternative for many tasks.
Other Alternatives to Spotlight
There are several other alternatives to Spotlight which offer interesting features for finding items in Mac OS X. Some of these also provide alternative interfaces to Spotlight’s index:
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