10 Cool Spotlight Tips and Tricks for Mac You Should Know

Last Updated: March 16, 2017

Spotlight made its first appearance on Mac more than a decade ago and still remains one of the most-loved features by enthusiasts and regular users alike. What originally began as a humble file search tool, has now matured with tons of features up its sleeve — ranging from searching for online results to understanding complex natural language queries. Apple adds new features to Spotlight in every major macOS release, so it’s easy to lose count of all the features. So, today I’ll tell you about all the cool things you can do with Spotlight on a Mac. Whether you’re a casual user or a power user, here are 10 Spotlight tips and tricks for Mac you should know:

Note: While most of the Spotlight tips and tricks are specific to Mac, some of them may work on iOS devices, too. 

1. Search using Search operators

When searching for items in Spotlight, you can specify the type of item you’re looking for. To limit your search to a specific item type, just suffix “kind:item-type” after your actual query. Item types can be general file extensions like JPEG, MP3, PDF or even Apple-specific apps like contacts, reminders and emails, etc.

For example, here’s how I would frame a query to limit my search scope to the email application only:

Spotlight_tips_and_tricks_mac_1

If you deal with a large number of emails on a daily basis, you can search for items relative to a date. For example, here’s how to search for emails received after a specific date by using “date: DD/MM/YY”.

You can use “created: DD/MM/YY” to show items created on a particular date and “modified: DD/MM/YY” to search for items modified on a particular date. Also, you can throw in relational operators like “<,>,=” before the date to search before, after or on a particular date.

Unfortunately, Spotlight crashes on the latest macOS Sierra beta 10.12.4 upon entering the “created” command. I believe that this is a bug and I’ve reported the same to Apple.

Note: If you’re from a different region, the date syntax will vary accordingly.

2. Search Using Boolean Operators

You can use Boolean operators like AND, OR, NOT, AND NOT to create complex search queries. For instance, here’s how I used the Boolean query NOT to find all the emails in a particular date range, excluding the ones from a specific date.

Here’s another query I framed using the OR operator to search for emails from either of the two specified people.

As you can see, you can use various Boolean operators to fine-tune your Spotlight search.

3. Instant Answers In Spotlight

Till now, we’ve seen how to use various search operators to search your files like a pro. But, Spotlight is much more than just a file-indexing engine. In this section, we’ll see how you can get instant answers to some queries. Please note that most of the instant answers should work on the Spotlight search on iOS devices, too.

  • Get exchange rates and convert one currency to another.

  • Perform calculations and other basic maths operations.

Spotlight can even pull information from a variety of online sources:

  • Get scores and schedules for various sports matches using “Team Schedules/Score

  • Show definitions by just typing in a word. If the word’s not present in the inbuilt offline dictionary, it’ll show suggestion from online dictionaries.

Pro tip: Hit CMD+L to jump directly to the inbuilt dictionary entry if there’s one.

  • Show weather of any city using “Weather in city name“.

  • Search for online videos by using “search keyword videos

There are many other queries you can get instant answers for, but I hope this gives you a fair idea of how powerful Spotlight can be. Most of the online results are sourced either from Yahoo or Bing and obviously, require a working Internet connection. If you’re unable to see Spotlight suggestions, head over to Apple’s support page to check if it is supported in your country.

4. Search Using Natural Language

If you feel that all the search and Boolean operators are way too technical for you to use, there’s some good news. Starting 10.11 El Capitan, you can perform searches using natural language. Apple says that it “lets you compose your searches in your own words“. What that essentially means is that now you can search as if you’re having a natural conversation with a real person.

Instead of using all those confusing search operators, here’s how you can use Spotlight to show your photos from last year:

Here’s another one I used to find the documents I created last December:

There’s no “special syntax” you need to follow while making a natural language search but to be honest, it’s very limited in scope. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty good start from Apple’s side. Try to discover on your own what natural language searches work and let me know in the comments!

5. Keyboard Shortcuts in Spotlight

Most of you would definitely know that CMD+Space brings up the Spotlight search, right? Well, let’s learn some keyboard shortcuts you can use to navigate in Spotlight and level up your Mac shortcuts game!

  • CMD+arrow down: Jump to the next category of results.
  • Hold CMD: Displays the item path.
  • CMD+return: Open the location that contains the file.
  • CMD+I: Opens the “Get Info” dialog box for the particular item.
  • CMD+L: Jump to the dictionary listing for the word. (Works only if the word’s listed in the inbuilt dictionary.)
  • CMD+B: Search the web for the entered search query.
  • CMD+C: Copy the item directly from Spotlight entry without actually having to open it.

6. Search Using Emojis

If you’re feeling crazy, you can search Spotlight by typing in an emoji. No, really. For instance, when you type in a “Pizza” emoji, it lists all the Pizza places in the neighborhood:

Here’s another example. When I type in a “beer” emoji, it lists all the pubs/restaurants nearby that serve beer:

Behind the scenes, its working is pretty simple. Each emoji in macOS and iOS has a descriptive name that you can verify yourself by going to Character Viewer (Control+CMD+Space). Undoubtedly, Spotlight search uses this data to “interpret” the meaning behind the emoji and perform a search accordingly.

This works for tacos, dress and many other emojis. From here on, let your imagination run wild. Emoji based search should work on iOS devices, too. Feel free to try other emojis and let me know if you happen to spot something interesting.

7. Search For Apps Using Initials

By now, you probably are using Spotlight to quickly open installed apps on your Mac. While it is a swift way to open apps, it may sometimes be inconvenient to type in the name of the app, especially if the app’s name is longer. Thankfully, if an app’s name consists of multiple words, you can simply type in the initial of each word and Spotlight would still bring up that app. This way, you can save some keystrokes and a little bit of time.

Here’s an image to illustrate what I mean:

As you can see, instead of typing the full name “Google Photos Backup”, I just punch in the initials “GPB“. Extremely convenient, right?

8. Resize or Move Around the Spotlight Window

Apple finally introduced the option to resize the Spotlight window in El Capitan. To resize the Spotlight window, just drag the cursor from the lower end of the Spotlight window. However, you can only change the height of the window and you cannot make it smaller than the default size. Also, you can drag the window anywhere you like and set its desired position.

If you want to reset Spotlight to its default position, just click and hold on the Spotlight option (which looks like magnifying glass) in the menu bar above.

9. Show Result From Selected Categories Only

As you already know, Spotlight shows suggestions from a large number of sources, including local sources such as documents, contacts and online sources such as emails and the web. If you would like to search in specific sources only, it’s possible to do that. Open Spotlight and type in “SP” to open System Preferences and click on “Spotlight” (already seeing the benefit of searching by app initials?).

You will see a list of categories where Spotlight will search for. Feel free to uncheck the box corresponding to the category that you do not want Spotlight to search for.

In earlier versions of macOS, we could prioritize these categories so you can see the search from the categories that matters the most to you. Unfortunately, it seems like Apple has removed this feature.

10. Exclude a Folder/Disk From Spotlight Search

By default, Spotlight indexes most parts of your internal HDD/SSD including external hard disks. Sometimes, it may index temporary files and similar stuff, which in turn, may lead to results that are off the mark. Moreover, this can potentially slow down the Spotlight search.

To counter this, you can easily choose to exclude a folder/disk from being indexed. To do this, head over to System Preferences > Spotlight. In the Privacy tab, you can click on the “+” button to add any folder/external drive. Alternatively, you can also drag and drop folders directly into the window.

The folders you specify shall not be indexed by Spotlight, and hence Spotlight will not perform a search in the specified location.

If anytime in the future, you feel like re-indexing them again, just select the folders from the list and click on the “” icon. Spotlight will begin re-indexing them and results from these folders should show up after a while.

SEE ALSO: 10 Cool Finder Tricks for Mac You Should Use

Enhance Your Mac Experience Using These Spotlight Tips

So, this was my list of some of the Spotlight tips and tricks you can try out on your Mac. Chances are that you’re already using Spotlight, and integrating these tricks into your search workflow will help you to be more productive. If you are looking for an upgrade from Spotlight, Alfred for macOS is just what you need. For most other people, Spotlight, when used with these tricks and tips can dramatically enhance the experience on your Mac. What do you think about these Spotlight tips and tricks? If you feel that I’ve missed out your favourite tip, sound off in the comments section below.

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