When we want to find something on our Mac, we often trust that Spotlight will find it if it is there, so it can be frustrating when Spotlight search cannot find a file or application you know is on your computer.
Below are some of the most common reasons Spotlight searches don’t work and how to fix them.
- Search results configured improperly (Fix: Configure Spotlight to search all item types)
- Spotlight privacy settings excluding search areas (Fix: Remove files and folders from the exclusion list)
- Your system needs a reboot (Fix: Reboot your Mac)
- Need to reindex the Spotlight search engine database (Fix: Reindex Spotlight)
- Your macOS needs an update (Fix: Update to the latest macOS)
- Disk errors prevent searches of specific areas of your disk (Fix: Use the First Aid utility to fix any disk errors)
Most of the issues listed above have simple solutions that you can use to get your Spotlight search working again and provide you with accurate search results.
My name is Eric, and as a software engineer, I know the importance of being able to search for files, folders, applications, or anything else. It is a tool that we all use at one time or another. If you are having issues with Spotlight, I can show you what the problem might be and how to possibly fix it.
If you want to find out more details about the reasons Spotlight might be having trouble with searches and learn about some possible solutions, keep reading below.
We will go through these reasons and provide a little more detail for each of the solutions.
Spotlight Search Not Working: Reasons and Fixes
Below are some of the most common reasons that Spotlight searches may not work on your Mac. Let’s take a look at each of them and their possible solutions.
1. Search Results Configured Improperly
Did you know that you can configure how Spotlight searches and specify what types of files, folders,s and applications it looks for? This is set up in your Mac’s system settings, and it could be that yours is configured to exclude or leave out some types of files or applications.
How to fix: You can check and possibly fix this issue by going into your settings and ensuring you have all types and areas of Spotlight search enabled. Use the following steps to do this.
Step 1: Open System Settings.
Click on the Apple symbol in the upper left corner of your screen and select System Settings.
Step 2: Select Siri & Spotlight
On the left side panel of the System Settings window, look for and select Siri & Spotlight.
Step 3: Ensure all Categories are selected in Search Results
Ensure all the checkboxes are checked for each category in the Search Results section. If any of them are not, check them and then try your search again.
2. Spotlight Privacy Settings Excluding search Areas
This issue is related to the previous issue, and its solution can be found in System Settings just as the previous one was. You can configure Spotlight to exclude specific files and folders from searches for privacy or security reasons.
How to Fix: To check and fix this issue, you will go to the same place in System Settings as you did in the previous fix. You will then go into the Spotlight Privacy settings and ensure that no areas of your disk drive are excluded from searches.
Step 1: Go to System Settings -> Siri & Spotlight
Use steps 1 and 2, as shown in the previous section, to get to the Siri & Spotlight settings.
Step 2: Click on Spotlight Privacy
Click on the Spotlight Privacy button in the lower right corner of the screen.
Step 3: Check the Spotlight Privacy window for files or folders that may be excluded.
Any files or folders listed in the Spotlight Privacy window will be excluded from Spotlight searches. If it is empty, this is not causing your issue. If there are files or folders listed there, you can remove them by selecting them and clicking on the – button.
If you have files or folders listed here and it happens to be the file you are looking for, Spotlight will not show it in your results. Once you remove it from here, Spotlight should find it, but keep in mind it will now include that area in all search results, so that area will no longer be private.
Step 4: Click on the Done button.
Click the Done button in the lower right corner of the screen and test your Spotlight search again.
3. Your system needs a reboot
If your Mac has been running for a long period of time without a reboot, there’s a chance your system could have a glitch or two which could be affecting Spotlight searches. Spotlight’s indexing system often runs in the background, and it can get hung up periodically.
Simply closing your laptop and only putting it to sleep does not reset anything. When you wake it back up, it is in the same state. Sometimes your computer just needs a fresh start, which can end processes like Spotlight indexing that can be frozen or hung.
Rebooting will also end and restart all other processes, such as SystemUIServer, which is also known to cause problems with many applications, such as Spotlight, when running for long periods.
How to fix: This one is simple. Just go to the Apple symbol in the upper left corner of your screen, Select and click on Shutdown. Let your Mac shut down all the way, and then leave it shut down for 30 seconds or so. Start it back up and see if that makes any difference.
4. Need to reindex the Spotlight search engine database
I mentioned this briefly in the previous section, and sometimes shutting down and restarting your Mac does not fix Spotlight’s indexing processes. In fact, indexing may have stopped long ago, and the data contained in it may be stale, so you may need to force Spotlight to reindex its database.
How to Fix: To get Spotlight to reindex, we will trick it by adding our hard drive volume to the exclude list in the Privacy settings and removing it from the exclude list. Once it is removed it will force Spotlight to reindex everything. Just follow the steps below.
Step 1: Go to the Privacy settings for Spotlight.
Use the same steps we used above to open System Settings, click on Siri & Spotlight and then click on the Spotlight Privacy button in the lower right corner.
Step 2: Add your drive to the exclusion list.
Click on the + button to add your drive to the list.
Select your hard drive from the list of locations and then click on the Choose button.
Step 3: Accept and verify the exclusion.
Click on the OK button to accept the exclusion.
After clicking the OK button, you should then see your drive in the exclusion list.
Step 4: Remove the drive from the exclusion list.
Select the drive in the window and then click on the – button to remove it from the exclusion list.
The list should now be empty, and you can click on the Done button. Spotlight will then begin reindexing in the background. You will not see any messages about it, but it is possible you may see your system slow down due to the indexing process.
The reindexing process can take some time, depending on how much data you have on your drive. You may want to wait for an hour or two before trying your Spotlight searches again.
Another way to fix:
If you prefer to do things using Mac Terminal, you can reindex Spotlight using the command line. It’s a quick and easy way to do this. Open the Terminal application using your preferred method and run the following command.
sudo mdutil -E /
5. Your macOS needs an update
While it may be an unlikely cause, there is always the small possibility that the issue is due to the need to update your macOS. Running an out-of-date OS can cause various problems and keep your system from running as it should.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to check if your macOS needs updating and then perform the update if required.
How to Fix: This fix is fairly straightforward. All you need to do is update your macOS. Just follow the standard procedure given by Apple.
6. Disk Errors
Corrupt data and disk errors could be causing Spotlight to have problems searching your drive. Disk errors can prevent applications such as Spotlight from reading the data from your disk and, in turn, prevent the search results you are looking for from showing.
How to Fix: Many disk errors and issues can be fixed with First Aid, which is part of Apple’s disk utility. You can run First Aid by following the steps below.
Step 1: Open Disk Utility
Use Launchpad to search for the Disk Utility by typing Disk in the search field. Once Disk Utility comes up, click on it to start up the Disk Utility.
Step 2: Select your drive.
Once the Disk Utility starts, select your drive by clicking on it on the left panel of the Disk Utility window.
Step 3: Click on First Aid
Click on the First Aid button near the top middle of the window.
Step 4: Run First Aid
You will see a warning message about running First Aid. Click on the Run button to start it.
You will see a warning message that your system will be unresponsive while the process is running. If you wish to continue, hit the continue button. It also tells you you can run this utility from recovery mode if you wish to do so.
Step 5: Let the utility run and fix any errors.
The utility will run and automatically fix any errors that it finds. You will see a progress window on the screen showing what is going on. Once it is completed, you will see a message showing Operation Successful. You can then click on the Done button to complete the process.
You can now try performing a Spotlight search and see if fixing your disk error has solved the problem.
How to Test Spotlight
As you try some or all of the possible solutions listed above, you should test Spotlight to see if they fix the issue. One of the best ways to ensure that it is working properly is to search for a file that you know exists and you know the location.
If Spotlight can find that file, then it will give you a good indication that it is working properly. You may use a file of the same type as the one causing your current problem.
If I am having trouble finding a file that is a PDF file, I will go to a location where I know I have a PDF file and search for that one to ensure that Spotlight can find it.
For example, I am having issues searching for a file called Instructions.pdf. I know I have a pdf file called Skull3.pdf in my downloads folder.
So, I will do a Spotlight search to ensure that it can find this file.
If Spotlight finds the file, it is a good indicator that Spotlight is working properly. If it does not find it, you may still be having issues and need to look at another one of the reasons and fixes.
When you use a computer search tool, you expect it to provide valid results. You trust that it will find what you are looking for, but sometimes you search for something you know is there, and Spotlight does not find it.
Most of the time, the reason is one that is listed above, and the fix for it is straightforward. I hope one of these solutions can help you solve your Spotlight search problem.
Let me know if any of these solutions work for you or if you find other possible solutions to the problem. I would love to have your feedback.