How to Search on Mac with Finder




Finder plays a crucial role in macOS - it is not only a file management tool but also responsible for the overall interaction between you and your Mac. Finder handles the launching of applications and managing the windows, and among other things, it offers various possibilities for textual search.
The application was created in the 1980s, along with the Apple GS/OS operating system, but was completely rewritten in 2001 when the Mac OS X operating system was designed.
In this article, I want to show you the Finder's capabilities for searching text in files, for advanced search, for searching hidden and system files, and more.


1. How to open and use Finder on Mac


Searching with the Finder is easy, similar to searching in Windows with File Explorer. To search, click on the search field located top-right on Finder or use the shortcut Command+F.


You can change the results' appearance using the button at the top. For example, when the result has many files, it is better to display them as a list or column.


MacOS Finder change appearance of search results


You can sort the results on certain criteria using the "Sort" button. Simply click on the column property and choose sorting criteria.


MacOS Finder sort search results



2. Advanced search by Finder


Unlike Spotlight, Finder does not support search operators directly in the search query. Instead, you need to open the search box with Command+F, and then click on the "+" button. On the left side, you will see the form from which you can choose the criteria for your search.


MacOS Finder set search options


You can add multiple conditions using the "Add" button and remove them using the "Remove" button.


You can set a Boolean operator (OR, AND, or NOT) in any conditions by holding the "Option" key and pressing the "…" button that will replace the "+" button on the right side.


Finder also allows you to save your current search results as a Smart Folder for later use. To achieve this, click on the "Save" button and specify the name and the location of the folder. If "Add To Sidebar" is selected, the search folder will be added to your sidebar for quick access.


MacOS Finder add folder to sidebar for quick access




3. Search in hidden and system folders


By default, macOS hides system files from the users, as accidentally changing them might cause application errors. However, you may need to access them to change system settings or delete the junk files left by a removed application.


You can quickly show or hide all hidden files with Command+Shift+Period.


To search system or hidden folders with Finder’s search box:


  1. Open Finder and enter Command+F to bring up the search window (make sure "This Mac" is selected, so you can search in the whole system). 


MacOS Finder open search window


  1. Click on the Dropdown list on the left and choose "Other." 


MacOS Finder search options choose other


  1. Navigate to "System Files" and double-click to add them. 


MacOS Finder choose to search system files


  1. Open the right Dropdown and choose "are included." You can now search in system files as well.


MacOS Finder include system files in search


  1. Click on the "+" button on the right to add another search option.


MacOS Finder add search option


  1. From the Dropdown list on the left choose "Other" again, navigate to the "File visibility" property (could also be named "File invisible") and double-click to add it. 


MacOS Finder choose hidden files option


  1. Select "Visible or Invisible" in the right Dropdown.


MacOS Finder choose to include hidden files in search



4. Save the search settings in Finder


The following steps will show you how to save these or any other settings for easy access and further use.


  1. Click on the "Save" button at the right to show the Save dialog.


MacOS Finder open save settings window


  1. Change the default name and location as you wish. Make sure "Add to Sidebar" is checked if you want to access it quickly. 


  1. Click "Save."


MacOS Finder save settings


If "Add to Sidebar" was checked in the previous step, a file with the given name will appear on the Sidebar on the left. Whenever you want to search in the system or hidden files, open it and type your search words in the search box.


MacOS Finder navigate settings in the sidebar


Note that Finder still will not let you search in hidden files beginning with a period (e.g. ".identityService.csv"). You have to search them manually or use third-party software.


5. Search for deleted files

Any files you remove are stored in the Trash Bin unless the system doesn’t have enough free space at the moment of deletion. To access the Trash folder, simply click on the Trash icon in the Dock.


You can also locate the Trash Bin folder in Finder:


  1. Click Go -> Go to Folder on the menu bar at the top. 


MacOS Finder locate trash bin folder


  1. Paste the path:



in the dialog and hit "Return" to open the path.


MacOS Finder open trash bin path


  1. Once you get to the Bin folder, you can use Finder’s search bar to look for a specific file. 


  1. Drag and drop the item to a folder outside the Trash, or if you want to put it in its original folder, right-click on the file and choose Put Back.


MacOS Finder restore file from trash bin


Note that once you delete a file from the Trash, it will be deleted permanently.


If your deleted file is not in the Trash, you can recover it from an earlier disk or cloud backup. If you don’t have one, you might want to read how to create backups with the Time Machine or iCloud and prevent future file loss.


If you don’t have any backups, your last option is to try Data Recovery Software such as Disk Drill.



6. Conclusion

The great advantage of Finder is that it is built into the operating system, and searching with it is quick and easy. Along with that, it also has some significant drawbacks, such as not seeing the found text without opening the document, not having the possibility to search for word combinations, and more. If you often need to search for text in your documents, using third-party software that offers advanced capabilities is a better option. You can read more on this topic in our article on searching text in documents on Mac.

I hope you found this article helpful, and if so, I would love to hear what you think if you leave your comment below!

About the author
Dimitar Stamenov
Dimitar is a software developer and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in software development and online marketing.

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