How to Search Text in Your Documents on Mac


1. Introduction
2. Finder
3. Spotlight
4. SeekFast
5. HoudahSpot
6. DocFetcher



1. Introduction


When you need to search any text in the documents on your Mac, most often you do it with the help of Finder or Spotlight tools. Indeed, searching through these tools is quick and easy, but there are also some significant problems – for example, you cannot search for word combinations, you do not see the text of the found sentences, and so on. It turns out that when you have a large number of documents in the search results, it becomes very difficult to find out exactly where the searched text is, and sometimes you have to open the files one by one.


In this article we will try to give you a quick overview of the best tools for textual search in your documents on Mac.



2. Finder


With the help of Finder you can easily search for text in the contents of the files in a given folder. This is done as follows:

  1. Open Finder and navigate to the folder you want to search.
  2. In the toolbar below the search box, you have two search options: "This Mac" or the current folder. Click on the name of the current folder.
  3. Type your search word in the search box.
  4. Click on the file name in the search result to see a thumbnail of the document.



A major drawback of the search with Finder is that it is difficult to navigate in the text of the documents found. To find the sentences in which the searched word is found, you will need to open all the files one by one and search separately in each of them.


  • No need to install additional software.
  • The search is quick and easy.
  • You can view a thumbnail of each document found.
  • You can search by date or period.



  • You cannot see the text of the found documents without opening them.
  • You cannot see the sentences containing the search terms.
  • You cannot search for word combinations.
  • The results are not ranked by relevance.


3. Spotlight


Spotlight is a built-in desktop search tool for Mac that searches not only in your files, but also in the history of the visited websites and other sources. The purpose of Spotlight is to be a universal search tool, which always searches throughout the whole system.


However, with Spotlight you cannot narrow the search. You cannot search the files in a specific folder, which in some cases is a big inconvenience – when there are a lot of results, it will be quite difficult for you to find the document you are looking for.


Using Spotlight is similar to using Finder:

  1. Open Spotlight from the magnifying glass in the upper right corner of the screen.
  2. Type your searched word in the search box.
  3. Click the file name in the search result to see a thumbnail of the found document.



The advantages and disadvantages of Spotlight are similar to those of Finder. An additional disadvantage is the inability to limit the results to the files in a particular folder.



4. SeekFast

If you want to search for a word or a combination of words in a folder in your Mac, SeekFast is your best option. It supports all modern macOS versions such as Sierra, Mojave, Catalina, and Big Sur. Not only is it an easy-to-use and self-explanatory tool, but it also brings up the results in a very convenient way. You can follow the steps mentioned below to use SeekFast:

  1. Download, install, and launch SeekFast on your Mac.
  2. Click the Browse button and choose the folder with the documents that you need to search.
  3. Type the searched words in the search bar and press Return.
  4. In the results you have options either to click on a file name to open the file, or to click on a sentence to see a larger part of the text found.




  • You can see all sentences containing your searched words.
  • You can search for different combinations of words that aren’t located next to each other in the document.
  • It allows you to view the texts found without opening the documents.
  • You will see the most relevant results on the top.
  • You will see both the file names of the documents and sentences that contain the searched words.
  • It highlights the searched words in the text found.
  • It supports a range of different file formats.
  • It supports searching in the contents of the files of the major programming languages such as C, C++, Java, C#, PHP, Python, Perl, JavaScript, and others.
  • SeekFast has its own search engine and is independent of Spotlight.



  • The free version allows you to search no more than 50 documents at once. With the paid version you can search up to 20,000 documents simultaneously.


Try SeekFast for Mac for free.



5. HoudahSpot

HoudahSpot is yet another good option to search for text in multiple files on macOS. It uses the Spotlight index, but presents the results in an improved user interface to make search easier.



In addition to the regular search, it allows you to combine various criteria. You can use this tool to search text with the following steps:

  1. Download and install it on your Mac. Launch HoudahSpot.
  2. Choose the folder to search from the "Locations" section on the left side of the main window.
  3. Type your desired words in the “Search Any Text” field and click Return.
  4. In the Info pane, click on the "Text Preview" icon to see the text found.




  • You can refine your search with multiple filters.
  • You can search multiple folders at once.
  • It highlights the text you searched for.
  • You can set templates for recurring searches.



  • You cannot view all the sentences containing the searched terms at once.
  • HoudahSpot is dependent on Spotlight, so you cannot use it if Spotlight indexing is disabled.
  • Does not have a free version.



6. DocFetcher

When it comes to searching multiple files for specific text, DocFetcher is one of the popular names. It is Java-based open-source software that supports Windows, Linux, and macOS. You can consider it as a search engine, which can search either the entire computer or a specific folder.


If you want to use the extended functionality with additional features of this software, you will have to go with the paid version, DocFetcher Pro. The tool is independent of Spotlight and performs its own indexing of the files.


How to use DocFetcher:

  1. Download, install, and run it on your Mac.
  2. Right-click on "Search Scope," select "Create Index From," and choose the folder you want to search.
  3. Type your searched words in the search box at the top and press Return.
  4. In the results window, click the name of each file to see the text. Your searched words are highlighted.



  • You can use the free version for an unlimited time.
  • You can use various filters such as by file format, document size, and location.
  • It has a portable version and you can use it without installing it.



  • The interface is not very intuitive and you will need some time to be able to work with it.
  • It is dependent on Java Runtime Environment (JRE), so you will need to have it installed.
  • You will have to click on each file name to see the text.
  • You cannot search for combinations of words.
About the author
Dimitar Stamenov
Dimitar is a software developer and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in software development and online marketing.
  • Rob says:

    Very helpful information but unfortunately it did not cover the particular problem I was trying to solve. Nevertheless the assistance I received was most helpful.

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