How to Refine Searches in Spotlight and Finder Search

Use the Finder search window to refine spotlight search criteria

Spotlight is an easy-to-use, system-wide search service in macOS and Mac OS X. Even when you use the Search box in Finder, you're using the Spotlight search index your Mac creates. The search results in Finder aren't different from those in a standard Spotlight search. However, there are advantages to searching from a Finder window, including greater control over how the search is performed, and the ability to build complex search queries and add to your search phrase.

Here's how to configure the Finder Preferences on your Mac to get the search results you need.

Instructions in this article apply to Mac computers released after 2005 with OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) or later.

Set Finder Search Preferences

By default, when you run a search from Finder, that search covers your entire Mac. With OS X Snow Leopard, however, Apple introduced the ability to define the default Spotlight search location in Finder.

To configure Finder search box preferences, complete the following steps:

  1. Go to the Dock and select the Finder icon.

    The Finder icon in the OS X El Capitan dock

    The icon looks like a blue and white smiling face.

  2. From the Finder menu, select Preferences.

    Accessing Finder Preferences in macOS Catalina
  3. In Finder Preferences, select the Advanced tab.

    The Advanced tab in Finder Preferences
  4. From the When performing a search list box, select one of the following options:

    • Search This Mac: This option uses Spotlight to search your entire Mac for the term or keywords you specified. This option is the same as searching directly within Spotlight.
    • Search the Current Folder: This option restricts the search to the folder currently in view in the Finder window and its subfolders.
    • Use the Previous Search Scope: This option tells Spotlight to use whatever search parameters you used the last time you ran a Spotlight search.
    Set the default search location for Finder
  5. After you make a selection, close Finder Preferences.

The next search you perform from the Search box in Finder will use the parameters you set in Finder Preferences.

To override the default setting you configured in Finder Preferences, enter a search term in the Finder Search box, then select one of the following options in the Search bar:

  • This Mac: Search your entire computer.
  • Folder_Name: Folder_Name is the name of the Finder window you were in when you typed your search term. Select this option to search the current folder.
  • Shared: Extend the search to any peripheral drive connected to your computer.
Choose a search location in Finder

Jump From Spotlight to a Finder Search

You don't have to start your searches from within Finder to take advantage of the added benefits of searching in Finder. Instead, you can start your search directly in Spotlight, then jump to Finder.

A search directly in Spotlight can produce dozens of results, making it difficult to view and sort results. When you move the search results from the Spotlight results to Finder, you can better manipulate the results and narrow your search.

To move your search from Spotlight to Finder, complete the following steps:

  1. Go to the macOS menu bar and select the Spotlight icon (a magnifying glass).

    The Spotlight Search box on Mac
  2. In the Spotlight Search box, type a term or keyword. For example, search for the film Vice.

  3. In the list of search results, scroll to the bottom, then double-click Show all in Finder.

    Spotlight search for a film in macOS
  4. A Finder window opens with the results of your search word or phrase.

You can also add search criteria, such as date last opened, creation date, or kind of file.