How to Use Google to Find and Open Files Online

Illustration of man searching with magnifying glass
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Google, the world's most popular search engine, gives searchers the ability to search for specific file types: books, sheet music, PDF files, Word docs, etc. In this article, we'll talk about a few ways you can find this material using Google. 

Find Books by Searching Google for File Types

There are a couple different ways to accomplish this with Google. First, let's try a simple search engine query. Because most books on the Web are formatted in .pdf form, we can search by file type. Let's try Google:

filetype:pdf "jane eyre"

This Google search brings back plenty of .pdf formatted files that reference the classic novel "Jane Eyre". However, not all of them are the actual book; quite a few of them are classroom notes or other such materials that just reference Jane Eyre. We can use another kind of Google syntax to make our book search even more powerful - the allinurl command.

What is the "allinurl" command? It's similar to inurl with one crucial difference: allinurl will search ONLY the URL of a document or web page, while inurl will look at both the URL and the content on the Web page. Note: the "allinurl" command cannot be combined with other Google search commands (such as "filetype"), but there's a way around this.

Using the allinurl command, basic search math, quotations, and parentheses for control over exactly which file formats you're looking for, you can tell Google to return the complete work of "Jane Eyre", rather than just excerpts or discussions. Let's see how this would work:

allinurl: +(|zip|pdf|doc) "jane eyre"

Here's how this particular search string breaks down:

  • The allinurl command tells Google that you only want to look at what's in the URL.
  • See that plus sign? That's basic search math, also known as Boolean search. You're telling Google that whatever comes after that plus sign needs to be included.
  • The parentheses and pipes look complicated, but they're really not. They're just grouping tools. The parentheses tell Google that you want to ONLY look at content that is delivered in these file formats, and the pipes separate those formats. Since you are looking for more than one file type, they need to be separated by pipes (the pipe key is accessible on your keyboard right above the "Enter" key; just hit "shift" and that key and you'll get a pipe).
  • The title of your book inside quotation marks tells Google that you want to look for that entire title in exactly the way you've written it.

This Google search string will help you find all sorts of file types online. Here's a list of all the file types that you can search for on Google using the filetype search query:

  • Adobe Portable Document Format (pdf)
  • Adobe PostScript (ps)
  • Lotus 1-2-3 (wk1, wk2, wk3, wk4, wk5, wki, wks, wku)
  • Lotus WordPro (lwp)
  • MacWrite (mw)
  • Microsoft Excel (xls)
  • Microsoft PowerPoint (ppt)
  • Microsoft Word (doc)
  • Microsoft Works (wks, wps, wdb)
  • Microsoft Write (wri)
  • Rich Text Format (rtf)
  • Shockwave Flash (swf)
  • Text (ans, txt)

Use Google to Find Sheet Music

If you are a musician - pianist, guitarist, etc., and you'd like to add some new sheet music to your musical repertoire, you can do this pretty easily with a simple search string. Here's what your search should look like:

beethoven "moonlight sonata" filetype:pdf

Breaking this down, you'll notice that you're looking for works by Beethoven (public domain). Secondly, this search specifies a specific work in quotes so Google knows those words should come back in the exact order and proximity that they are typed. Third, the "filetype" syntax tells Google to return only results that are in the PDF file format, which is what much of the sheet music out there is written into.

Here's another way to do it:

filetype:pdf "beethoven" "moonlight sonata"

This will bring back similar results, with a very similarly worded search string. Remember to put those quotes around the song title you're looking for, it makes a big difference.

One more example: 

filetype:pdf beethoven "moonlight sonata"

Again, similar resultsAs you search, do a little experimenting with the name of the songs as well as the artist. See if there might be different file types out there that could contain the sheet music you're looking for; for example, many sheet music is uploaded as a .jpg file. Simply substitute "jpg" for "pdf" and you've got a whole new realm of possible results.