Learn Everything About Mac Spotlight!

Apple Mac spotlight tool is a great desktop search feature you really want to get familiar with! It allows you to search for nearly anything – Files, Applications, Documents, Downloads, Pictures, Movies, Music Tracks etc. Anything stored on your computer. If you are forever forgetting where you have saved items (like me) this handy little tool will become your Saviour!


How Does Mac Spotlight Work?

You can easily access your spotlight feature from any toolbar. It looks like spyglass and is always perched on the right hand side of the bar. To use it just simply type in a keyword or search term into the search field. (If you can not already see a search field to type into, just click on the spyglass icon and one should drop down ready for your text).

Your Spotlight will instantly begin to search for your missing files as soon as you type in a word or phrase. It will start to display any relevant files, folders, apps etc that matched your search criteria, as well as documents that may contain your search criteria within them. For example if you search the word ‘iTunes’, spotlight will not only bring to the surface the main iTunes application, but it will also highlight any text documents, emails, files, folders, calendars, and more that have merely mentioned this term.

As you can see, your Mac Spotlight tool is rather powerful…


mac spotlight


You will no doubt notice that the moment you start typing your terms into the search box, spotlight will start producing list of results. It helpfully organises the result by categories such as Applications, Documents, Images, and PDF Documents. This makes it easier to eliminate groups to make it easier to pinpoint he correct file you are looking for.

You can always just write brief keywords in the search box and you will still gets lot of results. But remember the more specific you write the more refined your spotlight search results will be.


How to Customize Mac Spotlight Search Results?

You can customize how these categories will appear using your Spotlight System Preferences. To become a big Mac Nerdy know it all and learn how to do this step-by-step just click here ‘How to Change Mac Spotlight Settings’.


How to See ‘ALL’ your Mac Spotlight Results?

Interesting if your term has thrown up a lot of results it will not be able to show them all in the results drop down list. If you do not wish to refine your criteria further, you can see the entire list by clicking “Show All in Finder”. This will open up a Finder window displaying all the results discovered by Spotlight.


How to Preview an Item from Mac Spotlight Results?

It is very easy to preview a file fro your spotlight result list. Just click once on an item to highlight it. An image preview should pop up to give you a clearer view. You can then use your arrow keys or a two finger Trackpad swipe to scroll up and down the list or simple use your cursor to click on any you are curious about.

 Mac Spotlight preview

To open up an item from your spotlight results list, just click once more on the item if you are already previewing it or double click if you want to skip the preview.


How to Use Spotlight to Find File Extensions?

Not only can you search for files, apps, pics etc using keyword such as iTunes, vouchers, etc but you can also search for file types such as .jpg, .PDF, .txt, .psd, .mov etc.

If you are looking for an image but can’t for the life of you think what you saved it as, you can type in .jpg into the search box and a long list of all your jpg images will be displayed.


How to Use Spotlight to Search Only Specific Areas?

To prevent you going on a wild goose chase sieving through a potentially insane amount of data, if you know where about on your Mac you stored your files you can an narrow down you search results a bit more.

So for example instead of searching under the ‘All My Files’ category you could just look under Applications, Downloads, Desktop, Movies, Pictures, Music etc.

How to use mac spotlight

You can narrow down your results even further….

Once inside a search category is Documents, using the drop down menus in this window you can choose to search for your criteria (keyword terms) in just the Name of the files or even the Content as well.


Other Cool things you can do on Mac Spotlight


You can even use your spotlight feature like a calculator. Just type a mathematical sum in the search box (why you wouldn’t just use your Mac calculator I’m not sure…. but this feature is there if you need it.)

mac spotlight calculator


Dictionary Definitions

You can also use Spotlight to search for the meaning of words. It pulls its results from your built in Mac Dictionary tool.

To activate this, once you have typed your word into the search box, click on phrase “Look Up” (or “Definition” in Mac OS,X,v10.6 and earlier). It will then bring up a handy Dictionary definition.

TIP: You don’t even need to click on the dictionary icon to see the definition. Just hover your cursor over the word “Look Up” and like a preview, a paragraph of the word definition will appear.

mac spotlight definitions

How to Change Mac Spotlight Settings

Apple Macs Spotlight is a brilliant feature that allows you to search for anything stored on your computer.

You can access your spotlight tool by clicking on the spyglass symbol in any toolbar. A drop down field will appear, allowing you to type in a keyword for the item wish to search for on your Mac.

You also have the ability to customise your Spotlight. For example you are able to control what categories are open for searching in, set privacy settings and even assign your own keyboard shortcut.


How to Change Mac Spotlight Settings

To start off you need to be inside your Spotlight preferences. To get there just follow these steps –

Click Apple icon in toolbar > From drop down menu select System Preferences > from the new pop up window click on the spyglass icon titled Spotlight.

mac spotlight

Mac Spotlight Search Results

If you wish to can pick and choose which categories you would like to be searched and those you would like to remain private and exclude.

Inside the Spotlight search results there will be a list of all the categories you can search from. To include a certain category make sure there is a check mark in the box next to the categories icon. If you wish to prevent a category from being searched by Spotlight and from showing up in any search result, just deselect the category by clicking on the relevant box.

You can even go one step further and customise the order in which the search results are displayed. To do this just click, select and drag the categories in the list to reorder.


Mac Spotlight Privacy

In the spotlight privacy sections you have the option to add additional folders or disks you also wish to exclude from the searches.

Th aim is to add the the folder or disks to the list of locations to exclude. You do this by clicking the Add (+), then simply locate the folder/ disk. Alternatively you can even drag and drop a folder or disk from your desktop into the list.

If you wish to remove a folder or disk from the list, just click to highlight and select Remove (-).


Mac Spotlight Keyboard shortcut

If you love to get technical and use Apple keyboard shortcuts then you are in luck as you can use them with your spotlight as well.

At the bottom of your spotlight preference window you are presented with two options – ‘Spotlight menu keyboard shortcut’ and ‘Spotlight Window keyboard shortcut’.

If you would like to activate and assign a shortcut make sure the boxes next to the options are ticked and highlighted.  Using the drop down menu on the side you can pick and choose exactly which shortcuts you would like to assign.

The funny ⌘ symbol simply refers to your Command key on your Mac keyboard, and the ⌥ symbol represents your Option key.

If you find a little yellow alert triangle pop up next to any shortcut you select to use, it means that particular shortcut can not be assigned as it is already being used as a short cut command for another app.

If you find it difficult to find one that is not already pared to another app you could always open your Keyboard Shortcuts preferences. There you will be able to clearly see which keyboard shortcuts are unavailable.