Mac OS X's Spotlight is a great tool for finding that file you lost or launching apps, but it can do a lot more than just find the occasional file. Here are some of the coolest Spotlight tips, features and shortcuts to make your Mac a time-saving, file-searching powerhouse.
Make Advanced Search Queries
Spotlight's beauty lies in its simplicity. It's a single search bar that can find nearly anything on your machine with a few keystrokes. However, if you need to perform more advanced searches, you can do so without ticking a bunch of boxes and filling out advanced search forms. You just need to use a few operators — not unlike the operators you'd use on Google or Gmail. These include:
- Boolean operators like AND, OR and NOT to to include or exclude terms. For example,
invoice NOT paypalor
invoice -paypalwill find you all files that contain the word invoice and don't contain the word "paypal", which can be useful for filtering out certain items. You could even go more advanced with parentheses and quotes, like
invoice AND credit NOT (paypal OR "google checkout").
- You can search for files of a specific type by using the
kindoperator. For example,
- You can search for files from a specific date range using operators like
modified. For example,
invoice modified:yesterdayfor something modified yesterday, or
invoice created:1/1/2012-4/10/2012to find something created in between January 1 and April 10.
These are just a few examples of the advanced searches you can make. Experiment with common operators to see what else you can find.
Make Calculations and Look Up Words
This one's pretty well-known, but it bears repeating. If you need a quick calculation done, there's no reason to open up the Calculator app. Just type your calculation into Spotlight. Whether it's something simple like
2+2 or something as complicated as
sqrt(16)/2*(55.6+9). Just type it in and the answer will show up at the top of your results. You can even highlight it and press Cmd+C to copy the answer to your clipboard, for pasting in another program.
You can do this same thing with words. Just type a word into Spotlight and it'll show you the definition. You can click on the definition (or highlight it and press Enter) to view the full thing, or press Cmd+C to copy it for pasting into another app.
Copy or Move Files From the Search Menu
Need to copy a file to your desktop, Dropbox, or other location? No need to dig through your file system to find it. Just search for it in Spotlight, highlight it in the results list and press Cmd+C. Then, you can paste that file wherever you want with Cmd+V in the Finder. It'll even work for contacts and email messages (it'll paste a .vcard or .emlx file).
Alternatively, you can drag that file out of the Spotlight results to copy it to a new location, or hold Command and drag it to move it to a new location. If you hold Command and Option while dragging, it'll create an Alias to that file if you want quick access to it from your desktop or another folder.
View a Search Result in The Finder
Half the time, when I'm looking for a file, it's because I don't actually know where it is, or its buried so far in the Finder that I don't want to click around the file system to get there. Searching for it in Spotlight will get you the file, but you can also use this keyboard shortcut to view that file's parent directory. Just highlight the file and press Cmd+Enter (or Cmd+Click on the file) to view it in the Finder. It's immensely handy for searches where you need to do more than just open the file.
Get a File's Info and File Path
If you want to see information about a file — like what kind of file it is, how big it is, where it resides and more, you can just highlight it and press Cmd+I. This will bring up that file's Get Info window, just like it would if you were viewing it in the Finder. If you just want to know the path to that file, you don't need to open up the Get Info window; you can just highlight the file and press Cmd+Option.
Quick Look a File From the Search Results
If you want to get a slightly closer look at an image, document or other quick look-compatible file, you can just highlight the file and press the Command key. Alternatively, you can just hover over it with your mouse. You'll get a little popup showing a bit of info about the file, as well as a preview. It isn't as large as the actual Quick Look window in the Finder is, but sometimes it'll do the trick. If you need a closer look, you can always press Cmd+Enter to show the file in the Finder, then hit Spacebar to bring up the regular Quick Look window.
Got any other cool Spotlight shortcuts or tips that we missed? Share them with us in the comments below, and enjoy all your extra seconds saved with Spotlights built-in time savers.