I'm on a Macbook Air, running El Capitan (10.11.6), and I'm not very knowledgeable about computers. I have a quick question about the Finder/Spotlight search.

So, as a grad student, I have tons and tons of PDFs on my computer. A lot of times, it's helpful for me to perform a keyword search to look for references (I often forget that I've downloaded relevant files), and Finder has done a perfectly serviceable job searching through file contents and through file names up until about the last week. Suddenly, about a week ago, I realized that Finder was only indexing search results that had the keyword in the file name.

I've tried poking around in search preferences to no avail, and I've looked for forums addressing this problem online. I have seen plenty of people who want to search file-names and can't (i.e., they can only search file contents), but I have not seen my problem anywhere.

Does anyone have any suggestions as to what might be going on here and how I could fix it? I have even tried re-indexing the search results as suggested elsewhere on StackExchange as a general tip for people with faulty Finder searches, but that didn't do anything for me.

Thanks so much for your replies in advance!

  • Could you run the mdls command against one of the files and post the results to your question? This might help us work out why the content isn't being indexed. For example mdls MyDocument.pdf. Commented Jul 18, 2017 at 18:41
  • So, here's what seems like an important update: I installed EasyFind and had the same problem -- so it seems like it's nothing to do with Finder itself. Any ideas?
    – GJMB
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 6:36
  • Could you run the mdls command against one of the files and post the results to your question? This might help us work out why the content isn't being indexed. For example mdls MyDocument.pdf. 😀 Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 7:41

3 Answers 3



Navigate to System Preferences>Keyboard>Shortcuts>App Shortcuts

Press the 'plus' (add) button

In Application, choose Finder

For Menu Title, enter "Find by Name…" Do not use the "" and you must use an ellipsis (…), not three periods (...).

Enter your desired keyboard shortcut. I use CMD-F, replacing the default behavior of regular Find. I then repeated the process, adding a keyboard shortcut the the Finder of CMD-OPT-F for Find.


This doesn't solve your problem but until you do, you could use the free app EasyFind. This mac app lets you set your search parameters. You can search file names or content. You can search a certain folder or whole disk. It does a very fast search. It's available at the app store. This app could help you until the finder search is fixed. You may like it better than finder search, it has many options.


Don't do it through Spotlight.

Go to Finder and hit F. You should see your standard Finder window, but with two new rows at the top. One says "Search:" with two buttons, "This Mac" and the current folder. The default is to default to the current folder, but you can change that in Finder preferences (,), at the bottom of the Advanced tab.

The second row is the important one, in which you can filter by things like name, the last time you opened the file, and, more pertinent to our discussion, its contents. I'm running Sierra, and on my computer, the default is "Name." Though I'm positive the default was once "Kind" (file type), I'm not sure when the switch occurred, so I'm not sure which one your computer shows. Either way, click on that drop down and select "Contents."

The row will now change to say "[Contents] contains" and an empty box. Type in what you're looking for in that box.

If you're still getting a lot of files in your search results, you can hit the little + and add another criterion to filter by "Kind," then select "PDF."

Notice that you can also hit the "save" button all the way to the right of the row beginning with "Search:" and save your search as a Smart Folder and place it in your sidebar. That way, with just a click, you can pull up all files with those search criteria.

  • Thanks very much for this! My only question is: what if I'm going to finder, hitting command+f, and there aren't two rows at the top? I actually did try to mess with the preferences when I searched finder before, but the only option for locations was file-name -- I feel like I've somehow just deleted the preference options for searching.
    – GJMB
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 6:29
  • @user246796 Are you sure you're in Finder? In all other apps, a single search row appears at the top. Try clicking on your desktop. If that fails for some reason (maybe you reassigned cmd-f to something else), you can always go to file>find.
    – DonielF
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 12:24

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .