In Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard through at least Mac OS X 10.11 El Captain, when you typed in the search box in Finder, a silver bar would appear below it. Starting from the left side of this bar, there is the text Search: and next to it there are two buttons that say This Mac and the name of the current folder in double quotes. In Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, and possible Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard, there were two more buttons all the way over to the right that said Names (or maybe it was Filenames) and Contents. If Contents was selected, then Finder would look inside files for the text that is typed into the search bar.

I'm on Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan right now and there is no such choice of buttons (i.e., between Names and Contents). This has bugged me for several years, but now I'm done ignoring it. How can I make Finder search in files' contents? I presume that on the older version of Mac OS X, when Finder searched file contents, it didn't change the Last opened date of each file, too (which is how I want it). I don't want to use grep or another application. I want to make Finder behave like this. I will only accept an alternative browser application if it is sufficiently like Finder in terms of features and design.

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    If you click on the + button on the right side of the gray bar you can add "Contents" field. You can also type something like content:search_term Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 18:59
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    EasyFind is a 3rd party search engine. It's very fast and allows you to search for file or Folder name or to search inside of files. You specify different file name extensions to allow searching.
    – Natsfan
    Commented Jun 21, 2018 at 22:21

3 Answers 3


I'll put some pictures to the reply answers given.

  1. Add something to the search field to get the search options to show up. I just used a space in this example.
  2. Click the + button to the right of save. Get search options to show.
  3. Choose contents from the left drop down menu and then type in your search term. You may need to clear out whatever you added in the main search field to not limit your results. enter image description here
  4. You can instead type content:search term in the main search field. enter image description here
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    We are now in 2022, with macOS 12.x (Monterey) on an M1 chip, and it still works as described here... great!
    – Gonen
    Commented Mar 31, 2022 at 10:11

I've always found Finder's file search capabilities quite limited.

I'd suggest you look at the File Content Finder app on the app store (disclaimer - I'm its developer). It's specifically designed for searching file contents without indexing. It supports all major file formats - pdf, doc(x), xls(x), ppt(x), rtf, and others. It can also search in scanned png and jpg documents.

Its filtering capabilities let you optimise and refine your search.


I will suggest jEdit. It's the highly advanced and free tool (supports window, linux as well).

You can even find and replace in the directory including subdirectories upto any depth.

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