I have often read about how good the MacOS finder is, but I cannot for the life of me work out how to get it to actually find something.

Is it possible to type in a partial file name in the Search Box and get it to highlight matching files in the current folder?

Finder Search Box

I can find files in the shell, and I also have EasyFind and Find Any File, but surely the MacOS finder can do a simple thing like that … ?

I don’t want to use Spotlight, as it doesn’t do the job simply, and I am looking for files on unindexed volumes.

  • By partial you mean skipping characters, or just incomplete?
    – anki
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 5:24

3 Answers 3


This should work out of the box, actually.

  • Open Finder Preferences and set the default search location to "current folder"

    enter image description here

  • In the search box of Finder start typing the name of the file (or a part of it) to get matching files/folders

  • 2
    It doesn’t work for me. I think it only works with Spotlight enabled folders.
    – Manngo
    Commented Dec 1, 2019 at 0:45
  • This seems doesn't work on External Disks. Finder still tries to search the disk rather than the folder.
    – G. Cheng
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 4:15
  • @GunnarCheng Is there a spotlight index on the external drive?
    – nohillside
    Commented Apr 7, 2020 at 5:07

I have been using Macs since OS 9 and I have always found the Finder lacking in many areas, especially when it comes to something as simple as you'd like to do.

Simply put, there is now way of finding what you would like. You can use Pathfinder (a bit bloated) or Forklift (a bit simple) to in the way you'd like.

One of the beauties of the Mac is the quality third-party software you can get. I recommend Alfred. It's an incredibly launcher and finder of things and once you get the hang of it, it's golden for these types of tasks.

Here is a sample of me finding a PDF in a folder with thousands of files and opening then moving it to the trash.

  • Please don't store essential parts of your answer on an external site, as this will render the answer useless if you delete that part later. If you need to explain some things visually, consider adding screenshots directly to your answer.
    – nohillside
    Commented Nov 27, 2019 at 10:20

The basic premise of Unix commands, hex macOS, is that a command should do one thing well and you should be able to string commands together to do more complex things. Finding and highlighted would be two different tasks. I do not know of such a highlighting tool.

Here are some examples of the find command.

# this closely matches what you want to find. Searching all files 
# on your start up drive and other drives which you own. 
# files will begin with python.
find / -iname 'python*'
# search only on your startup drive, -x
# -iname ends with .jpeg.  Hence jpeg extension
# type f files not directoryies
# -exec on the files that were found run the ls command. 
#  {} is the name of the found file
# \; ends the -exec
find -x ~  -iname "*.jpeg" -type f  -exec ls -l  {} \; 2>/dev/null | sort -r -k 8,8 -k 6,7M

# diy for the rest of these commands
find -x ~  \( -iname "*.jpeg" -o -iname "*.png"  \) -type f  -exec ls -l  {} \;
find /Users/robert -user  1000  -exec ls {} \;
find /Users/robert -user  1000  -exec chown robert:staff  {} \;
find . -maxdepth 1 -name '.bash*' -type f -exec ksh -c 'for file; do; echo "$file" |  od -ct x1; done' sh {} +
find -E ~/Library -regex '.*(citrix|cisco).*' -print 2>/dev/null

When ever I want to run one of these commands, I display my examples of the find command. I then copy & paste then modify the command.

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