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A few months ago I switched from backing up to an external drive using Time Machine to just having everything on my iCloud Drive and it automatically backing up any changes I make.

Since then, I've been having problems with Finder search (cmd+F with a Finder window open):

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  • Finder search can't find files when I search the folder that was open rather than "This Mac". I've tried typing text directly into the "Search for:" field, using "Filename matches" and using "Tags matches". None of them work.
  • Smart folders, since they must be created (as far as I know) from a Finder search, don't work either if they rely on searching within a specific folder rather than the whole Mac; they just turn up empty. This applies also to smart folders I created before moving everything to my iCloud Drive (which were working perfectly before said move).
  • Oddly, Finder search does find items if I search "This Mac".
  • Spotlight works just fine (after reindexing my iCloud Drive; see below); it does find files that are in my iCloud Drive. But then I guess Spotlight is searching the wole Mac and not just a specific folder.

The move to iCloud (and the beginning of these problems) happened on an Intel Mac running Catalina. I'm on an M1 Max Mac running Monterey now (I did use Time Machine for the migration to the new computer), and the problems remain exactly as they were on the other computer.

I've tried a bunch of things, none of which have worked for me:

  • Obviously, I've made sure the search parameters are correct; in all of my attempts there's at least one file with the specified parameters (file name, etc) in the folder I'm searching in.
  • There's nothing in my list of things to exclude from Spotlight (System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy), but I added my personal folder in my iCloud Drive and removed it again anyway in order to force Spotlight to reindex it. I checked that the indexing did indeed take place by entering random text into the Spotlight search field and noticing a progress bar labelled "Indexing..." or something of the sort. (Before this, Spotlight was very hit-and-miss with files in my iCloud Drive; after the reindexing was finished, Spotlight was able to find one specific file which it hadn't been able to find earlier, but Finder search remains unable to find it; I haven't tried with more files, but I figure the indexing worked if it can now find things it couldn't before.)
  • I don't have optimised storage turned on, so everything on my iCloud Drive is on my computer.
  • I force-relaunched Finder after indexing to see whether that would help.

I don't know whether Finder search and Spotlight use the same index and the same engine; I assume they do, because the alternative seems incredibly stupid to me.

(Possibly related: Since moving everything to my iCloud Drive, the little play button that usually appears when you hover the mouse over the icon of an audio file in Finder isn't appearing on some of the audio files on my iCloud Drive. Other files in the same folder do show a play button. It's always the same files that don't; none of them have custom icons, and all of them showed it before the move.)

How can I get Finder search and smart folders working again?

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  • idk the answer to your issue, but just a note. iCloud is not a backup solution, it is a sync solution. If you delete a file in one location, the same will happen to all locations.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 6:35
  • Fair. I meant it in the sense that if something ever happens to my computer I'll still have all my documents.
    – Rain
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 10:55

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This worked for me. I noticed the problem first when trying to find documents in pages and saw that it affected searching any individual folder. I read the link below. I added the entire hard drive to the do not search area in spotlight privacy and waited about a minute before removing it. I could search folders after that but still had trouble with iCloud. I did the same thing with the iCloud drive.

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/253479408

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