Is there any way to search a specific type of file using Spotlight? I remember there was a special command or something that I had to put in front of the search phrase but I cannot remember it now.

For example, if I want to search only PDFs for a particular phrase in Spotlight, what would I do?

8 Answers 8


Search by Kind One of the most useful ways to narrow down a search is by using the kind: keyword. This allows you to restrict your list of results to a certain file format. For instance, if you type time machine kind:pdf, Spotlight will pull up only PDF files containing the words "time" and "machine". You can also limit your search to e-mail messages, music files, System Preferences, applications, and more.

While the original Spotlight recognized only a limited number of file types, the Leopard version can look for files created by specific applications, as well as certain file formats. Searching for kind:mp3 or kind:tiff will find files in one of those formats, and searching for kind:pages or kind:powerpoint will show only documents created in one of those programs. For a list of useful keywords, see “My Kind of Keyword.” But remember, for the keywords to work, you must have the appropriate categories enabled in Spotlight’s preferences.

you can get more info here or here.

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  • not sure what you mean "you must have the appropriate categories enabled"... this doesn't "just work", any searches with "kind:..." always return 0 results.
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:31
  • So theres no built in way to search for non-common file extensions. Classic Apple
    – ICW
    Commented Jul 7, 2019 at 15:44
  • spotlight searching by unix suffix remains horrible to this day for no reason
    – vwvan
    Commented Aug 2, 2022 at 8:15

It's already been answered, but here's my 2 cents.

Via Bash through the terminal

find ~ -type f -name '*pdf' or find ~ -iname '*pdf'

(or, if you want to ignore error messages, find ~ -type f -name '*pdf' 2>/dev/null)

or you can use this to search for a string in a file:

find ~ -iname '*txt' | xargs grep 'string you want'

This may not return anything on a pdf, but it will work on most other file types (text, php, py, html, etc).


To the best of my knowledge it's not possible via spotlight (tested on Mojave and Monterey). You can only use finder:

  1. Start a search with Command+F.
  2. Click on the '+' icon on the far side of the taskbar
  3. Select the type from the 'kind' pull-down menu. Select 'other' and then find 'File extension'

Enter your desired file extension and hit enter.

  • 1
    for the "file extension", should I use wildcards or not? e.g., use *.doc or doc?
    – kakyo
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 1:21
  • @kakyo you don't need a wildcard
    – Jubei
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 8:30
  • 2
    this is not searching by extension. if I search for "doc" for instance, i see "xml"... lol, wut? if i search for "nb" i get 0 results, even though i have lots of files matching "*.nb".
    – Michael
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 4:33
  • I don't know why you can't find your files. Perhaps the folder the files are located in has been removed from the index? This works for me on Mojave.
    – Jubei
    Commented Mar 8, 2019 at 11:04
  • 1
    While you enable File extension option, please enable File extension hidden too.
    – Shiyaz
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 12:35
mdimport -A 

will give you every possible attribute available on your system

kMDItemKind is the attribute for files, but perhaps the above will suggest a better attribute to search on.


mdfind "kMDItemKind == 'whatever'"

The syntax might make you shout out in disgust. I can personally attest that it ruins zsh completion. Still, Spotlight ( that's what this is ) indexes your stuff all the time anyway, and it's fast. Might as well use it. YMMV

  1. Open a Find Window (cmd-f) or do a spotlight search and select "show all"
  2. Hit the little "+" icon (to the right of the 'save' button)
  3. Select File Type as a search criteria and select the correct one.
  4. Rerun the search.

(Disclaimer, I'm not on a Mac right now :( so my exact instructions might be a little off).


The question "How to use Regex with spotlight" is marked as a duplicate of this for some reason, so I thought I would share how to do wildcard searching.

You can do wildcard searching in the Finder using a Kind of "Raw Query" with the kMDItemDisplayName attribute: Raw Query example

Raw Queries are essentially what you use with the mdfind command. I have more details on Raw Queries and using them in the GUI at https://superuser.com/a/491119/66255.


You can do it with Spotlight too.

  1. Press Command + Space bar.

  2. Type period (.) followed by the extension of the file. E.g. for PDF files, type '.pdf'.

  3. Select the 'Show all in Finder...' in the drop-down results.

This helps you even find the file types that are not listed in the Finder menu.


We can narrow down the search by using kind:.

So, if you want to search only PDFs, you can type kind:pdf.

And sometimes, we don't need to type entire kind, two or three letters may be enough. For example, we can type kind:pd, it will also show PDFs.

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