I have a late 2011 MacBook Pro and I started noticing a weird bug in my Spotlight system preferences.

It looks like every time I open preferences -> Spotlight an assortment of icons and labels are missing from the Search Results tab.

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I noticed the following log entries along with this

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  • Do you have Xcode installed? I think it might be possible that it is Xcode that supplies the "developer" file icons. – GhostLyrics Sep 5 '12 at 1:00

Assuming your drive passes hardware verification, you might want to rebuild your spotlight index.

First though, repair permissions as much as possible.

Rebuilding the spotlight index is straightforward but time consuming. You will see that it is indexing as the spotlight magnifying glass icon will have a dot in the center of the glass.

This is how to reindex your drive:

  1. Launch System Preferences from the  Apple menu
  2. Click on “Spotlight” and then click on the “Privacy” tab
  3. Drag Macintosh HD (and other drives if necessary) into this window

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  1. Click “OK” when asked to confirm
  2. Now select the drive(s) you just added and click the “-” minus button to remove it from the list (weird right). Note: if an item is left under the “Privacy” list, it will exclude from Spotlight indexing completely.

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  1. Spotlight will immediately begin to reindex the drive(s) you added and then removed from the Privacy list. Note: How long it takes to reindex the drive varies, ranging from 30 minutes to several hours, depending on the speed of the drive and it’s contents. At any point, you can pull down the Spotlight menu and check the progress:

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  1. The Mac will probably feel sluggish during reindexing as the mdworker and mds processes run and consume a lot of CPU and cause a lot of disk activity.

  2. After all this, if the problem still occurs, here are some other techniques:

Alternative #1: Kill SystemUIServer

Launch ‘Activity Monitor’ (located in /Applications/Utilities/).

Locate the process ‘SystemUIServer’, highlight it, and click the red button “Quit Process”.

Within a few seconds the menubar will rebuild itself and often Spotlight will magically work.

Alternative #2: Rebuild the Spotlight Index manually

Launch ‘Terminal’ (located in /Applications/Utilities/) At the command prompt, type this exactly (copy and paste): sudo mdutil -E /

You will be asked for your password, provide it, as this command requires administrator privileges to run.

You will receive a confirmation message saying that index will be rebuilt.

Wait until index is finished rebuilding, this can take a while depending on the size of your hard drive, amount of files, etc.

Alternative #3: Change Desktop Resolution

This is a strange fix but it works sometimes.

Open “System Preferences” via the Apple Menu

Click ‘Displays’ and select a resolution smaller than what you are currently using, 640×480 seems to always work

Select your native resolution again, changing your screen resolution back to normal

The Spotlight search tray will magically become available again

Alternative #4: Clear caches and preferences

Clear caches and preferences relating to Spotlight, this is best done using a tool like OnyX, MainMenu and/or Cocktail.

Alternative #5: Clean the Font caches

Sometimes, this is adequate to repair a screwy Spotlight, but it won’t hurt to clear them all

Hope this helps (I got this information from experience, but a lot of the text is lifted from OSXDaily.)

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  • 1
    Ran sudo mdutil -E overnight and it seems to have fixed everything. I am also using Backblaze and it seems like mds was constantly indexing a file it used due to its changing size. Adding the backblaze folder to Spotlights privacy seems to have speed everything up – f-a Sep 5 '12 at 23:36
  • That Backblaze tip is good to know. I use it too. Thanks – TheGeezer Sep 6 '12 at 0:02

It's quite possible these are the first indicators of a possible hardware issue with either the hard drive or the hardware interface between the hard drive and the logic board (motherboard for all those recent PC switchers).

I would do an overnight backup as soon as possible (make sure you don't over-write your old backup, as it may already be too late to prevent data corruption).

After that, I would check on the integrity of your hard drive.

To check on your hard drive, you can download and install an app that checks your hard drive's SMART settings :


... polling the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard disk drives. S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) is a technology built into most modern hard disk drives that acts as an "early warning system" for pending hard disk drive problems.

  • update *

I forgot that the built in OSX app, DISK UTILITY, can also check on a hard drive's SMART status.

This is a relatively unobtrusive way of checking on your drive.

You can also do other checks like verifying directory structures, etc. (I would recommend that you backup your hard drive BEFORE starting any other checks, as a failing hard drive may not have a very long life span before total failure).

For other 3rd party commercial hard drive utilities, you can go here :


(although, I would personally recommend that you take your mac directly to an Apple Store to have it looked at, since this will give you a better chance to have the exact issue located, than any software utilities can give you).

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I found elsewhere another solution to missing icons. (I had missing icons in the menu bar and in apps, too.) Simply reboot into safe mode (hold down SHIFT as soon as you hear the start-up sound until the log-in window or desktop appears), then reboot again into normal mode (don't hold SHIFT). Icons all returned!

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