Complete Guide to Use Spotlight Search on Mac

It is interesting to see how Spotlight has evolved over the years but the Spotlight in OS X Yosemite supersedes all its predecessors by a long mile. The feature is now more of a central hub to find anything not just locally but on the web too.

Using Spotlight on your Mac (running OS X 10.10) is easy. All you do is hit Command+Space and you get started. Take a look at that interface: minimal, focused, center-staged and totally cool. Let’s now dive a little deeper and get to know Spotlight better.

Accessing Spotlight on Mac OS X Yosemite

  1. To access this from anywhere on Mac, just press Command + Space
  2. To trigger spotlight search for a particular folder, go to the folder and press Control + Command + Space

The #2 is where you want spotlight to search only the contents of a folder. This is almost the same as Command+F but this opens in a new window so your search is done in a separate window.

Knowing Spotlight’s Capabilities

In its previous incarnations, Spotlight searched files and folders. A little later, it scoured the web too. The new Spotlight does both and much more. Let’s start with the basics.

When you search for a term (let’s call it keyword), Spotlight will pick results from the web, from the dictionary, from local files and folders, mail and messages, calendar events, contacts, reminders and more. Like I said, it’s the central hub of search on Mac.

Here’s a Brief List of things You can do with Spotlight Search:

#1. Launch an application: open Spotlight and start typing the name of the application. (For instance, if you’re trying to launch App Store, just start typing App and Spotlight will suggest auto-fill and show the app icon. You can just hit return to open the app instantly. This is extremely handy when you know the name of the app but it’s not quickly available (on dock).

Open Spotlight and Start Typing Name of The Application

#2. Maps and Location: Spotlight is smart. It figures out if you’re looking for a location/place and instantly brings up a Map. Interestingly, if you search for some place of interest, Spotlight also shows all the info about the place (including the map).

#3. Look Up Wiki: Spotlight also includes Wikipedia. So instead of browser → wikipedia → search, you can just search Spotlight and get to a Wikipedia entry faster.

#4. Search in Documents/Files/Folders: This needs no explanation. Spotlight combs through all your files and folders when you search. Clicking on a document will show a preview of the same in the right-pane. (Almost every file type is supported including pdfs, jpgs, docs, xlsx etc.)

#5. Get to System Preferences Faster: Getting to a particular system preference is considerably faster through Spotlight. It’s a clicks vs. type thing: if you get the hang of it, you can do Command+Space+type+return faster than having to move your mouse around the screen.

Get to System Preferences Faster on Mac Yosemite

#6. Comb through your reminders/events: While you can’t set events or reminders through Spotlight yet (it’s not Siri but we’re getting there), you can easily access them through the Spotlight. Quickly.

#7. Search Mail and Messages: When you search for something on Spotlight, it will also look for the keyword/phrase in your Mail and messages.

By way of functionality, Spotlight does more. Here are some cool features that it can handle.

#1. Define words: When you search for a single term, Spotlight will also show a dictionary entry. Hover over that (or click it) to get a dictionary definition of the word.

#2. Quickly find music: This one is my favorite. Although I have iTunes open, I still prefer searching for music through the Spotlight. For some reason, it’s neat. And unified. All you need to do is enter the name of the track or album or artist (eg. Skyfall – Adele).

#3. Conversions: Be it currency (USD To EUR) or other metric/imperial conversions (98 F to C)Spotlight handles it all. You don’t even have to be connected to the internet (although for the currency conversions, you should be, to get the current values).

Do Conversions from Mac Yosemite Searchlight

A Couple of Operators: Advanced Search

Interestingly, Spotlight can also handle search modifiers/operators like OR, AND, and file type-specific search.

#1. AND / OR / NOT: To search for files that contain both term1 and term2, just type term1 AND term2. The AND should be in all-caps. The ‘NOT’ operator excludes the terms after it. For instance, if you search for term1 NOT term2, all files not containing term2 (but containing term1) will be shown.

#2. Kind: Type search_term kind:.mp3 and Spotlight will show files that contain the search_term and are mp3 files. “Kind” tells Spotlight to search for files of only the given file type. You can also use kind to search in messages, mail etc. Like this: search_term kind:message

Using Kind Command in MAC OS X Yosemite Spotlight Search

Tweaking Spotlight

You can modify two things about Spotlight:

#1. What it searches: handy if you want to exclude some files/folders, also if you want to prevent Spotlight from searching the web or showing Wikipedia entries etc.

#2. The order / priority of the search results: you want files/folder results to be showed before the web results, Spotlight lets you do that. (it has always let you do that, even on iOS).

 To modify these things:

Step #1. Open System Preferences (Apple menu → System Preferences, or search for System Preferences in Spotlight)

Step #2. Click on Spotlight

Tweaking Spotlight in Mac OS X Yosemite

Step #3. Now, to modify the order of the search results/suggestions: click and drag any of the list items. For instance, if you want to get file/folder suggestions above application results, drag the Applications field to below Documents and Folders.

Modify Order of Search Results Suggestions on Mac OS X Yosemite

To exclude a folder from Spotlight search:

Step #1. Go to System Preferences.

Step #2. Click on Spotlight.

Step #3. Click on Privacy tab.

Spotlight Search Privacy on Mac OS X Yosemite

Step #4. Now, click on the + icon. Add the folder. You’re done.

How to Change the Shortcut for Spotlight

Command + Space is the default keystroke(s) to bring up Spotlight from anywhere. However, if you want to change this for some reason, you can do this through the preferences. You should be able to see this:

How to Change the Shortcut for Spotlight

Just pick any suitable one from the dropdown.

How to Disable Spotlight Shortcut

By unchecking the Show Spotlight search, you will disable it. But note that you can still open and access Spotlight by clicking the magnifying glass on the task bar (top-right).

Spotlight Search in Mac OS X Yosemite-Complete Guide

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Dhvanesh Adhiya
The founder of iGeeksBlog, Dhvanesh, is an Apple aficionado, who cannot stand even a slight innuendo about Apple products. He dons the cap of editor-in-chief to make sure that articles match the quality standard before they are published.


  1. Can anyone tell me how to get quick word defs using magic mouse on mac yosemite? Command, space doesn’t bring up dictionary. Sure hope I don’t have to start typing words on my new computer-on my old ipad its simply 2 taps: highlight, define.

  2. nope no dictionary definition pops up
    for me. sure hope I don’t have to go to typing words for definitions on my new mac-on my old ipad its simply 2 taps: highlight, define.

  3. Another tip: my OS is set to Brazilian Portuguese. However, I am able to use the “hints” (e.g.: kind:documents) in either English or Portuguese. This is simple awesome!

  4. Hi, there is something that is bothering me a lot after the upgrade. For instance: before, when I get the list of files in Finder, I used to do Command+Click to jump to the file’s location, directly on Finder. Seems like this functionality is not there anymore. Any clue on how to get it back??

  5. Spotlight is so nerfed now. I predominantly use it to search for music on my computer, but now it doesn’t return filenames, it returns metadata. This is a trend that started in Mavericks but is far worse in Yosemite. If you have more than one song of the same name (cover versions) good luck figuring out which is the file you actually want.
    Also I’ve noticed that it the search results are occasionally very incomplete. Apple jerks.

  6. This does not completely solve the problem, but it is something; if you hold `command` while the file you want is selected, it will show the path in the bottom right of the spotlight dialog (under the file’s info)

  7. What about the removed functionality, like the ability to go to the folder of the file you found? Previously, you could right-click on a file to go to its folder. Now, that seems impossible, making spotlight severely handicapped.

    • Ohhh, I would love if someone could answer exactly this. It is driving me crazy and searching for answers only gives me “all the wonders of the new spotlight” posts…

      I know I can just open the Spotlight search in a Finder window and search in the old way – but how about using the new search bar?


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Spotlight Search in Mac OS X Yosemite-Complete Guide
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