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Use Windows Search for locating files and other items

By . Last modified: 2014-08-14.

How to use Windows Search for finding files and other items in Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1

Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1 have Windows Search, a powerful indexing and searching software, preinstalled.
Windows XP has quite lame search capabilities by default. The somewhat functional search is still there, but well hidden behind a cute yellow puppy (called Search Companion) looking for milk... err, files. Still the default search in Windows XP is not good enough - you should download and install Windows Search 4.0.

In Windows XP, you can use the Windows Search Deskbar (press Windows Key+Shift+F to activate it), Search button in Windows Explorer or open a Search Folder using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+F.
Windows XP, Windows Search Deskbar on Taskbar Windows XP, Search folder

If the Deskbar is hidden in Windows XP, right-click an empty area of Taskbar, open Toolbars and click Windows Search Deskbar.
Windows XP, to show or hide Windows Search Deskbar, right-click an empty area of Taskbar. Open Toolbars and click Windows Search Deskbar.

In Windows Vista and 7, you can search using Start menu's Search box, Search box in Windows Explorer, or Search Folder (accessible via keyboard shortcut Windows Key+F). There is not much difference between the latter two, Search Folder is just a clean search window and Start menu search displays fewer results with no previews and helpful tips due to space restrictions of Start menu itself.
In Windows Vista, Start menu search does not allow usage of kinds, such as "kind:picture".
Windows 7, Search box in Start menu Windows 7, Search box in right top part of folder window. Windows 7, Search Folder. To open Search Folder, press Windows Key+F on your keyboard.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, search boxes in File Explorer work just like in Windows 7, but keyboard shortcut Windows Key+F opens the new Modern UI/Metro-style Search pane that looks for files. In Windows 8, it offers three last searches that you can click for quick reuse; or you can type in a new search and press Enter. Windows 8.1 does not offer recent searches the same way - it offers a previously used term on top only if some letters in Search box match with it ("lightroom 5" is an example in the picture below).

Keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q opens apps search in Windows 8, and Search everywhere (a global search in your local and SkyDrive files, installed apps, available actions and the Internet) in Windows 8.1.
Windows Key+W opens Settings search in Windows 8 and 8.1.
In Windows 8, many Modern UI/Metro apps are also able to display search results - just click any listed app to see its matches. To remove or pin (put on top of the apps list) any search-capable app, right-click (or tap and hold) it and select Hide or Pin. App selection and pinning has been removed in Windows 8.1, but Search everywhere still uses all search-capable modern apps.
Windows 8, Search pane. To open Search, press Windows Key+F on your keyboard. Windows 8.1, Search everywhere. This displays results from local and SkyDrive files, installed programs and apps, and the Internet.

In Windows 8.1 you can quickly switch between search types using the down arrowhead button next to the current type. New types here are Web images and Web videos.
Windows 8.1, Search pane. To change search type, click the arrowhead pointing down and select the type you need.

Windows 8.1 Update (available since 8th of April, 2014) adds Search button to Start screen.
Windows 8.1 Update, Start screen, top right. To look for items, click Search button.

Basic searches with Windows Search

Search results are based on both full and partial names. You could find Minesweeper by typing in minesweeper or mine. Typing in picture displays both My Pictures folder, picture files, programs containing word "picture" in their name, etc.

The very important exception is that if you type in just letters, they will be matched against beginnings of words - so typing in sol finds Solitaire, but typing in taire finds nothing. To find by any letters in a word, use asterisk mark (*). Typing in *taire will find Solitaire and Spider Solitaire.

Windows 8 and 8.1 display folders in search results only if there are files in it - empty folders are discarded. Libraries are still displayed, even if they are empty.

After you type something into Start menu Search box in Windows Vista or 7, most of Start menu contents will be replaced by search results.
This searches for installed programs and items in Control Panel, too - to find a place to change screen saver, type in screensaver and you will see a list of items related to screen saver. To launch Solitaire, type in solitaire and click on the relevant search result. Actually, you do not have to type in the whole name, just sol will do just as good.
All results will be grouped by type in Windows Vista and 7 - for example, Programs, Control Panel, Pictures, Files, etc. This makes it easier to distinguish between results.
Windows XP, Windows Search Deskbar results. Click on a relevant search result to open the file or folder, or launch the program. Windows Vista, Start menu Search results replace left part of Start menu contents. Click on a relevant search result to open the file or folder, or launch the program.

If there are too many search results, click the link in the lower part of search results.
In Windows XP, it's called more...; in Windows Vista, it's Search Everywhere; and in Windows 7, it's named See more results link above Search box. This will open a Search Folder window with all search results.
To clear search results and see Start menu contents again in Windows Vista or 7, click the X mark in the right corner of Search box.
Windows XP, Windows Search Deskbar results. To see more results in Search Folder window, click the link named more... Windows Vista, Start menu Search box. To see more results in Search Folder window, click the Search Everywhere link above Search box. To close search results and see Start menu contents again, click the X mark in the right corner of Search box. Windows 7, Start menu Search box. To see more results in Search Folder window, click See more results link above Search box. To close search results and see Start menu contents again, click the grey X mark in the right corner of Search box.

In Windows 8, search results cover the whole screen. More details for a found item are shown if you stop mouse pointer on it.
In Windows 8.1, partial or full matches are displayed in the same Search pane. If there are no results, a list of suggestions appears instead. To see the results in full-screen, press Enter key or click/tap the Search button (magnifying glass icon). In full screen, you can click the black bar on the top left (or press Space key) to reopen the current search in Search pane for modifications.
Windows 8, Search pane, results. Type a search criteria and press Enter to see results. To see more details for an item, move mouse pointer on it.
Windows 8.1, Search pane, results. Type a search criteria and matching items are displayed in the pane itself. Windows 8.1, Search results. After pressing Enter key, results cover the whole screen.

Windows 8 and 8.1 display a bottom scroll bar and hide Search pane to display more results - press Windows Key+F or Windows Key+Q again to restore the Search pane. To exit search results, press Esc key repeatedly or press Windows Key once to open Start screen.
Windows 8, Search pane, results. If there are many results, Search pane will hide and a scroll bar will appear on the bottom.

Here's an example of Search everywhere results in Windows 8.1. There were no local or SkyDrive results, so Bing is used to display its own suggestions. Note how videos and photos are prioritized.
If you click the black bar (Results for "jessica alba") or press Space key, you can refine your search in Search pane. The back button (circle with arrow pointing to the left) can be used to restore a previous search.
Windows 8.1, Search everywhere results.

Finding items with Search box or button in Windows/File Explorer or Search Folder

Search button (in Windows XP) or box (in Windows Vista, 7 and 8/8.1) in Windows/File Explorer, and Search Folder can sometimes be more convenient ways of searching for items.
The most important difference between those is that search results are limited to the active folder while using the Search button or Search box - if you are in My Pictures folder, the results will be only from that folder, not from anywhere else. Search Folder looks for items in all indexed locations.
If you did not find the needed item in a current folder, Windows Search can still look for the file or folder in all locations without opening a separate Search Folder:

  • in Windows XP, click the current folder name and select All Locations;
  • in Windows Vista, click Advanced Search in Did you find what you were searching for section. Then select Computer from the Location combo box (to search for absolutely all files, enable the Include non-indexed, hidden, and system files option);
  • in Windows 7, click Computer under Search again in: section.
  • In Windows 8 and 8.1, open Search tab in Ribbon and click Computer (Windows 8) or This PC (Windows 8.1).

Windows XP, search results in current folder. To find an item elsewhere, select All Locations. Windows Vista, search results in current folder. To find an item elsewhere, click Advanced Search. Windows Vista, Advanced Search results in current folder. To find an item elsewhere, select Computer for Location. Windows 7, search results in current folder. To find an item elsewhere, click Computer icon under Search again in: section. Windows 8, Windows Explorer, Search results. To search again in whole Computer, open Search tab on Ribbon. Then click Computer.

Using advanced search filters with Windows Search

In Windows XP, you can select the type of file to search for by clicking Other in results window and selecting an appropriate item.
Windows XP, Windows Search. You can limit the file type to search for. All possibilities are available after clicking Other. Windows Vista, Windows Search. You can limit the file type to search for. All possibilities are available after clicking Other.

In Windows 7, 8 and 8.1, Search box in folder windows is helpful with syntax and criteria - it will display calendar for selecting date criteria, suggestions for sizes, kinds, etc.
You can also use natural language filters, such as earlier this week, large, last year, etc.
Windows 7, Search box in folder windows gives suggestions for different criteria. Here are some types of kind criterion. Windows 7, Search box in folder windows gives suggestions for different criteria. Here is a calendar for selecting date filter. Windows 7, Search box in folder windows gives suggestions for different criteria. Here are some size filters. Windows 7, Search box in folder windows gives suggestions for different criteria. Here are some artist suggestions from indexed music files.

As you can use multiple criteria for searches, Search box offers additional criteria after specifying the first filter. Click on a filter to add.
Windows 7, Search box in folder windows also suggests other filters after adding one. To add a filter to search criterion, click the filter.

In Windows XP, 7, 8 and 8.1, Preview Pane is active for larger previews of pictures or videos, or file details. Windows Vista, 7 and 8 are also able to display contents of text documents in Preview Pane. Use keyboard shortcut Alt+P to show or hide Preview Pane in Windows 7 and later.
In Windows Vista, the Preview Pane is hidden by default, but you can open it clicking Organize on Toolbar and selecting Preview Pane from Layout menu.
Windows 7, Search box in folder windows. To see larger previews of photos or play videos in search results window, open Preview Pane by pressing Alt+P on your keyboard. Windows Vista, Search results. To see larger previews of photos or play videos in search results window, click Organize and select Preview Pane from Layout menu.

In Windows Vista and later, when you feel that search is taking too long or you started a search in wrong folder, you can always stop it by clicking the red X mark to the right of Address Bar.
Windows 7, Search box in folder windows. To stop a search in progress, click the red X mark to the right of Address Bar.

Let's dig deeper - Windows Search syntax has myriad of possibilities. You can always combine multiple search criteria by separating with spaces, for example type:jpg datetaken:lastweek cameramake:canon.

Using date and size ranges

First, you can always use relative dates such as today, tomorrow, yesterday as well as combinations of this, last, past, coming plus week, month, year - thisweek, nextmonth, pastmonth, comingyear.

To specify ranges, use operators "<" (less than), "<=" (less than or equal to), ">" (greater than), "=>" (equal to or greater than) and "..".

For example, to find a file with size over 100 kilobytes (KB) and containing a word "horse", use: horse size:>100KB.

To find a file created between 31/01/2009 and 26/02/2009, use: created:>31/01/09 <26/02/09. Please note that this excludes files that were created on 31/01/2009 or 26/02/2009. To find those files, use: created:=>31/01/09 <=26/02/09 or created:31/01/09..26/02/09.

Rules for search criteria

Just like searching with and without quotes produces different results, there are rules for combining search criteria. Suppose you want to use the same keyword - horse.

  • horse author:bill - finds everything that contains "horse" and has "bill" for author.
  • horse author:linus torvalds - finds everything that contains "horse" and "torvalds" plus has "linus" for author. This is a common mistake made by people - search criterias must be kept together with quotation marks or parenthesis (no space!), everything after space will be treated as a keyword again.
  • horse author:"linus torvalds" - finds everything that contains "horse" and has exactly "linus torvalds" for author.
  • horse author:(linus torvalds) - finds everything that contains "horse" plus has "linus" and "torvalds" somewhere in author field (could be "linus benedict torvalds" or "linus torvalds" or "benedict torvalds, linus")
  • horse author:(linus OR bill) - finds everything that contains "horse" and has "linus" or "bill" as an author. Note that OR is a boolean operator and it must be in capital letters, otherwise it will be treated as a keyword.
  • horse author:(linus NOT bill) - finds everything that contains "horse" and has "linus" for author, but not "bill".

You can always combine several keywords and criteria: horse author:"linus benedict" size:>10MB NOT kind:(video OR picture).

Searching by kind

Suppose you want to find all photos with name containing "horse", but you have some documents and e-mails containing "horse", too. Simply typing in horse is not very useful then. Use kind: to narrow down your search results - "horse kind:pictures" finds only pictures that include "horse" somewhere. "horse kind:photo" does exactly the same.
Here is a list of possible kinds:

  • communications (e-mails and appointments)
  • contacts (also person)
  • docs (also documents)
  • email
  • folders
  • im (for Instant Messenger conversations, for example Windows Live Messenger)
  • journal
  • link
  • meetings
  • music (also song)
  • notes
  • pictures (also pics or photo)
  • programs
  • tasks
  • tv (for Windows Media Center Recorded TV shows)
  • videos

So kind:music finds all your mp3-s, wma-s, wav-s etc. Please note that "email", "journal", "meetings", "notes" and "tasks" work only if you have Microsoft Outlook or Windows Live Mail installed and configured with at least one e-mail account.

You can also type in just pictures to see a list of photos or just video to see a list of videos.

Searching by type

If you have a large music collection and you want to find only mp3-s, not wma-s, use type: instead. For example, mozart type:mp3. If you have many photos and you want to find only files with .jpg extension, use type:jpg. You get it, right? Smile

Searching by file properties

All files that Windows Search indexes have several properties that you can use in your searches: Suppose you want to find a tune named "Canon in D" by "Johann Pachelbel" and you know you had it both in mp3 and wma formats with wma sounding better. But the file has some pretty cryptic file name, something like "00jpcid.wma". Use artist:pachelbel title:canon type:wma to find that file.
You can find Word documents created by you by searching for type:doc author:<your name>or all e-mails sent to [email protected] by searching type:eml to:[email protected].

Here's a selection of properties that you might find useful:

  • album
  • artist
  • author
  • bitrate
  • cameramake
  • cameramodel
  • cc
  • created
  • date
  • datetaken
  • genre
  • firstname
  • lastname
  • modified
  • size
  • subject
  • title
  • to
  • track
  • year

This is not so easy at first sight, but it enables finding exactly the right file. You'll learn it very quickly really. Smile

Saving and managing searches in Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1

If you repeatedly use one or more searches often, it is best to save the search with its filters for easy loading. First create a search filter in Search box and after the results meets your need, click Save search button in toolbar (Windows Vista and 7) or on Search tab of Ribbon.
You can also right-click an empty area of search results and select Save search from the menu.
Sadly, Windows Search in Windows XP does not offer such functionality.
Windows 8, Windows Explorer, right-click Search results. To store the search for future use, click Save Search. Windows Vista, Search box in folder windows. To save a search for easy loading in the future, click Save search button on toolbar. Windows 8, Windows Explorer, Search results. To store the search, click 'Save search' in Search tab of Ribbon.

In Save As dialog box specify file name if you want to and click Save button. As you can see, the file will be saved in Searches folder of your profile.
Windows Vista, saving a search. In Save As dialog specify a file name for the saved search and click Save.

In Windows 7 and newer, the saved search also appears under Favorites in Navigation Pane.

To load a saved search, just click on its name in Navigation Pane, or open Searches folder and double-click the necessary item.
Windows 7, saved searches appear under Favorites in Navigation Pane. To load a saved search, click on its name.

To rename a saved search, click on its name, press F2 key on your keyboard, type a new name and press Enter key to confirm.
Windows 7, to rename a saved search, click on it. Press F2 key, type in a new name and press Enter key.

To remove a saved search from Favorites in Windows 7, click on its name and press Del (Delete) key on your keyboard. Please note that this action will not be confirmed and that deleting a saved search from Favorites will not delete the saved search file!

You can manage saved searches in your Searches subfolder of your profile folder. To do that in Windows Vista and 7, open Start menu by pressing Windows Key and click on your personal folder (your user name).
In Windows 8 and 8.1, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Q and type "searches" into Search box.
Windows 7, to manage search files (saved searches), open Start menu and click on your personal folders (your user name). Windows 8, apps search. To manage stored searches, type 'searches'. Windows 8.1, Search everywhere. To manage stored searches, type 'searches'.

In Windows Vista and 7, open Searches folder. In Windows 8 and 8.1, the folder is already open.
Delete the files you no longer need. Please remember that if you delete a saved search that still exists under Favorites, you will still have to delete that saved search from Favorites, too.
Windows 7, files for saved searches are stored in Searches folder under your personal folder.

Windows displays a somewhat misleading prompt then. Because saved searches are treated as folders, you may safely click Yes here - you are not deleting the whole Searches folder! Smile
Windows Vista, Saved Search deletion confirmation. Click Yes to delete the search.

If you accidentally removed a wrong search, use keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Z to undo the last action, or use Recycle Bin instead.

Managing folders in Windows Search index (Indexing Options)

By default, Windows Search indexes all files in users' personal folders and Libraries (Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc) and items in default e-mail program. If you happen to have some important folder outside your personal folders, you can manually add it to Windows Search for indexing. If you do not use any e-mail programs, you can exclude these from index, too.

In Windows XP, right-click on Windows Search Deskbar and select Windows Search Options... from the menu.
Windows XP, Windows Search. To modify indexed locations, right-click the Windows Search Deskbar and click Windows Search Options.

In Windows Vista and 7, open Indexing Options from Control Panel. To do that, open Start menu by pressing Ctrl+Esc on your keyboard and type indexing into Start menu Search box. Click Indexing Options.
Windows 7, to open Indexing Options from Start menu, type 'indexing' in Start menu Search box. Then click Indexing Options.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W to open Settings search and type "indexing". Then click Indexing Options in the results.
Windows 8, Settings search. To manage Windows Search settings, type 'indexing' into Search box and click 'Indexing Options'. Windows 8.1, Settings search. To manage Windows Search settings, type 'indexing' into Search box and click 'Indexing Options'.

Indexing Options window opens. Click Modify.
Windows 7, Windows Search Indexing Options. Click Modify to add a folder to index.

In Windows XP, select or deselect the items you want.
In Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1, click Show all locations to see all folders. Windows Vista users might have to click Continue in User Account Control window.
Windows 7, Windows Search Indexed Locations. To access all folders, click Show all locations.

In Indexed Locations window select or deselect the items you want. Never deselect Documents and Settings (Windows XP) or Users (Windows Vista and newer) folder on Local Disk (C:). Never select whole hard drives (Local Disks), select just the folders you need instead.
Click OK to close Indexed Locations. Windows Search will start updating its index right away.
Windows Vista, Windows Search Indexed Locations. Select or deselect the locations you want to index or not. Then click OK.

Those who are using EFS for encrypting files and folders in Pro/Business or Ultimate/Enterprise editions of Windows might not see all results - encrypted files are not indexed for security reasons. If you really-really want to see encrypted files in search results, click Advanced button in Indexing Options window and enable the Index encrypted files option in File Settings section.

Click Close in the Indexing Options window.

Windows 8 and 8.1 have some more options available in the PC settings app - read on to find out about these.

Clearing Windows Search history

Windows Search remembers previously used searches and automatically offers these later. To delete a few items, stop your mouse pointer on a previous search and then press the Delete (Del) key on keyboard to remove the item from the list.

If you want to clear the whole search history in Windows XP, activate Windows Search Deskbar box by pressing WINDOWS KEY+SHIFT+F on your keyboard (or click on the Deskbar). Click the down arrow button of Windows logo and select Clear Search History from the menu.
Windows XP, Windows Search. To remove search history, click in the Windows Search Deskbar box. Click the down arrow button of Windows logo and click Clear Search History.

In Windows Vista and 7, emptying the whole history is not that easy. The safest way is to install a free program called CCleaner and make sure the Other Explorer MRUs item is selected in the Windows Explorer section before clicking the Run Cleaner button.

In Windows 8 and 8.1, open Settings Search using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+W and type "search". Then click Delete search history or Clear search history. Actually, most of the results will take you to the same PC settings Modern UI app.
Windows 8, Settings search. To clear or manage Windows Search history, type 'search' into Search box and click Delete search history. Windows 8.1, Settings search. To clear or manage Windows Search history, type 'search' into Search box and click Clear search history.

PC settings opens in Search (Windows 8) or Search & apps (Windows 8.1) tab. Click the Delete history or Clear button to remove all performed searches.
There is no confirmation for this action in Windows 8, just "Done!" is displayed after the action is complete. Windows 8.1 requires clicking or tapping Clear button one more time in confirmation prompt. 
Windows 8, PC settings, Search. To clear all search history, click Delete history. Windows 8.1, PC settings, Search & apps. To remove all search history, click Clear.

As you can see, you can adjust some additional options in this tab.

For Windows 8 users:

  • Show the apps I search most often at the top - if set to "On", puts the apps you use most often for additional searches at the top of list, instead of sorting search-capable apps by name.
  • Let Windows save my searches as future search suggestions - this option enables or disables Search history.
  • Use these apps to search - here you can turn search capability in listed apps on and off. For example, if you never use the Finance app for searches, turn it off and it will not be displayed in Search pane.

For Windows 8.1 users:

  • Use Bing to search online - these options turn search suggestions and web results on or off over normal and metered (pay-per-megabit connections, such as 3G, LTE, some dial-ups, etc).
  • Your search experience - allows selecting between personalized results with or without location data, and no personalized search results.
  • SafeSearch - here you can choose if you want to filter out adult text, images and videos (Strict); only adult images and videos (Moderate); or no filtering (Off) from Bing results and suggestions.

Pausing Windows Search indexing in Windows XP

If you add many files (videos, for example) to Windows Search at once in Windows XP, Windows Search indexing might slow down older computers temporarily while it indexes the new files. Windows Vista and newer are not affected by such behaviour, probably Windows Search is integrated deep into kernel.
You can pause indexing by right-clicking on Windows Search icon (magnifier) in Taskbar Notification area. Then click Indexing Status.
Windows XP, Windows Search. To pause (snooze) indexing, right-click on Windows Search icon (magnifier) in Taskbar Notification area and click Indexing Status.

You can also select Snooze Indexing from Windows Search icon right-click menu. This disables indexing until next computer restart or until you click the command again.

Select time to snooze indexing for, click the Snooze button and then click Close.
Windows XP, Windows Search. To pause (snooze) indexing, select a time to pause indexing for. Click Snooze button and then click Close button.

 

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