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How to find files on Mac: top solutions of 2023

Olga Weis Olga Weis May 3, 2023

Try the best solution to find files on Mac

Finder provides a formidable search feature, letting users run specific searches based on file types and metadata. But you can also substitute Finder with third-party file manager Mac apps that offer more functionality. This guide will help you learn how to search files on Mac, as well as choose a solution for your particular situation.

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Before we start

By default, macOS includes search utilities. However, there are quite a few file managers available now, each offering more options than the regular Finder. Commander One is a powerful dual-panel file manager Mac users can utilize to search for folders and files. It is a great solution if you need to expand Finder's functionality and take full control over your files.

Top 4 Ways on How to Find Files on Mac

How to find files on Mac using Finder

Finder is the default file manager on Mac, an equivalent to Windows Explorer. It allows users to interact with the file system on Mac, namely to move, copy and delete files. It is also the way most macOS users find files.

Mac Finder search is easily accessible and quick, and it has some depth. This is basically how you find file on Mac:

Finder is a powerful search application which is on every device with Mac OS.
Click the magnifying glass icon on the top right of the Finder window.

Type in a keyword or a part of a keyword to search for.

Be sure to check for any errors in the keywords.

Narrow the search down with additional criteria by clicking "+".
Configure the criteria by using drop-down menus.

The limited selection of parameters can be expanded. By default, you can search for files based on their extension, dates of opening, modification, creation, name, and content. Choose "Other", and you can browse several hundred additional values, which can be added to the drop-down menu as well.

If you want to search on external devices, such as extended hard drives, you might need to rebuild the Spotlight index. Outside of these rare cases, Finder is perfectly adequate for most search-related tasks. Also, note that the "Name" criterion should be used when you want to search file names specifically, and not their contents or metadata.

Finder is a powerful search application which is on every device with Mac OS.

Mac find file tool: Spotlight

Spotlight is the quickest method to find file Mac, since it can be accessed from the Menu Bar by clicking the magnifying glass. Unlike Finder search, it’s less detailed, not as focused on files, and leans more towards apps and integrated web searches.

You can press the command keys and the spacebar and quickly access the application.
Click the Spotlight icon in the top right.
Enter the file name partially or fully.
Click it in the results field.

Alternatively, you can also search for a file by file type, date, and author. You just need to enter the query first and then the specific data or information. How to find photo files on Mac? Just open Spotlight, type “kind:” and then the file's type. For example, kind:jpg.

The main advantage of this method is the quickness with which it can be accessed. It comes with a cost. With Spotlight, you can’t add more criteria to your search, but it lets you switch to Finder quickly with the "Search in Finder" button, where you can scan for any detail that you need. You can also utilize Spotlight in Commander One.

How to search on Mac in this fashion? If Commander One is your file navigator of choice, you can access Spotlight with a hotkey (⌃+⌥+F7). It works as per usual, but with the added possibility to add the search results to one of your tabs (Feed to Active Panel).

How to find documents on Mac in Terminal window

Terminal search on macOS can be summed up in 3 commands - find, mdfind, locate. They’ll be explained and reviewed separately, since they work in different ways. You can find manual pages for all three on the internet (they are the same as Linux commands), but we’ll also provide a tutorial here. Let’s start with find.

This method is suitable for more advanced users.

Find is a command that finds and lists every file that contains a given word. It can also match expressions, if you’re savvy, but it’s easier to start with simple queries. Here’s an example: find ~/Desktop - name video

Locate is the same, but with less options, and it’s quicker. As a downside, you need to prepare your system for locate by building an index: sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

locate your file

Finally, there’s mdfind, which is the text-based version of Spotlight search: mdfind -only in ~/Documents test file

How to find files on Mac faster? You need to have instant access to the Terminal at any time. Launching it from Apps or Launchpad is pretty slow. Commander One will help you by providing a quick shortcut to open a Terminal window. It even starts in your current directory!

Check the Trash Folder

How to find lost files on Mac? if you can't find your lost documents or folders on Mac, check the Trash folder. You can open it by clicking on the “Bin” icon on the dock.

If you can't find it on your dock, follow these simple steps:

Open Finder.

From the Apple menu bar, select Go > Go To Folder….

Be sure to check for any errors in the keywords.

A window will appear. In the text field, type Trash and press Enter. This will give you access to all deleted files in the Trash folder. To restore files, select and right-click them, then click “Put back”.

Try Best File Manager for Mac - Commander One

Commander One
4.7 Rank based on 889 + users Reviews(524)
Requirements: macOS 10.13
Version: v3.7(3831), Released 25 Sep, 2023 Release notes
Category: Utilities

What can beat Finder’s convenient, detailed and specific search feature? Commander One answers that question by letting you search with Regular Expressions and index your cloud drives as well. You can even specify the way that it should treat subdirectories. It will look for keywords in names or text contents, even if the target file is inside an archive.

Commander One is the best free dual panel file manager for Mac.
Mount all the necessary drives.
Select specific directories if you want to search there.
Open the Search window by clicking the binoculars icon.

Input the word you’re looking for.

You can start searching both on the whole computer and on a specific folder.

Optionally, switch to "Find text", or change other search settings.
Click "Search".

Commander One is even more helpful when trying to find files on Mac computer if you learn RegEx. This regular language can be used to locate very specific strings of text. It includes wildcards, repeat characters, and conditional operators. With all this combined, RegEx patterns can find almost anything. That being said, it’s a difficult, confusing language that is only useful for power users.

Here’s a RegEx example. Let’s say that you don’t remember much about the file, except that the file name ends in "sa" and a three-digit number.

The file name string can start with any amount of random characters: .{0,}

Which continues with "sa": .{0,}sa

And culminates in a 3-digit number: .{0,}sa\d{3}

It takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a pretty powerful tool, useful not just for file searches, but also for batch text editing and substitution.

But searching isn’t the only thing Commander One is capable of. Its usefulness as a file manager can’t be overstated. With two panes, unlimited tabs, cloud disk mounting, task management, and even Terminal emulation, Commander One is one of the best Mac file managers and a viable alternative to Finder. View hidden files, get more info about your processes, and adjust compression levels when zipping. And you can even queue up multiple operations. This app is useful for any system task imaginable.

Key reasons to use a third-party file manager and never lose any file

While it may seem that Finder is enough to find anything, you can get a lot out of other system apps and third-party utilities like Commander One:

  • • Speed - customizable hotkeys and intuitive buttons will let you search instantly. Also, some apps can build an index to find files faster, like Locate does.
  • • Complexity - while it’s true that Finder has countless criteria to offer, it will never substitute a fully-fledged RegEx search.
  • • Integration - it also matters what you can do with the files when you’re finished. A Terminal command can be included in a script. Apps may include batch features.

Get a high-quality application, and you’ll never lose any files.

Common places to look for files on Mac and tips for finding files on Mac

When you can’t find file on Mac, or it would take too long to run a system-wide search, you should try looking in several locations where files get lost often:

  • • Downloads.
  • • Home and its subfolders.
  • • Recent Items (found in Apple > Recent Items).
  • • Trash.

There are also some tips and tricks you can use to find files on Mac:

  • • Use descriptive naming - try to avoid gibberish and over-abbreviated file and directory names - that will make them harder to find.
  • • Utilize the "Recent Files" feature - some apps will provide a shortlist of the most recent files you’ve accessed. This mostly relates to document and media editors.
  • • Broaden and narrow down - sometimes, a file extension is enough to run a satisfactory search. Other times, you need to try many specific keywords.

All in all, there is a plentiful selection of search solutions on macOS, including both system tools and third-party apps. Some stand out, like Commander One, which provides a whole toolkit to find files on Mac. We suggest trying out as many methods as possible, and don’t be afraid to experiment with the complex stuff, like Terminal commands.

Make the best out of any situation, and don’t despair if you can’t find the file you need. And one final thing - you should always make regular backups.

Frequently Asked Questions:

If you want to get the broadest search results, you need to include system folders. To show hidden files Mac solutions vary. But it has a lot to do with the macOS Finder app you’re using. A more advanced app will provide more and better ways to search.
Total Commander Mac apps are usually the best way to run searches separately on one of your drives. They provide the most flexibility, combined with convenience. Also, they let you search without switching away from the file list.
Have you tried upgrading your search software? The apps you’re using may be insufficient. Try one of Commander One alternatives, or even the app itself. It will let you search S3, OneDrive, and Dropbox.

Commander One

This dual panel file manager for Mac is fully compatible with macOS 10.13 and later. Requires 51.85MB free space, latest version 3.7(3831). Released 25 Sep, 2023.

4.7 rank based on 889+ users, Reviews (524)
Editor's Choice