Spotlight won’t work? Fix a broken Spotlight menu with these troubleshooting tips
Spotlight is probably the greatest feature to hit the Mac OS in years, once you get used to using it, going to a PC without it feels hopelessly inadequate. I use Spotlight for everything from launching applications, retrieving pictures, searching for old emails, literally just about everything. If you aren’t using Spotlight, you’re missing out. If you are using Spotlight, every now and again, the Spotlight menu mysteriously stops working (apparently this is more common since the 10.4.8 update), and we’re going to give you a few methods to troubleshoot Spotlight and get it back in full working order.
The Problems: Spotlight won’t work
There are several incarnations of Spotlight problems that I have personally run into, they are:
- Problem #1) Spotlight menu icon highlights, but no search form appears
- Problem #2) Spotlight search form appears, but no results are shown
- Problem #3) Spotlight search works, but results are poor and incomplete
While not entirely sure what causes any of these problems, try these troubleshooting methods that frequently work to repair Spotlight:
The Solutions: Troubleshooting Spotlight
Solution #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
Solution #2: Rebuild the Spotlight Index manually
- Launch ‘Terminal’ (located in /Applications/Utilities/)
- At the command prompt, type this exactly:
sudo mdutil -E /
- You will be asked for your password, provide it, as this command requires administrator privelages 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.
- Note: You can also rebuild the Spotlight index with MainMenu, mentioned in Solution #4
Solution #3: Change Desktop Resolution
- This is a strange fix but it works everytime for me when my Spotlight menu icon highlights but the search form doesn’t appear
- 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
Solution #4: Clear caches and preferences
- Clear caches and preferences relating to Spotlight, this is best done through either the free tool OnyX, or the free tool MainMenu, we recommend MainMenu because it’s easier for novices
- Install MainMenu
- a little Hammer and Wrench icon will appear in your menubar
- navigate down to ‘Cleaning’ and clean out User Cache, System Cache, and Font Caches
- Note: Some users discover that just cleaning the Font caches is adequate to repair a screwy Spotlight, but it won’t hurt to clear them all
Solution #5: Reboot your Mac
- This should almost be listed as #1 just because sometimes a simple reboot will fix Spotlight, but if I can avoid a reboot I will, and often, a reboot isn’t good enough
What do MDS and MDWorker have to do with Spotlight?
The MDS process and mdworker processes usually run concurrently on your Mac when Spotlight is indexing your Mac. Let the processes finish running to complete a relevant search index of your Mac filesystem.
Hopefully that covers it, and Spotlight should be working good as new again. If we missed something, feel free to contribute in the comments below.