How to Completely Disable Spotlight

Mar 22, 2007 - 36 Comments

Spotlight We’re big fans of Spotlight here at OS X Daily, but we realize it’s not everyones cup of tea. If you’re someone who dislikes Spotlight enough to want it disabled completely then this is the guide for you. What you’ll need is some basic knowledge of the command line and a command line text editor (we’ll use nano in this example, perhaps the easiest). Note that some other Mac OS X features and programs are based on Spotlight’s search abilities, therefore some applications could behave abnormally if you disable Spotlight, particularly in search functions.


These directions below are intended for older versions of OS X, including 10.4 and 10.5. Newer versions of Mac OS X have better, more direct ways of disabling the Spotlight search functionality, typically with just a single command entered into the Terminal. Users of more modern versions of OS X are recommended to use those, this for Snow Leopard, and here for Mavericks, Mountain Lion, and Lion. The instructions below for prior versions of Mac OS X are included for posterity as they continue to be relevant to machines that are not able to run the most recent versions available.

Disabling Spotlight

  1. Launch Terminal and type the following: sudo nano /etc/hostconfig
  2. Navigate using the arrow keys down the following entry: SPOTLIGHT=-YES-
  3. Change SPOTLIGHT=-YES- to SPOTLIGHT=-NO-
  4. Save /etc/hostconfig by hitting Control-O and the return key, next hit Control-X to exit the nano editor
  5. Next, you’ll want to disable the index by typing the following in the Terminal:
    mdutil -i off /
  6. And to erase the current Spotlight index, type: mdutil -E /
  7. That’s pretty much it, on your next reboot, Spotlight will be completely disabled.

Re-Enable Spotlight

  1. If you want to enable Spotlight again, follow the same steps as above, but change SPOTLIGHT=-NO- to SPOTLIGHT=-YES-
  2. and then type mdutil -i on / in the Terminal
  3. Reboot, and Spotlight is back as usual

Disable Spotlight in OS X 10.5

To turn off Spotlight in Leopard, use this trick:

Move these two files to another safe location and then reboot your mac

/System/Library/LaunchAgents/com.apple.Spotlight.plist
/System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.metadata.mds.plist

Re-enable Spotlight by moving those files back to their original location, reboot, and Spotlight will work again.

Repair a Broken Spotlight

Is Spotlight broken and not working for you? Read our fix broken Spotlight guide.

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Posted by: William Pearson in How to, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

36 Comments

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  1. hmills says:

    why would you possibly want to turn off spotlight, the best feature in osx??

    • James says:

      THANKS! so nice to get my cpu back. Some simple minded users might not understand why not to use spotlight, here is why:

      For two days my machine has been CRAWLING, nearly unusable. Turns out that it was all spotlight trying to index a little over 20TB of email backups on an array I had just connected. For people like myself who work with large RAID arrays containing large amounts of data Spotlight will nearly disable your system.

    • pb says:

      … you want to completely eradicate spotlight from your machine as it -continuously- screws up your back up system.

      Use find(1) if you want to search for something.

      Using a mac for 10 years and never had the use for something like spotlight.

  2. anon says:

    Speaking of spotlight, I cannot wait until mdfind is more powerful.

  3. Ladeda says:

    You might want to turn off spotlight for a couple of reasons.
    1. performance, removing spotlight overhead on a low-end system
    2. privacy, making it more difficult for a script to harvest personal information

  4. mike says:

    also, quicksilver is much better

  5. […] For instructions on how to do this in Mac OS X Leopard, see How to completely disable Spotlight. […]

  6. Yost says:

    So I’ve gone through with this and for some reason spotlight just won’t go away. I’ve done it for the root drive and also my two external partitions, just modifying the / on the end to a /volumes/etc. It is still in my menu bar and when I accidentally click on it mds kicks in and starts taking up 80-90% of my cpu power. After I kill mds it’s all fine, but it’s bothersome to think that I didn’t actually get rid of it. My /etc/hostconfig reads NO for spotlight upon opening. Any suggestions?

  7. […] Angeblich soll diese Lösung unter Leopard nicht funktionieren, hier wird eine andere Lösung diskutiert. Bei mir hat sie funktioniert. […]

  8. indroo says:

    The easy way to disable spotlight is by setting its preference to prevent from searching on certain folder (or HD or external HD if any) on the Privacy Tab and uncheck all category on Search Result tab. It will stop indexing immediatelly.

  9. What Haveyou says:

    “why would you possibly want to turn off spotlight, the best feature in osx??”

    Because it’s a piece of dook. What is the point of a search function that doesn’t show you WHERE THINGS ARE? I don’t know where Apple gets its designers, but they have to be amongst the biggest morons in professional development. Who else would design a display of search results that doesn’t show a LOCATION with every hit?

  10. WTF? says:

    >What is the point of a search function that doesn’t show you WHERE THINGS ARE?

    Ahem, when you scroll the pointer over an item, it shows you the full path. But yeah, Apple’s designers are idiots and you are the truly brilliant one. Coming from Vista I imagine?

  11. What Ever says:

    Right, retard. It makes a lot of sense to have to click on every damned item, one at a time, to see a path. After all, who’d want to quickly scan through a list and skip hits that reside in known irrelevant locations?

  12. Ludwig says:

    I want to remove it because the shortcuts suck.
    Every time I’m in other app and type space command to get to whatever option in the app I use it jumps to stupid spotlight and since I do a lot blind I notice late and have to start over.

  13. Fourthletter says:

    Also those of us that keep our houses clean tend to know where files are, after all you save them somewhere, simply label your files correctly and put them in organised folders, in my twenty years of using macs or pcs I have never lost a file or needed to search for it.
    Why run with all that overhead for no reason ?

    So to get back to the point does adding the main system drive to spotlights privacy list free up as much performance as disabling it in terminal ?

  14. […] How to completely disable Spotlight […]

  15. franz says:

    As interface designer i am allowed to agree, Spotlight totally sucks for some people.
    Normally we replicate a lot off apple standards, because they are simple and work.
    But with spotlight, i really don’t get the idea, its radically boiled down to a simplicity which is for me totally useless.

  16. I don’t really know why in the world you would want to disable Spotlight, but thanks for the tips.

  17. […] Gerade wenn man eine Festplatte anschließt, auf der Daten unabsichtlich gelöscht wurden und man nun versuchen möchte auf diese Platte eine Datenrettung durchzuführen, startet Spotlight beflissen einen Index-Vorgangang und überschreibt vielleicht dadurch gleich einige der gelöschten Daten: Deshalb diese Anleitung, um Spotlight zu deaktivieren (eigentlich von hier): […]

  18. josh says:

    waah i disabled it in 10.5 by moving the two plist files as above (i just wanted to prevent reindexing during migration assistant) but now that i’ve put them back it’s still not working even though the files are there… any idea what I do now?

    • Matti G says:

      waah i disabled it in 10.5 by moving the two plist files as above (i just wanted to prevent reindexing during migration assistant) but now that i’ve put them back it’s still not working even though the files are there… any idea what I do now?

      I did the same thing with the plist files trying to improve the audio latency with GarageBand. Yes, and I put them back and now I can’t get Spotlight working again either.

      Is there a simple fix?

  19. […] Since mdworker is part of Spotlight, you’ll have to disable Spotlight to disable mdworker. Again, this is not recommended, but if you want to disable mdworker here’s a how-to guide: How to Disable Spotlight […]

  20. dougtheslug says:

    What Ever and What Haveyou rock. WTF? is a goof. So shut the phukk up.

  21. machinehead says:

    mdutil -i off /

    gives me an error: “could not set indexing status for volume.

    also I had to access root prior to this command.

    any ideas?

  22. goran says:

    I had the same error last night. “could not set indexing status for volume.” turned out to be major mess of the directory structure of the hard disk. I’m now restoring from a backup after formatting the hard disk.
    I did install the drive patch that came a few days ago. Hmmm, maybe it’s related?

  23. Darren says:

    I disabled Spotlight and also removed the menu bar icon (Google it if you’re interested). Without all that indexing, I’ve found my drives generally run quieter and cooler.

  24. John Wheater says:

    The comments from What Haveyou and WTF seem a bit strict.

    If you do you get a ‘Smart Folder’, and can sort the entries by name, type, and date. The whole setup seems most useful, and it’s hard to fault the design.

    As for Darren’s “noisier and cooler”, I should think most of us hardly know we’ve got a drive – my 250Gb just provides an infinite amount of space and stays shtum. And I can find any text, anywhere.

    You do need to turn off Spotlight sometimes, though. I was very puzzled, on mounting a 16Gb USB stick and dumping the world onto it, to see it ticking away for ever after I’d finished with it. This was the mighty Spotlight patiently repeating all its useful work on a slow device.

    That’s what led me here, and thank you all very much.

  25. John Wheater says:

    Sorry, should read …If you do you get a ‘Smart Folder’…

  26. John Wheater says:

    Help, what’s happening, I meant to say

    …If you choose Show All, on seeing the Spotlight results, you get a ‘Smart Folder’

  27. Ricardo says:

    Im trying to disable it but when I type sudo nano /etc/hostconfig doesnt appear in my list SPOTLIGHT, just the following options

    AFPSERVER=-NO-
    AUTHSERVER=-NO-
    TIMESYNC=-NO-
    QTSSERVER=-NO-

    (mine one is MACBOOK PRO 10.6.3)
    what do i do to find spotlight?
    tks
    Ricardo

  28. boo says:

    I hate to disable it completely, but it keeps crashing on usb flash drive usage. I have tried it on over 30 separate macs.
    Terrible flaw in the system I think, and yet there is no way to completely disable indexing on flash drives, because every flash drive will read differently when plugged in, so the privacy tab is useless in that regard.
    oh well, it’s not disabled, hope this helps.

  29. […] turned into spotlight. Spotlight is great at finding stuff (if you have a powerful computer if not, turn it off since it is a memory hog. But what if I don’t want to search through every folder or scroll […]

  30. drx1 says:

    Looks like that config file – hostconfig – is going away … in 10.7 – that is on or after about 10.7.4 or later. It is still there, but there are no spotlight options – pity.

    I do not like some random (even from Apple) program indexing everything on my computer… you hook a random USB drive and the system can go nuts. This is dumb, dumb, dumb. There should be more kill/disable options in the GUI/System Preferences —- or even via CLI, but it appears this info is out of date.

    The OLD FIND FILE was awesome, fast and reliable – and IIRC – did not require any indexing. I know regular uses may like SpotLight, but SL is about 3 steps backwards – or bassawkards or many others.

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