Include Mac System Files in Mac OS X Searches with a Simple Adjustment

Jan 30, 2014 - 6 Comments

Search system files in Mac OS X Need to find a system file or several, but you aren’t entirely sure the directory path of where that system item is located on Mac OS? Maybe you’re looking for a plist file and you aren’t sure if it’s in the user Library folder, or the System Library folder? Rather than digging about in the variety of / root directories, use this excellent Finder based Spotlight search trick to include system files within your search results.

This uses the Finder based Spotlight Search feature that is built into the top-right corner of every Mac OS X Finder window, it is not accessible through the standard search feature found in the Spotlight menu bar.

How to Search System Files in Mac OS X

This trick to search system files on a Mac applies to all versions of Mac OS:

  1. Go to the Finder if you haven’t done so already and start a new file search (hit Command+F or go to Find from the File menu)
  2. Type the search query for a system file into a Finder window search as usual
  3. Click the plus (+) button to add additional search parameters
  4. Click the “Kind” menu and choose “Other”
  5. Add Other search parameters

  6. At the attribute selection box, type “System” and choose the “System files” attribute, then click “OK”
  7. Add System Files as a search attribute

  8. Now click the next search parameter for “aren’t included” and select “are included” instead
  9. Include System Files in searches of Mac OS X

  10. Find the searched for system file(s) as intended

Searches include System Files in Mac OS X

If you just want to test this out and can’t think of a system file off the top of your head, use “” as the search query in spotlight as demonstrated in the screen shots above. You’ll find nothing shows up initially, but after the attribute change for ‘System Files’ has been included and set to “are included”, the application shows up in the Finder search results. Because Spotlight looks inside files as well as the file name by default, you’ll also find any other system file that references included in the results, like plist files and other system documents.

You can choose the “Save” button in the search query to save the system files attributes for easy access in the future.

If you’re not finding specific files that you know are supposed to be included in this list, you may be attempting a search during the time that Spotlight is reindexing, or you may have excluded the directories or files from Spotlights indexing abilities. You can also manually rebuild the index yourself if you suspect there is an issue with what files and folders are returned by Spotlight.

Thanks to Christian on our Facebook page for the reminder about this great trick!


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


» Comments RSS Feed

  1. Craig Stotts says:

    Step 4 doesn’t work as described. After typing in System in the Attributes, nothing else shows up, nor is there an OK button.

  2. Larry Cohen says:

    Still won’t work when looking for a video clip in Final Cut Pro which is in your MOVIES folder in your home folder!

    Maybe someone knows what “type” of files these are (so I can select that “kind” and maybe then Spotlight will find them?

  3. Nilesh Parmar says:

    Great tip, prefer this method over an app method. Thank you.

  4. Mark says:

    Great Tip!!! Thanks!!!

  5. PetieG says:

    I’d just install Find Any File a free app… use it w/ the Option key to search everything. well worth the price.

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