Optimizing Spotlight Search For Your Mac

by Armin Talic | September 11, 2009

Ever since it was introduced, Spotlight has consistently been one of my favorite features of the Mac OS. Being somewhat of a power-user when it comes to streamlining my Mac work flow, I notice even the smallest drops in the performance. For me, staying optimized helps to cut down your work flow and the nasty rainbow wheel.

This weeks guide covers the steps you’ll need to take to re-index and optimize your Spotlight search in Mac OS X 10.5 or later. Don’t worry though, this particular guide is a very simple to follow.

So let’s get started, I lke the step-by-step format to guides as I think it’s easier to follow, so I’ll do the same here.

Step 1.

Firstly, start by opening your System Preferences. This can be found either in your dock, or in the Applications folder. When you’ve opened your system preferences, you’ll see the following window. Click the ‘Spotlight’ icon shown in figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Step 2.

Now you’ll see two tabs, one labeled ‘Search Results’ and the other labeled ‘Privacy’. Click the ‘Privacy’ tab. At this point you’ll be presented with the screen shown in figure 2. You can then click on the ‘+’ button on the bottom left of that page.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Step 3.

Now simply choose the location that you would like to remove from your existing index. In this instance, as we’re going to re-index the entire spotlight search, we want to select ‘Macintosh HD’ from the options along the left. An example is shown in figure 3. When you’ve highlighted your Macintosh HD and clicked ‘Choose’ you’ll see a pop-up, don’t worry, this is just asking you to confirm your selection.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Step 4.

Now, simply quit System Preferences and wait about 30 seconds. The next step will be to remove your Hard drive from the privacy list, triggering Spotlight to re-index your entire device. To do this you’ll need to follow steps 1 and 2 above, but instead of adding a location to the exclusion list, you’ll simply need to highlight ‘Macintosh HD’ from the privacy list and click the ‘-‘ icons in the bottom left. Once you have removes your hard drive from the excluded list, you’ll need to quit System preferences again.


And that’s it, it’s really that simple. About 30 seconds after you’re done, Spotlight will start to re-index your hard drive. This may take some time, so I suggest making yourself a coffee and breaking out the biscuits. Enjoy your newly indexed drive and sparky new Spotlight search!