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How to find files on a Mac

How to find files on a Mac

As a Mac user, I’ve often found myself needing to locate specific files amidst a sea of data. Whether it’s a document I created a week ago or an image I downloaded months back, the challenge to find files on a Mac is a common scenario that many encounter. Thankfully, macOS provides a variety of tools and methods to help us navigate through our files efficiently. In this guide, I will share multiple strategies, one of which involves using Commander One file manager, a robust third-party application that I find to be the best solution. If you are looking to find files on macOS computer easily, this comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps and tools at your disposal.


Common Scenarios:

Misplaced Documents 📁

  • Trying to locate a report you saved without noting its location.
  • Needing to access a file you vaguely remember the content of but not the name.

Cluttered Downloads 📥

  • Sorting through a jumbled mess of files in your Downloads folder.
  • Attempting to find a specific download among similar files.

Archived Projects 🔍

  • Searching for a past project with only a fragment of information available.
  • Trying to recover files from an archived folder scattered with diverse content.


Step-by-Step Guide. Search Files On Mac:

Method 1: Use Spotlight Search 🔍

  • Press Command (⌘) + Space to open Spotlight.
  • Type the name or a keyword of the file you are searching for.
  • Review the results and press Return to open the selected file.

Note: Spotlight indexes almost everything on your Mac, making it a quick option for searching files.

Conclusion: Spotlight is efficient for finding files if you remember keywords or titles, but may not be as thorough when it comes to searching file contents.

Method 2: Explore Finder 🔎

  • Open Finder from your dock.
  • Use the search bar at the top right to enter your search terms.
  • Filter results using the search bar’s plus icon (+) to narrow down your search by type, date, and more.

Note: Finder allows for more detailed search criteria than Spotlight and includes file preview options.

Conclusion: Finder’s search is versatile and excellent when you’re looking for a file with specific attributes.

Method 3: Utilize Terminal with Find Command ⌨

  • Open Terminal from the Applications > Utilities folder.
  • Type the command find / -name ‘filename’, replacing ‘filename’ with your file’s name.
  • Press Enter and browse through the result list displayed on Terminal.

Note: This method is best for advanced users comfortable with command-line interfaces.

Conclusion: Using Terminal is a powerful way to locate files, but it might be intimidating for less tech-savvy users.

Method 4: Smart Folders & Tags 🔖

  • In Finder, click on File > New Smart Folder.
  • Add search criteria to automatically include files by kind, date, tags, etc.
  • Utilize Tags by right-clicking on a file, selecting Tags, and assigning a color or name for easy access later.

Note: Smart Folders are dynamic and update automatically as you add or remove files that meet the criteria.

Conclusion: Smart Folders and Tags are an organized approach to managing files and can be highly effective when used consistently.

Method 5: Third-Party Applications – Commander One 🌟

  • Download and install Commander One file manager from its official site.
  • Launch the application and use its dual-pane interface for convenient file browsing.
  • Use the advanced search with RegExp support to find files based on name, content, or additional parameters.

Note: Commander One offers extensive file management features beyond just searching, such as FTP, cloud storage support, and more.

Conclusion: Commander One is my preferred tool, combining the power of Terminal with an intuitive graphical interface, making it the best solution for extensive file management tasks.


Youtube video to watch


Precautions and Tips:

Streamline Your Searches 🕵

  • Always use detailed names for your files for easier future searches.
  • Regularly organize your folders and clear out unnecessary files to reduce clutter.

Data Backup & Recovery ☁

  • Utilize Time Machine or a cloud service for regular data backups.
  • Understand how to recover files in case of accidental deletion or loss.


Optimize Your Mac

While the aforementioned strategies are incredibly helpful for managing files on your Mac, maintaining an organized system is essential for long-term efficiency. Consider using a desktop organizer like Declutter, which helps categorize and arrange your desktop files automatically. Regularly archiving old projects to external hard drives or cloud solutions, like iCloud, is another good practice.

Looking beyond file management, optimizing your Mac’s performance is also key. Tools such as CleanMyMac X provide a suite of features to clean, protect, and speed up your Mac. Additionally, the Disk Drill application can help you recover lost files and maintain the health of your storage device.

Furthermore, utilizing features like Stacks in macOS Mojave and later can automatically organize your files by type right on your desktop, which can considerably reduce the time needed to find documents and images. Staying informed about the latest macOS features and updates can also aid in better file management.

Finally, consider engaging with Mac user communities for tips and tricks on file management and optimization. Websites like MacRumors or subreddits like r/mac are filled with experienced users who often share their insights on how to keep your Mac running smoothly.


In conclusion, finding files on your Mac doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Whether you’re using Spotlight Search, Finder, Terminal, Smart Folders, or a dedicated solution like Commander One, each method provides its unique benefits. It’s about finding the right balance between ease of use and functionality. Remember to consistently backup and organize your files to minimize the need for extensive searches in the future. Happy file hunting!


To start a file search on your Mac, click on the Finder icon in the dock, then use the search bar at the top right corner to begin your query.

Yes, in Finder, after entering a search term, click the + button below the search bar to add filters and use advanced search criteria.

Definitely. When searching in Finder, use the 'kind' filter to specify the file type, such as 'PDF', 'image', or 'document'.

In Finder, type the tag in the search bar or click on the Tags section in the Sidebar to display all files associated with that tag.

Smart Folders are accessible in Finder under the 'File' menu by selecting 'New Smart Folder', which allows for saving frequently used searches.

Yes, press Command + Spacebar to open Spotlight, then enter your search query to quickly find files and applications.

Yes, using Spotlight or Finder's search, you can find files by content. Remember to enable the Contents option in the search criteria.

Tools like Alfred or LaunchBar can enhance search capabilities and offer additional functionalities compared to the built-in search.

With Spotlight, type in a calculation or unit conversion directly into the search bar, and it will display the results without opening a separate app.

In the Finder search bar, click the magnifying glass icon to view a list of your recent search queries and quickly repeat a previous search.