Spotlight Search Not Working on Mac, how to fix?

Spotlight search not working or displaying inaccurate results, how to fix?

Spotlight is a built-in search system used to find and open applications and various types of file. It also contains several Internet browsing options. When Apple released this feature, it became very popular and, today, most experienced Mac users work regularly with Spotlight. Despite this popularity, glitches can occur with this search engine. Results may become inaccurate or Spotlight is unable to find files, even though the data is present in computer storage. Also, a search query may be entered, but no results shown, other than perhaps an inactive search field - there is no response to any query entered.

These and other issues were reported on various technical support forums, including common cases whereby Spotlight exhibited problems after an operating system update or upgrade. This is a result of a corrupted Spotlight index for storage (a section or all storage). Fortunately, there are several methods available to re-index storage and other steps to troubleshoot Spotlight issues. In this article, we describe the most common methods to resolve these issues.


Table of Contents:

Close SystemUIServer

Start by simply resetting a particular process. This quick and easy step often solves spotlight related issues. First, launch Activity Monitor by opening Finder and going to the Applications folder. Then, go to Utilities and choose Activity Monitor. In the window, look for SystemUIServer in the list, or use a search field to find it quickly. Select this process and then click on the quit process button. When you close this process, the menu bar and dock will reload within a few moments - this is a sign that the process has been reset. Check if Spotlight issues are fixed.


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Use Disk Utility to check your startup disk

Disk utility contains startup disk diagnostic tools, which are useful when encountering various issues. This tool is often enough to solve these problems. Enter recovery mode by restarting the Mac. Immediately when you hear startup chime, hold down Command and R until the macOS Utilities appears. Select Disk utility from the prompted menu, choose the startup disk, and click the First Aid icon at the top of the screen. Click Run to launch the repair tool, which checks and repairs the disk. If First Aid reports that not all errors were fixed, launch it again and repeat these steps several times. Finally, reboot the Mac and check if Spotlight Search works.


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Change Desktop resolution

This may seem like an odd solution, but many people report that it is useful when encountering the problem when a search form does not appear with a highlighted Spotlight menu icon. Go to Mac's System Preferences, open Display, and select a resolution smaller than the current value. Note that 640 x 480 should always work. Once the resolution is changed, return to the native resolution so that your screen display is back to its original state. Then, test the Spotlight feature - this often solves the problem.


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Adjust Spotlight preferences

If you cannot find the required results, ensure that Spotlight preferences are correct. Open Mac's System Preferences and select Spotlight. Check the Search Results tab to ensure all required results are enabled via the checkbox beside each title.


Next, ensure Spotlight is not excluding required folders or applications by opening the Privacy tab. If everything seems correct, click the Add (+) icon under the list and select the startup disk or any folders for which results are not showing in Spotlight search. Alternatively, just drag folders you wish to be re-indexed into the list and agree with the warning messages. Once you have selected all folders or the entire disk, click to select them and click the Remove (-) button at the bottom of the list. Finally quit System Preferences and Spotlight will begin the re-indexing process for the listed folders or drive.


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Check Spotlight re-indexing process

The re-indexing process does not display a progress bar or messages, however, you can check if Spotlight is still running the process via Activity Monitor. First, launch Activity Monitor by opening Finder and going to the Applications folder. Then open Utilities and run the app. When the new window prompts, use the search field and type in 'mdworker'. Activity Monitor will display all Spotlight related re-indexing processes. This list will confirm that the re-indexing process is running. When their are no longer any active processes in Activity monitor, try to use Spotlight again. Bear in mind that this process may take some time. The duration required depends on the amount of files stored in the selected folders or disk.


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Manually launch re-indexing process via Terminal

If Activity Monitor does find any active 'mdworker' processes after adjusting Spotlight preferences, you can manually launch the re-indexing process by using Terminal. Launch Mac's command line by opening Finder and going to the Applications folder. Then open Utilities and Run Terminal. When the command line window prompts, type the following command and hit return: "sudo mdutil -E". Confirm your action by entering administrator account password. This command will start the re-indexing process for all Mac drives, including plugged external drives. If you wish to re-index a specific drive only, use the following command: "sudo mdutil -E /Volumes/(name of specific drive)". As mentioned before, the re-indexing process may take some time depending on the amount of data stored on the drive. Therefore, you must wait until Terminal become active again. Once the process is complete, open Spotlight to check if the problem is resolved.


Detailed usage guide of Spotlight you may find in this article.

Video Showing how to solve Spotlight not working issue:

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About the author:

Tomas Meskauskas

I am passionate about computer security and technology. I have an experience of 10 years working in various companies related to computer technical issue solving and Internet security. I have been working as an editor for since 2010. Follow me on Twitter to stay informed about the latest tech news or online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

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