Tips for finding files

Finding a file is a lot like looking for a pair of socks when you get dressed in the morning. You can’t really start working until you locate those socks, and it’s something you need every single day. Windows can’t help you find your socks any faster, but it can definitely lend you a hand when it comes to finding your files. Here are some ways to find and organize your files, no matter where they might be stored.

Where should I start searching?

There are so many ways to find files on your computer that you might not know where to start. Most of the time, you will probably start by using the search tools that are available within any folder. For example, here are the search tools that are available in the Documents folder:

Picture of search tools in the Documents folder
Search tools in the Documents folder

Which search method should I use?

The method you use depends upon what you're searching for, and where you're searching for it. The following table describes the different search methods and when they're useful:

Search method When it's useful
Search method

The Search box

When it's useful

If you're looking for a file or folder located in a common folder (such as Documents or Pictures), you can often find it fastest by using the Search box at the top of the folder window. For more information, see Use the Search box later in this article.

If you're looking for a program, a website in your browser history, or a file that you've stored anywhere in your personal folder, you can use the Search box at the bottom of the Start menu. For more information, see Find a file or folder.

Search method

File list headings

When it's useful

If you're looking for several related files, such as all the files from a particular month, or all the documents that you have written, you can use the headings above the file list to filter, stack, or group your files. Organizing your files in one of these ways makes them easier to locate and select. For more information, see Use file list headings later in this article.

Search method

Search folder

When it's useful

When you need to build a search with multiple filters, or when you're looking for files from several folders at once, create your search in the Search folder. When you are done, you can save the search criteria, and use it in the future to find the same set of files again with a single click. For more information, see Create an advanced search in the Search folder later in this article.

Use the Search box

The Search box is located at the top of every folder. It filters the current view based on text that you type. The Search box finds files based on text in the file name, text within the file, tags, and other common file properties that are attached to the file. In addition, it searches the current folder as well as all subfolders.

Picture of the Search box
The Search box

For example, if you created a trip report called "Las Vegas Seminar," as soon as you type Las into the Search box, most files in the folder would disappear from the list, but the trip report, and any other files with the word Las in them, would immediately be displayed.

The following table lists the common properties that you can use in the Search box:

Property What it is How to use it in the Search box
Property

File name

What it is

The name you have given the file.

How to use it in the Search box

Type part or all of the file name you are looking for. For example, to find a file called November invoice.txt, you can type Nov or inv.

Property

Kind of file

What it is

A broad description of the content. Most of your files fall into one of these kinds: Document, Picture, or Music.

How to use it in the Search box

Type the kind of file you're looking for. For example, to find all of your text, spreadsheet, and presentation files, type Document.

Property

Type of file

What it is

A more specific indication of the file's content. The last three letters of the file name, called the file name extension, identify the file type. Common types include DOC (Microsoft Word document), XLS (Microsoft Excel spreadsheet), JPG (JPEG image), and MP3 (a standard digital audio format).

How to use it in the Search box

Type the file name extension. If you want to find only MP3 files, type MP3. For more accurate results, type *.mp3.

Property

Tags

What it is

Words or phrases you add to your files to describe them.

How to use it in the Search box

Type any tag to see a list of files to which that tag has been applied.

Property

Author

What it is

The name of the person who created the file.

How to use it in the Search box

Type the name of an author to see a list of files by that person.

Advanced searches in the Search box

Windows will usually search for whatever you type in the Search box by looking in the file name, file contents, and file properties of all the files in the current view. Type "Summer," for example, and it will find files named "sunset in summer.jpg," files tagged with "summer," and files written by anyone named Summer. This broad approach to search usually helps you find your file quickly.

If you want to search more selectively, however, you can filter your search in the Search box by specifying which file property to search. To filter by file property, separate the name of the property and the search term with a colon, as these examples show:

Example Use this to
Example

Name:Sunset

Use this to

Find only files that have the word sunset in the file name.

Example

Tag:Sunset

Use this to

Find only files that are tagged with the word sunset.

Example

Modified:05/25/2006

Use this to

Find only files that have been modified on that date. You can also type Modified:2006 to find files changed at any time during that year.

Which file properties can you use in this way? Anything you see in a folder. You can filter by any property that appears in the file list headings, for example. To see the complete list of properties that you can filter by, right-click the heading you want to see properties for, and then click More.

For more information about advanced searches, go to the Windows Desktop Search: Advanced Query Reference website.

Searching using Boolean filters

Using Boolean filters is another way to perform a more precise search. Boolean filters let you combine search words using simple logic, as you can see in the following table.

Filter Example Use this to
Filter

AND

Example

tropical AND island

Use this to

Find files that contain both words "tropical" and "island" (even if those words are not right next to each other).

Filter

NOT

Example

tropical NOT island

Use this to

Find files that contain the word "tropical," but not "island."

Filter

OR

Example

tropical OR island

Use this to

Find files that contain either of the words "tropical" or "island."

Filter

Quotes

Example

"tropical island"

Use this to

Find files that contain the exact phrase "tropical island."

Filter

Parentheses

Example

(tropical island)

Use this to

Find files that contain both words "tropical" and "island," in any order.

Filter

>

Example

date: >01/05/06

Use this to

Find files that are more than or later than a certain value, such as after 01/05/06.

Filter

<

Example

size: < 4 MB

Use this to

Find files that are less than or earlier than a certain value, such as less than 4 MB. You can also specify other sizes, such as KB and GB.

Tip

  • When you type Boolean filters like AND or OR, you need to use all capital letters.

Combining Boolean filters and file properties

You can combine Boolean filters with other filters. The following table shows how you can get very different results using the same search words, but different Boolean filters. Also note how the use of parentheses can change the effect of a filter.

Boolean filter Use this to
Boolean filter

author: Charlie AND Herb

Use this to

Find files that are authored by Charlie as well as any files that include Herb in the file name or in any file property.

Boolean filter

author: (Charlie AND Herb)

Use this to

Find only files that are authored by both names.

Boolean filter

author: "Charlie Herb"

Use this to

Finds only files that are authored by someone with exactly this name.

Find files with natural language search

If you turn on natural language search, you can perform searches in a simpler way, without using colons and without the need to enter AND and OR in capital letters. For example, compare these two searches:

Without natural language With natural language
Without natural language

kind: music artist: (Beethoven OR Mozart)

With natural language

music Beethoven or Mozart

Without natural language

kind: document author: (Charlie AND Herb)

With natural language

documents Charlie and Herb

To turn on natural language search

  1. Open Folder Options by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking Appearance and Personalization, and then clicking Folder Options.

  2. Click the Search tab.

  3. Select the Use natural language search check box.

To use natural language search

Even with natural language search turned on, you can continue to use the Search box in exactly the same way. If you want to use Boolean filters or introduce filters with colons and parentheses, you can. In addition, you can use all the same properties to fine-tune your searches. The difference is that you can enter searches in a more casual way. Here are some examples:

  • email today

  • documents 2006

  • author Susan

  • pictures vacation

Note

  • Some searches might give more results than you expect. For example, if you search for "email today" you will see all messages sent today as well as any messages with the word "today" in the contents.

Use file list headings

By clicking the headings that appear above the file list in a folder, you can change how files are displayed. Viewing files in this way can help you find files that share something in common.

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To filter your files

When you filter the contents of a folder by file properties (such as file name, date, author, or tag), only files with those properties are displayed. For example, if you want to see only files written by a particular author, filter by that person's name.

  1. Open the folder that contains the files you want to filter.

  2. Click the arrow to the right of the heading that you want to filter by.

  3. Click the property that you want to filter by. If you want to filter by two or more properties, select the check box for each property that you want to filter by.

    Picture of the Authors heading displaying the properties that are available to filter
    The Authors heading displaying the properties that are available to filter by, with one property selected

To stack your files

When you stack files, all of the files in the view are arranged into piles, called stacks. If you stack by Author, for example, you'll see one stack for each author. If you want to see only the files written by a particular author, open the desired stack.

  1. Open the folder that contains the files you want to stack.

    The files can also be located in subfolders inside this folder

  2. Click the arrow to the right of the heading that you want to stack by.

  3. Click Stack by to arrange the contents of the folder into stacks that correspond to the heading.

  4. To see the files that are contained in an individual stack, double-click the stack.

    Picture showing how file stacks work
    These files are stacked by file type

To group your files

Unlike a stack, which hides the files it contains behind an icon, a group displays a sequential list of all of the grouped files. When you group your files by Author, for example, you'll see several groups, each one displaying all the files written by a particular author.

  1. Open the folder that contains the files you want to group.

  2. Click the arrow to the right of the heading that you want to group by.

  3. Click Group to arrange the contents of the folder into groups that correspond to the heading.

    Picture showing how file groups work
    These files are grouped by file type

Create an advanced search in the Search folder

The is a good choice for searches whenever you:

  • Don't know where a file or folder is located, and want to look in many locations at once.

  • Want your search results to include files from several folders at once.

  • Want to create an advanced search that looks for files using several different criteria.

To customize your search, click the Advanced Search button in the Search folder.

Picture of the Search folder
The Search folder

Here, you can change any of the following:

  • Location. By default, the Search folder searches in a set of locations called Indexed Locations. This includes all of the folders in your personal folder (which includes Documents, Pictures, Music, Desktop, and other common locations), e‑mail, and offline files. You can add additional locations to Indexed Locations if you commonly store files in different locations. For more information, see Improve Windows searches using the index: frequently asked questions. Alternatively, you can choose to search a different set of locations, though any searches on files that have not been indexed will be slower.

  • Date. You can narrow the search to any time before or after the date you specify.

  • Size. You can look for files larger or smaller than the specified size.

  • Property. You can filter the search according to one or more file properties, such as file name, tags, and authors. The search will be limited to files that include all the properties you specify.

If you cannot find a file

If you cannot find a file you are searching for, or if searching is slow or stops working, you can try running a troubleshooter to diagnose and fix common problems with search and indexing.

To run a search and indexing troubleshooter

  1. Click this button:

    Picture of a Fix it button
    Fix this problem

  2. In the File Download dialog box, click Run, and then follow the steps in the wizard.