How to reveal files in the Finder with Spotlight

SpotlightIconXSpotlight allows you to search for all of your files, applications, and other items on your Mac, allowing you to open them directly by highlighting them and pressing Enter, or even dragging them off the Spotlight menu (or window, for Yosemite) for various drag-and-drop purposes in OS X. While you can manage your listed search results in this way, if needed there may be times when you might want to find exactly where the file is on your Mac, or otherwise handle it in the Finder.

For this you have three options:

Smart Searches

Spotlight will by default use the menu or Spotlight window interface for listing your search results, since this allows for extra services like Dictionary lookups and Spotlight Suggestions, but if you are only interested in finding items on your Mac, then you can perform a Smart Search instead. To do this, instead of pressing Command-Space to open Spotlight, press Option-Command-Space to bring up a Finder search window with a default scope of searching “This Mac” (as opposed to being limited to the items in the current folder).

Smart search in the Finder

Pressing Command-Option-Space to bring up the Finder search window will allow you to better interact with located files using Finder services.

When you search for items with a smart search window, you can add filters for your searches, but more importantly the items revealed in it can be managed just as if you have a Finder window open to that item’s location, allowing you to move, copy, get info, or otherwise manage it accordingly.

Command key to reveal file path

In the Spotlight search window, you might have a list of search results and would like to know where the file is on disk. To do this, you can simply press and hold the Command key with the item highlighted, which will show the item’s full file path under its preview. This is perhaps best used to help identify one item from another if you have multiple files of the same name included in your search.

Spotlight full file path

Holding the Command key down will reveal the selected item’s file path, which you can use to help identify the appropriate file on your Mac.

Command-Enter on search result

While revealing a file’s path can help identify it, if you have a search result and would like to manage it with some Finder services (e.g., getting info on it, or labeling it), then you will need to reveal it in the Finder. For this, Smart Searches will work, but you can convert a Spotlight view to a Finder view in two ways. The first is to hold the Command key down when pressing Enter on a highlighted search result, which will reveal it in the Finder. The second is to scroll to the bottom of the search results list, where you will see an option to “Show All In the Finder.” This will convert the current search query into a Finder Smart Search window, which will allow you to interact with all found items directly in the Finder.

Using the Terminal

A final approach to Spotlight is if you are using the “mdfind” command to perform Spotlight searches in the Terminal, where upon submitting the query you will see a list of matching items output to the Terminal window. This may be useful for some advanced users, but often you might find yourself needing to open or reveal the found items. While you can use additional Terminal commands to filter and pipe the output to open specific search results, you can also do this by simply highlighting an entire file’s path and then right-clicking the selection. In the contextual menu, you will have a Services submenu that may contain options to open the specified file path, or reveal the specified file in the Finder.

Contextual menu services in OS X

When enabled these two services will allow you to reveal and open files by their full file path. Note that other services in this menu are optionally enabled, custom ones created with Automator, or conditionally available based on the software installed on the Mac.

If these services are missing, then you can enabled them in the Keyboard system preferences (go to the Shortcuts tab, then select Services, and then check the Open and Reveal in Finder options under the Files and Folders category).

15 thoughts on “How to reveal files in the Finder with Spotlight

  1. darkdreamer4u

    Smart search: when in Finder press command-F. More intuitive and one less shortcut to memorize.

    1. Topher Kessler Post author

      This will bring up a Finder search, which will by default be limited in scope to the folder you are currently in. Option-Command-Space will set this scope to be the entire computer. This may seem subtle, but it can greatly change what will be included in the search.

  2. JB

    Is there a way to make spotlight search folders that inside an application package contents? I can open a smart search window that looks like it is going to do this but it never returns any search results. I suppose it doesn’t index the contents of these folders.

    So I either open terminal and use grep and wonder why not just use linux instead of os x. Or I make a duplicate of the contents and wait for that get indexed. Either approach seems lame so I’m wondering if there is a better way. I need to search these files daily.

    1. Topher Kessler Post author

      Spotlight does index these files, but these files are considered “System Files” by default, so they are not included in search results. As a result, you will need to modify your search filters to include system files, or you can first locate the package in the Finder and then right-click it to show package contents, and then perform your search using the Finder toolbar in that view. To include system files in a search, you will need to click the plus button at the top of the results under the toolbar to add a filter to your search. In the filter criteria, choose “System Files” or choose “Other” and then locate the System Files option to add. Then set this so system files “are included” in your search. Now all the contents of applications, the system folders, and other system-related resources will be included in your search.

      Since this will include a lot of files, you can limit them using additional filters, or start your search from a specific folder (e.g., your Applications folder) so only files from that point down in the folder hierarchy will be included.

      1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

        If JB needs to do this kind of search regularly, can he save the search, with its custom criteria, so that he doesn’t have to build it afresh every time he wants to search this way? I think it’s possible, but I don’t use Spotlight often enough to know for sure.

        I often use Find Any File ( because it’s easier to configure, in my opinion, than Spotlight. For one thing, there is an option to search “in Finder selection…” that will search an app’s contents – if you know the name of the file you’re looking for, just as JB would like to do.

        Among other things, FAF will search system files by default, including invisible files, though you can fine tune a search for multiple criteria as well. Among other things FAF displays selected files as the old OS Find File app used to do, with the file hierarchy displayed in the lower window. You can copy, get info, delete and move files from either the list or the hierarchy window just as you can in the Finder. In the list window you can perform these operations on multiple selected files.

        Find Any File does not catalogue or search file contents as Spotlight does, but for file names with a variety of custom criteria it works quickly, though not instantaneously. I’ve found it to be particularly useful for un-installing apps; it can find all the files on your hard drive with the application name in the file name. And you can save custom searches so that it’s easy to invoke them again.

        By default FAF displays files by name, but just as in the Finder you can sort files by Kind, Date Modified, Size and so on, depending on what column categories you have selected in the Finder View options.

        Find Any File is $6 shareware from the developer’s Web site. You can get it from the Mac App Store as well, but without the free trial period. It’s not the only alternative to Spotlight available so you might find another, like EasyFind, that you like better.

      2. JB

        Thanks for the quick response.

        I tried it and it didn’t quite work. It would only find things in certain files, like .html, but not in source files like .c.

        I did find that I could save the search. When I did so it put the saved search in a folder called “Saved Searches” which I couldn’t find at first. I mean, it was right there in the dialog box but only as “Saved Searches”, there was no path. So I had to search for where it was put. I had no idea where it was going or how to figure that out in advance of putting it there.

        I’ve thought about getting a search app. On that subject, are there good apps to do what Finder is supposed to do? I’m frequently unhappy with it. For example, it never remembers where I set the columns so I am constantly reconfiguring them. It makes the mode where the size and creation date are displayed (I think it’s called list mode) pretty much unusable.

        Okay, enough complaining. 🙂

  3. Joachim Sondermann

    For so long, I have thought there must be a way to see where a file in Spotlight’s results resides. Stupid me didn’t find. Thanks a bundle, Topher.

  4. Michael Bach

    Thanks! I had already sorely missed to option to reveal found items in the finder, command-enter (or return) does, great!
    Best, Michael

  5. ishai

    Thanks Topher !
    Not sure if you skipped it intentionally but the obvious CMD+R is what i use (same as what CMD+ENTER does) = Show in Enclosing Folder.
    But i guess anything goes as long as you remember it 🙂

  6. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    If you use Command-F there will be an option in the Window search-bar to select This Mac instead of the folder. This require an extra click to change from one search focus to the other, which is easy enough if you don’t want to or cannot remember Option-Command-Space. Sort of a toss-up as far as ease of use is concerned. One advantage I can see to the Option-Command-Space shortcut is that it opens a new window, without dislocating any windows you may already have open.

  7. MaX

    Any way to customize Spotlight to remember last search for “Name contains” instead of ¿Kind is any”?

  8. Niels

    New iMac + Yosemite arrived 10 days ago :o)

    Puzzled by the file search in Finder/Spotlight though.

    Previously I was able to filter searches by ‘Contents’ or ‘File Name’. Now I don’t have any options.

    So a search for partial file name (eg ‘logo’) will throw up LOADS of files which may have ‘logo’ embedded within a text, spreadsheet, HTML file – when all I want is a file named, for example, ‘client-logo-2014.jpg’

    Is this possible to set up in Yosemite Finder/Spotlight?

  9. Michael

    Highlighting text and then secondary/right click the highlighted text offers the service “Spotlight”, which searches for that text in a Finder window. I would really like another option to search in the new Yosemite Spotlight Search window (the command+space shortcut), without having to copy the text and then paste it. I have been trying to setup a new Automator service, but keep getting an error. Any ideas?

  10. Koen B

    Probably has to do with the way that Spotlight handles files, but somehow I can’t seem to find some files in spotlight that I can find in finder. This is especially the case for pdf-files, and it annoys me quite a bit! Since I’m using a structure for naming these files “Year – Authors – Title” I think it has to do with meta-data attached in the PDF-files or something else?

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