If you notice that a Spotlight search doesn’t return the items you expect, such as entering ‘Pages’ and the tool refusing to bring up the Pages app but, instead, another file containing the word, then rebuilding the Spotlight index can solve the problem.
Reindex Spotlight via System Preferences
There are two ways to start the process, so here is the easier of the two: via System Preferences.
- Launch the System Preferences app.
- Select Spotlight.
- There will be two tabs, select “Privacy”.
- Add a folder or disk to the Privacy tab (either by drag and drop, or by clicking on the “+” sign).
- Remove the items you just added by selecting them, and then click the Remove (-) button.
- Quit System Preferences.
Reindex Spotlight via a Terminal Command
If you like to control your Mac more directly using Terminal, then here is a command you can use to rebuild the Spotlight index:
sudo mdutil -i on /
Having instructed macOS to rebuild the Spotlight index, the computer will start working on it. Depending on your Mac’s built-in storage type (HDD or SSD) and the amount of data being indexed, the process can take from several minutes to a couple hours, during which time your Mac will be sluggish and might get hot. Reindexing Spotlight consumes a lot of CPU power and causes a lot of disk activity.
If rebuilding the Spotlight index function is active, you can always check the status of the process by pulling down the Spotlight menu.
Force Quit Spotlight
At some point (but not while rebuilding the index) you might need to force-quit Finder, usually because of an unresponsive command. Since you will find neither a “Quit Finder” nor “Force Quit” command in the Finder menu, you have two options: 1) click on the Apple menu, select “Force Quit” (or press Alt-Command-Power button), and select Finder from the list of applications; or 2) use a Terminal command to relaunch Finder.
The Terminal command looks like this:
Rebuilding the Spotlight index can save your nerves, so if you notice that Spotlight isn’t functioning how it used to, this process should be the next step after following this checklist:
- Check if the text you entered in the search field is correct.
- Check that you are indeed using Spotlight and not a Finder window while searching the text.
- Make sure the folders and disks you are targeting are not listed under the Privacy tab in Spotlight preferences.