12 Mac search tips from a Spotlight addict

Spotlight is surprisingly powerful and flexible. Learn the many things your Mac's search tool can do with this collection of shortcuts, tips and tricks.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops | Desktops | All-in-one PCs | Streaming devices | Streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read
Matt Elliott/CNET

Spotlight search is a handy tool for any Mac user, even if you use it only to locate files. If you become familar with these tips they way I have, you can get around your Mac faster -- and without reaching for the mouse.

1. First things first: The Spotlight keyboard shortcut

You can click the magnifying-glass button in the upper-right corner of your screen, but a faster way is with the keyboard shortcut Command-spacebar.

2. Move and resize Spotlight

If your search returns an abundance of results, you can drag the bottom of the window to expand Spotlight. You can also reposition the Spotlight window by dragging its top edge. Your Mac remembers the last position and size of your Spotlight window, so you'll find it in the same spot and the search results window the same size the next time you call it up. To return Spotlight to its default position and size, click and hold on the magnifying glass icon.

3. Use natural language

With Siri coming to MacOS Sierra, you'll soon be able to use your voice to ask your Mac to find a file or retrieve information. At the present, you can use natural language queries with Spotlight. You can ask Spotlight, for example, to show you "photos from yesterday" or "files from last month."

4. Coming up, sports and weather

Type "weather" into Spotlight to get your current conditions and 10-day forecast without leaving Spotlight. Enter "weather in San Francisco" to get weather for the City by the Bay or any other city of your choosing.

You can also get sports scores ("Red Sox score") and schedules ("Ohio State schedule") right within Spotlight in the same manner.

5. Quick calculations

Your Mac has a calculator app, but for quick calculations, you can simply use Spotlight.

6. Currency conversion

Traveling overseas or just like to keep your finger on the pulse of international currency markets? Spotlight can give you current exchange rates.

7. Open Finder

When searching for a file, you can highlight the file in Spotlight and hit Enter to open it. Alternatively, you can hit Command-Enter to open the folder in Finder containing the file.

8. Find the location of a file

Highlight a file and hold down Command to see its location. Its path shows up along the bottom edge of the right panel of Spotlight.

9. Jump to the next section of results

Spotlight organizes search results into various sections, from Top Hits, Documents and Spreadsheets to Wikipedia, Suggested Websites and Definitions. You can jump from one section to the next by using Command and the up and down arrow keys.

10. Jump to a definition

Hit Command-L to jump directly to the definition of your search term.

11. Switch from Spotlight to Google

If you need to ditch Spotlight in favor of Google for a particular search, you can easily do so. Hit Command-B to open a new tab in your default browser using your default search engine.

12. Quickly clear the search bar

Hit Escape (or Command-Delete) to clear the Spotlight's search box. Hit Escape again to close Spotlight. You can also just click outside of Spotlight to close it.

If none of this sounds appealing, then you can ditch Spotlight for this genius universal search bar on Mac.