How to Search in Windows


There are several ways to search in Windows. The native Windows Search is both loved and hated by users. It has been around in various incarnations, both as a standalone program and as an integrated search environment, since Windows 2000 (released in late 1999).

For those who have nothing against Windows Search, I provide a short summary how to start it up.

At the end of the post, I also name a few outstanding alternatives for those who prefer third-party search programs.

Enable Windows Search

Go to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features and click Turn Windows features on or off.


Turn on Windows Search

In the Windows Features pop-up window, scroll down to Windows Search and tick it, if it is not ticked already.

Click OK. Windows will require a restart after this action.

After restarting your computer, you can expand the capabilities of the Search function.

Right-click on the Taskbar and select Properties. Go to the Start Menu tab and click on the Customize… button. Scroll down in the Customize Start Menu window and tick Search with public folders and also Search programs and Control Panel. Click OK, Apply, and OK again.

Enable Indexing Service

To improve search speed you can enable the Windows Indexing Service.

Indexing simply means that Windows will create a database of all files on your drives, so that they can be searched more efficiently.

To enable indexing, go to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features and click Turn Windows features on or off.

In the Windows Features pop-up window, tick the Indexing Service feature, if it is not ticked already.

Click OK. Windows will require a restart after this action, so it is best to enable both Windows Search and Indexing Service in one step.

By default the database file is hidden.

On Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems it is located at C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Search\Data\Applications\Windows\Windows.edb.

In the case of Windows XP the default location of the file is C:\Documents and Settings\Application Data\All Users\Microsoft\Search\Data\Applications\Windows\Windows.edb.


Windows Indexing Service

To enable indexing of a specific drive, open Windows Explorer (Win+E) and right-click on the drive you want to have indexed.

In the drop-down menu select Properties.

In the Drive Properties window, select the General tab and tick the Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed in addition to file properties option.

Then click Apply.

Indexing the drive’s contents will take a while. After the drive is indexed, click OK.

Important Note

In general, it is a bad idea to index a solid state drive (SSD). If you wish to use indexing, limit it to your hard disk drives (HDD).

Advanced Indexing Options

You can tell Windows specifically which locations to index and whether you wish to search for file names only or also search the contents of files.

Specify Indexing Locations

To do this, click on the Start button and type index in the Search programs and files box.

Indexing Options

Indexing Options

Click on Indexing Options in the search results.

Indexed Locations

Indexed Locations

In the Indexing Options window, click on the Modify button.

In the Indexed Locations window, tick all locations on your drives you want to have indexed and, when finished, click OK.

Advanced Indexing Options

In the Indexing Options window, click on the Advanced button.

In the Index Settings tab, you can select to Index encrypted files.

And in the File Types tab, you can add new extensions to the list of recognized file types. Also, you can select whether the contents of the files should be indexed or not.

Use Extra IFilters

Windows Search uses IFilters to search the contents of specific file types.

By default Windows Search includes IFilters for the following file types:

  • Word documents
  • Excel spreadsheets
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • HTML files
  • plain-text files
  • MP3 and WMA music files
  • WMV, ASF and AVI video files
  • JPEG, BMP and PNG image files

It is possible to expand the capabilities of Windows Search by adding more IFilters to it.

Within the Turn Windows features on or off window, you can select the Windows TIFF IFilter, an image file format that uses optical character recognition (OCR).

I have already written a post about searching the contents of PDF without using any IFilters whatsoever.

To be able to search the contents of PDF files using Windows Search, install the free Adobe Reader program. It already comes bundled with 32-bit PDF IFilter which allows third-party indexing tools to extract text from Adobe PDF files.

To use the Adobe PDF IFilter with 64-bit Windows systems, download and install the standalone IFilter here.

64-bit versions of Windows 8 do not require Adobe’s PDF IFilter, as they already come with Microsoft’s own PDF IFilter.

Commercial IFilters
There are also dozens of paid IFilters for various file formats available for purchase. Many of them are listed here.

Another Way to Search

There are faster alternatives to Windows Search both when searching file contents, as well as when searching for file names only.

In a previous post of mine, I have written about grep. An efficient command-line tool to search file contents.

If you don’t like Windows Search for whatever reason, you can replace it with Everything. This application searches file names only.

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