How do I... Adjust what files are in the search index in Windows Vista?

To increase the efficiency and performance of its desktop search Microsoft Windows Vista creates and maintains a search index of the files on your system. With the Indexing Options tool users can adjust what drives, folders, and files are indexed. This How do I... shows you how to configure those settings to match your specific requirements.

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As hard drive capacity and system complexity have grown so has the need for a better way to find your applications and files. To help in this regard, Microsoft Windows Vista has a built-in search capability. Just type in the name of the file you are looking for in the Start Menu search box and the operating system will show you the files that match your input.

The key to this search capability is the search index Windows Vista creates and maintains for your particular PC or system. While most users will find the default configuration for how the search index is created adequate, many will want to tweak these settings to increase efficiency and improve performance. Such tweaks can be accomplished using the Indexing Options tool.

Indexing Options tool

To navigate to the Indexing Options tool you can open the Control Panel and then click the appropriate icon as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Control Panel

Alternatively, you can use the search index itself to find the tool. Click the Start Menu button and type "index" into the search box. The Indexing Options tool will appear as one of the choices as you can see in Figure B.

Figure B

Indexing Options through search

Once the Indexing Options tool is open (Figure C) you will get a brief synopsis of how many files are currently indexed and where they are located. In most cases, the default settings will be enough because the files most users use over and over will be located in their document folder. E-mail correspondence is the other area where searching comes in handy and that too is covered by default.

Figure C

Indexing Options tool default settings

Clicking the Modify button on the initial screen of the Indexing Options tool will reveal the screen shown in Figure D. In this configuration screen you can use to add or subtract specific files and folders from the search index.

Figure D

Indexing Options modifications

For example, clicking the Show all locations button will add all of the folders on your hard drives to the potential list of indexed locations (Figure E). However, adding all of those locations to the index will increase the size tremendously and likely make the search index useless for quickly and efficiently finding files. Take some time to plan exactly which locations you want to index.

Figure E

All locations

The other configuration option available from the Indexing Options tool (Figure C) is under the Advanced button. You'll need administrative rights to make changes under this button. The Advanced Options screen (Figure F) gives you several more configuration options including the ability to index encrypted files, rebuild the search index, restore to default settings and select a new place to store the index.

Figure F

Advanced options

The File Types tab on the Advanced Options screen is for those who like to get down to the most granular of settings (Figure G). From this screen you can change which files are indexed by their extension. You can even modify how deeply each extension is indexed from this screen. This is definitely an area for users with a clear understanding of how the search index functions and an even clearer idea of how they want their system configured.

Figure G

File types under Advanced Options

More help

One other option available in the Indexing Options tool (Figure C) is the link "How does indexing affect searches." This link brings up the Windows Help and Support page regarding indexing (Figure H). This help page presents basic information on the Windows Vista search index.

Figure H

Basic help

The Windows Vista search index helps users find common files and applications quickly and efficiently. For many, the default settings that determine which files and folders will be indexed will be sufficient. But for many others, some tweaking of these configuration settings will improve overall performance.


Mark W. Kaelin has been writing and editing stories about the IT industry, gadgets, finance, accounting, and tech-life for more than 25 years. Most recently, he has been a regular contributor to,, and TechRepublic.

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