Microsoft

Fine tune the Windows 7 Search Index for better performance

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to delve in and begin tuning the Windows 7 Search Index.

In the article, Take advantage of Search filters in Windows Explorer, I showed you how to use and take advantage of the Search filters built into the Windows 7 Explorer Search Box and in the article Tag your files for easier searches in Windows 7, I showed you how to Tag your files in Microsoft Windows 7 using tools built into Windows Explorer. After both of those articles were published, I received email from readers wondering about how the Search Index in Windows 7 works and if it were possible to customize it.

Some readers wanted to add different locations to the Search Index and some wanted to remove certain locations. Others wondered about adding or removing certain file types from the Search Index. I also heard from readers who were encountering problems with the Windows 7's Search and wondered how to fix it.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to delve in and begin tuning the Windows 7 Search Index.

This blog post is also available in the PDF format in a TechRepublic Download.

Accessing the Search Index

Accessing the Search Index is easier than you might imagine. Just click the Start button and type Index in the Search text box. When the results appear, just select the Indexing Options item. You'll then see the Indexing Options dialog box, shown in Figure A, from which you can fine tune and troubleshoot the Windows 7's Search Index.

Figure A

You can fine tune and troubleshoot Windows 7's Search Index from the Indexing Options dialog box.

As you can see, the main panel in the Indexing Options dialog box is titled Included Locations and this shows you exactly what locations on your hard disk are being indexed. The Modify and Advanced buttons provide you with access to the configuration features. The Pause button, will allow you to pause the indexing operation for 15 minutes.

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Indexed locations

If you want to alter the locations that are indexed, click the Modify button. When you do, you'll see the Indexed Locations dialog box, shown in Figure B. In the top panel, you can add or remove locations by selecting or clearing check boxes. The bottom panel shows you exactly what locations on your hard disk are being indexed. If you don't see a location that you think you should, just click the Show all locations button.

Figure B

The Indexed Locations dialog box allows you to specify what is and what isn't to be indexed.
As you can see on my example system, the external hard disk, which I use for backup is not indexed. It also appears as though drive C isn't indexed, but that isn't entirely true. If you click the arrow adjacent to the drive letter, the tree will expand, as shown in Figure C, and you can see that the just about everything in the Users folder is selected. That's because by default that is where all your data should reside - My Documents, My Music, My Pictures and so on.

The AppData folder isn't selected and as you can see in the bottom panel, that folder is shown under the Exclude heading.

Figure C

When you expand drive C, you'll see that just about everything in the Users folder is selected.

Now, the Figure C screen shot is modified so that you can see all the top level folders in User folder as well as the rest of the top level folders in drive C. You can see that outside of the Users folder none of the other folders on drive C are selected.

Again, you can add or remove locations by selecting or clearing check boxes. Keep in mind that you really don't want to index your entire hard disk as that would slow down the indexing operation. Just index locations where you actually store data files.

For example, on one of my Windows 7 systems, I store all the files that I download from the Internet in a folder in the root of drive C (C:\Downloads). The reason I do so, is to prevent those files from being included in my regular backups. I don't want to waste space on my backup drive with files that I can easily download at anytime. However, I do want to be able to search those files, so I include the C:\Download folder as a location to be indexed.

File Types

Back on the Indexing Options dialog box, if you click the Advanced button and when the Advanced Option dialog box appears, you select the File Types tab, you'll see a complete list of all the file types that Windows 7's Search Index keeps track of, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

On the File Types tab, you can find a list of all the file types that Windows 7's Search Index tracks.

In addition to adding and removing file types from the index, you can also configure how file types are indexed.

As you scroll through the list, you'll see that each file extension is either indexed by Properties or by Properties and File Contents. For example, Word document files (.docx) are indexed by Properties and File Contents while Word template files (.dotx) are only indexed by Properties.

If you use a file extension that isn't included in the index, you can add it by typing a file extension in the Add new extension to list box and then clicking Add. If you want to remove a file extension from the index, just clear its check box

Now before I move on, I want to point out that there are more than 100 different Properties (a.k.a. metadata) that Windows 7's Search Index can keep track of for each file. This includes everything from the basics such as the time and date stamp or file size to more specific things such as the model of the camera used to take a picture (.jpg) or title of the Album a song is on (.mp3).

Index Settings

Back on the Advanced Option dialog box, if you select the Index Settings tab, you'll find three panels that contain some helpful options, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

The Index Settings tab has three panels that contain some helpful options.

File Settings

In the File Settings panel you can configure the Search Index to be able to index encrypted files, if you have and are using file encryption. However, keep in mind that if you do enable the indexing of encrypted files you really should also be using Windows BitLocker or another encryption program in order to ensure the security of your encrypted files. In fact, if you don't, Windows 7 will display the yellow coded security warning shown in Figure F. (Note that if you continue, the index will have to be rebuilt from scratch, which can take a while.)

Figure F

Before you can enable the indexing of encrypted files, Windows 7 displays this warning.

If you use diacritics (such as à or ç), you can configure the index to recognize words that use them and treat them differently from similarly spelled words. (Again, if you select this check box, the index will have to be rebuilt from scratch, which can take a while.)

Troubleshooting

In the Troubleshooting panel, you can click the Rebuild button to delete the existing index and rebuild it from scratch. While this will take a while to complete, it will definitely fix a corrupt or otherwise non functioning index.

On the other hand, if you want to explore other options first, you can launch the Search and Indexing Troubleshooter, shown in Figure G, and let it guide you through various troubleshooting operations.

Figure G

The Search and Indexing Troubleshooter will walk you through various troubleshooting operations.

Index location

In the Indexing location panel, you can of course change the location where the actual index file is located. For instance, you might want to free up some space on your hard disk by moving the index file to another location. To do so, you would just click the Select now button, which brings up a standard Browse for Folder dialog box.

What's your take?

Are you enjoying the benefits of Windows 7's improved Search feature? Will you tweak the Search Index using any of these techniques? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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