Windows

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.

17 comments
Egust
Egust

This information is great, thanks!

Can anybody anyhow advice how to prioritze a path for indexing?
 Maybe there is a nice tool?

Whith such a prioritization one would not have to wait for the completion of the whole index during the work in a specific subdirectory. :=)

BR
Edgar


marpee
marpee

Tought you knew what you're talking about :( ? "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) ".

the-one, a CPA
the-one, a CPA

I've never been able to get the indexing to work, all it ever says is " index not running" and rebuilding the index does not work either. Help...tried everything.

pcunite
pcunite

Glad I am not alone in my feelings about Windows 7 search. I was shocked really at first. I've been using FileSearchEX now and really like it. Then I uninstalled Win 7 search so that the indexing service does not run. Nice and fast system.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

I'm no fan of Windows Search, and concur with those who suggest that Everything also be used. It really would be appreciated if Microsoft would give us back the simple search results screen used in XP, or at least make it a user option. Since I most often want to locate files by name, rather than by contents, I make two changes to the default configuration. First, I index entire drives. Second, using Windows Explorer, on the Properties page for each drive I uncheck the box "Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed...."

seth.priddis
seth.priddis

I am usually searching for a specific file in an unknown location. It is always in a place that is not indexed so Search does not find it. I am sure this is great for someone who forgot where they put their new mp3 files or pictures and they store them in default locations. But for anyone that works on computers Search is useless.

fkowal
fkowal

I understand the tweaking of the search filters, I have done it myself. However also obtain the "Everythign" search program by VOIDTools at http://www.voidtools.com, I think you will find yourself using it way more than the windows search function. P.S it can search multi-drives.

RBrown72002
RBrown72002

I thought the search command was broken. I have searched for files and not found them. I go to the folder where the file exists, and searched starting there, and half the time it cannot find the file I can see on the screen. How much time has this "advanced" search wasted by not searching everywhere?

isaac.yassin
isaac.yassin

I tweaked it a lot but still prefers Everything over it. Isaac

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you modified the Windows Search Index configuration to increase performance on your systems?

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

"But for anyone that works on computers Search is useless." Please present your credentials as GOD, since that is the only way you could base your statement on actual facts rather than your own, grossly inflated opinion of your opinion.

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

Thanks for the suggestion. I actually like Windows search tools and have relied on them since they came out for XP. However, I don't like the fact that Win7 will not index a network drive unless it's made into off-line files. I'll give "Everythign" a try.

tebbec
tebbec

In Windows XP if I type a*.mp3 in the search box it returns all mp3s that START with the letter a. In Windows 7 when I do this it shows every mp3 file that contains the letter a. For example bad.mp3 would show up in the Windows 7 search because it contains an a but would not show in the windows XP search because it doesn't start with a. How do I tell windows 7 to only return results that start with that letter?

memullen
memullen

This is an excellent tool for somebody. If you have exactly the same computer usage as the guy that designed it, it probably works fine. I find it a complete waste of time. It isn't _my_ job to tweak the search engine to find what I want. It is the search engine's designer's job to make a tool I can use easily.

khorvath
khorvath

Type filename:a*.mp3 into the searcvh box and you get what you want. I admit, the usage of the search service is not much intuitive, but for a not IT user, who do not know things like "file attributes" is enough to type the text he or she is looking for. I know, that for IT gusy it is not usual to RTFM, but doing sime discovery on the search ui and on the Internet can give the required information.