How to effectively use the search tool in Slack

If searching for things within Slack workspaces is a bit of a challenge, you'll find that keywords are your friend.

How to effectively use the search tool in Slack

Slack is no slacker when it comes to features. With this team collaboration and communication tool, you are empowered to do much more than you probably assume. But one issue that trips up a lot of users is the search feature. 

Some go about searching Slack in the same way they would run a Google search or a search for a document on their computer. With Slack, however, things get a bit more complicated. Why? Because you have numerous users, with a vast amount of data, communicated via who knows how many threads. So searching for just about anything can either get a bit daunting, or wind up with less-than-effective results.

So how do you run a Slack search without losing your mind (or your patience)?

Let's see if I can help you with that.

SEE: 10 Slack tips: A how-to guide (TechRepublic download)

How to use auto populate in Slack

The single most important thing you can take away from this is that Slack does a really good job of guiding you through the search process. One feature found on the desktop version of Slack (which is not on the mobile app) is the auto populate tool. Let's say you know you're searching for something a particular user mentioned in a thread. Click on the Search bar and type from. The Slack search drop-down will automatically populate with possibilities (Figure A).

Figure A


Searching using the from keyword in Slack. 

You can do this with any of Slack's search keywords (more on this in a bit). 

For instance, say you see the originator of what you're looking for. Click that user (or app, as the search feature includes installed apps) and it will populate the search bar with:


Where USERNAME is the user in question.

Now, say you know what you're searching for was said the previous week. You could type after and then either select from the auto populated items or type the date of the previous Monday, like so:


Follow that by typing the keyword before to give the date range its last possible date, like so:


At this point, our search looks like this:

from @USERNAME after:03-02-2020 before:03-09-2020

In the desktop version of Slack you will also see a new pane in the right, which includes filters (Figure B). 

Figure B


The Slack search filter pane.

Click more to reveal the channel/direct message filter. There you can type other usernames or a channel, to further narrow your results.

Remember, that auto populate feature is your friend. Lean on it and it will not let you down. Unfortunately, when using the mobile version, the auto populate isn't nearly as robust. It will give you options for certain keywords or triggers (such as @), but mostly you're going to have to type everything out manually.

How to find a file in Slack

What if you're looking for a file uploaded by a specific user to a specific channel between a specific date range? Type the following in the search bar:

from @USERNAME in: #CHANNELNAME after:03-02-2020 before:03-09-2020

Where USERNAME is the name of the user and CHANNELNAME is the name of the channel.

Now you've narrowed down the parameters of your search even further. Once you've done this, click on the Files tab and the file you're looking for should be among those listed--or the only one listed (Figure C).

Figure C


We've found our file in Slack. 

Those same tabs allow you to locate search results in Messages, Channels, and People. 

Remember these Slack search keywords and tips

The most important thing to remember is the search keywords you'll use the most:

  • in - channel

  • from - user

  • after - initial date in range

  • before - final data in rage

If you open the search bar and type any of those keywords, Slack will auto populate based on the workspace you are in, so you'll only see results germane to where you're working. There are other keywords, such as:

  • during - month or year (as in during: March)

  • for - will search for a string of characters (as in for: open source

  • dm - will search within your direct messages (as in dm@USERNAME Where USERNAME is a specific user).

  • has - will search for message that include things like stars and links (as in has:link)

The crucial thing to know about searching in Slack is that keywords will make the task exponentially easier; in fact, you're not going to get very far without them. With Slack keywords, you can get very specific in your search strings, such as:

from:@Jack Wallen in:#instructors after:03-02-2020 before:03-10-2020 has:star

This search would show anything sent by Jack Wallen between March 2, 2020 and March 10, 2020 that has been starred.

Yes, Slack does make it a bit challenging for users at first. But once you get accustomed to using the keywords in your search string and the auto populate tool, you'll find just about anything you need within your Slack workspaces. 

Also see


Image: Slack

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....