When you search for a file on a Mac using Spotlight, Finder, or another window with a search field, the default search range is This Mac. Using the This Mac option means the search is performed on the internal hard drive and all connected drives, such as external hard drives, USB thumb drives, and even network-connected drives.

While handy if you’re searching for a fairly unique text string and have no idea where the file could be, the results from such a broad search can be overwhelming or difficult to sort through, especially when searching for a common term or a string of characters used in a system file. Luckily, you can easily change the default search location for Apple macOS Finder.

How to search the current folder or drive with macOS Finder

If you know the file’s general location, such as the drive on which it’s stored or the folder where it’s located, searching just that location can dramatically narrow the results and help you find the file more quickly. To change the default search location:

  1. Open Finder Preferences (Figure A).
  2. Select Advanced (Figure B).
  3. Under When Performing A Search select Search The Current Folder.
  4. Close the Finder Preferences window.

Figure A

You can open Finder Preferences by clicking anywhere on the desktop and then clicking Finder on the menu bar.

Figure B

Click Advanced on the Finder Preferences windows to change the default search location.

Instead of searching everywhere on your Mac for a file, Finder or other windows with the search field will search the current folder (Figure C).

Figure C

How to narrow macOS Finder search results

If you need to further refine your the search results in a Finder window, you can use also the following tricks:

  • Add criteria to your search, such as Kind, Last Opened Date, and Name, on the search result Finder window (Figure D).

Figure D

Using additional criteria to narrow macOS Finder search results.
TechRepublic/Bill Detwiler
  • Include keywords in the original search string (example: macOS tips kind:document) (Figure E).

Figure E

Using keywords to narrow macOS Finder search results.
TechRepublic/Bill Detwiler
  • Use a Boolean operator as part of your query such as AND, OR, and NOT or a minus sign (-) for AND NOT (example: macOS tips kind:document OR kind:image) (Figure F).

Figure F

Using Boolean operators to narrow macOS Finder search results.

Get the latest on Apple, macOS, and more helpful Mac and iPhone tips and tricks

Apple announced macOS Big Sur at its 2020 all-virtual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). With Big Sur, Apple is shifting from the OS X/macOS 10.x codebase to a new 11.0 codebase and introducing a host of new functionality. TechRepublic’s macOS Big Sur: A cheat sheet PDF download will give you “everything you need to know, including features, requirements, and where to get the newest release in the macOS line.”

To get more Apple news, iPhone tips, and Mac how-tos like this one, you can subscribe to our Apple Weekly newsletter, linked to below, or check out our Apple topic page. There you’ll find links to helpful resources like our Apple iPadOS: A cheat sheet and Apple iOS 14: A cheat sheet, expert analysis on developments like Apple’s decision to use in-house designed ARM-based CPUs instead of Intel chips in its new Macs, and step-by-step tips like How to share your iPhone or iPad screen during a Zoom meeting and How to secure your iOS Lock Screen.