macOS mdfind examples cheat sheet


mdfind is a command-line interface to the SpotLight search tool on every Apple macOS system. Being a CLI tool, it saves time when searching for stuff in your Mac. Unfortunately, there is a lot of documentation on the topic which is out of date - the examples either do not work or give an error. Otherwise, the tool is not well-documented. Below are few examples for every day usage, tested on the newest versions - Catalina, Big Sur, Monterrey, Ventura.

Find files with a given word in it

Just give the mdfind a word to search for, and it will find it in file/media/applications names, as well as in their contents.

mdfind  mysearchword

Search for a word in file names only, not their contents

Add -name qualifier before the search word.

mdfind -name October

Will find files named: OctoberFest.pdf, inoctober.txt, Red October.mp4

Find a file with multiple keywords in its name

We can specify more than 1 word to look for in the file/app name - the mdfind uses logical AND by default for multiple keywords.

mdfind -name red october

Will find: Red October.mp4, red octoberfest.jpg, but NOT red.pdf or October.mp4.

Limit search to specific file format(s)

You can use kind:file-format to additionally limit results to this file format. Be aware that kind is not always the file extension though. I list the most popular file formats below.

Find file with the red in its name, but only in mp4, .mov etc. files:

mdfind -name red kind:movie

File format

kind term

File format

kind term

jpeg/jpg, png, gif, tiff




mp3, ogg


mp4, mov, mpeg




Email messages




MS Word docs (docx, dot)


The other way to look for file extensions is with the kMDItemFSName metadata value and listing the desired extension after the asterisk.

mdfind "kMDItemFSName == '*.pdf'"

But if you want to look for a specific file name as well, you will have to pipe the command above to grep or alike.

Look up folder names

Using (see table above) kind:folder we can search in folder names only.

Find all folders with the name document in them:

mdfind -name documents kind:folder

Search for an exact match

We can do it in 2 ways. First, wrapping search terms in double and then single quotes:

mdfind -name '"red carpet"'

This will match red carpet.txt, but not red 2 carpet.txt.

The other way to look for an exact match is with the -literal qualifier, which prohibits any other qualifier though.

Find everything having Hat, Red in the name:

mdfind -literal "kMDItemDisplayName == 'Hat, Red'"

Here, kMDItemDisplayName is a metadata field holding the item name for files/folders/etc. Any additional options will be ignored.

Search in specific folder(s) only

We can use -onlyin option to limit the search:

mdfind -name red.txt -onlyin ~/Documents

This will only search in the folder Documents and its subfoldes.

Search by created, modified dates

The date format is your current locale. So, I put dates in the 19/1/2023 format, but if your Mac is set to use 1/19/2023, do so.

Find file named red and created on 19th of January 2023:

mdfind -name red AND created:19/1/2023

The AND is not explicitly needed here, but I put it for reminder yet.

Find file named red modified on 19th of January 2023:

mdfind -name red AND modified:19/1/2023

The date-related searches also understand ranges.

Find files with red in their name modified in the period from the 1st of January 2023, and up to (including) 19th of January 2023:

mdfind -name red modified:01/01/2023-19/1/2023

Same, but created in that period:

mdfind -name red created:01/01/2023-19/1/2023

Find file by their size

We can specify file size as additional search term. This will find files with the red in their names AND of size 0 bytes.

mdfind name:red AND size:0

mdfind name:red AND NOT size:0 will find files named red that are NOT 0 bytes in size.

We can provide ranges for sizes as well. To find files named red of size between 10 and 25 bytes:

mdfind -interpret name:red AND size:\<25 AND size:\>10

The '\' escapes '<' and '>' from the shell interpretation.

Disable Spotlight/mdfind indexing for a specific volume

  • Spotlight (and thus mdfind) stores its index for each hard drive in a hidden directory named .Spotlight-V100 located at the root of each disk. You can list this directory contents with sudo mdutil -L path-to-the-disk* , e.g.

sudo mdutil -L /Volumes/exFAT1Tb

drwxrwxrwx   1    99    99     262144 Jun 27 2021 07:46 Store-V2
-rwxrwxrwx   1    99    99       4246 Jun 13 2022 11:09

drwxrwxrwx   1    99    99     262144 Jun 27 2021 07:46  B332121F-C8CA-4FF1-924A-67FC321C3FFCC/

  • For space savings or privacy concerns, you can turn off indexing of a given volume by running sudo mdutil -i off /Volumes/volume-name, and even erase the existing index with sudo mdutil -E /Volumes/volume-name.


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