OS X “Spotlight” from a shell

Ever lost something on your Macintosh that you’re sure you saved someplace? Can’t find a particular email on a subject, but you remember a keyword that might help locate that email? Spotlight is OS X’s built-in operating system function that allows you to search an index of the contents of your computer, and quickly find that old email, or a file, based on a keyword search. To invoke the GUI version, you need only hit the Command-Space Bar combination, and up pops the dialog box waiting for your keyword.

But you can also do this from a shell, from within Terminal.app. While the usefulness of that feature on a computer you’re currently using might not be that great, it does come in handy if you have multiple Macintosh machines, and you’re sure the file is on your other computer, but you really don’t feel like getting up and walking over to it to check. Simple ssh over to that machine, and issue the following command:

mdfind -name <whateverYou’reSearchingFor>

An example; I wanted to look at my rsync script that I use to make sure my entire music library gets copied to multiple hosts inside my network, but that would have required walking to the office to use Spotlight there in order to search for “rsync.functional”, since I knew that was the name of the script. Instead, I did the following:

tritium:~ mns$ ssh radium.local

Last login: Fri Oct 30 14:29:28 2015 from [tritium.local]

radium:~ mns$ mdfind -name rsync.functional


Now, if I had only known that the file had “rsync” in the title, but didn’t know the whole title, I could have used ‘mdfind -name rsync‘, and it would have returned a larger list of files containing “rsync” in their filenames. There are also a host of other command line options for the mdfind utility, which, if you’re curious, can be seen by taking a look at the man page for it. Issue “man mdfind“, and it will explain a great deal more.


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