Windows 8.1 Search Not Finding Your Files? Here's a Fix

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Universal Search

Windows 8.1's universal search feature pulls in results from the Web, your contacts list, content apps such as Wikipedia and even your email messages. Unfortunately, the search function doesn't always find files that are right there on your hard drive. By default, the operating system only searches for files that live under the \Users directory on your system drive (C:\Users for most), which includes your desktop and library folders.  So, if you store all your MP3s in a folder named C:\mp3s, you like to keep your videos on your E drive or you just dragged a Word doc over to the root, none of those files will turn up in Windows 8.1's universal search.

Here are a couple of ways to make search find your files in Windows 8.1.

Add to Your Index

Windows 8.1's universal search only shows files from folders it has indexed. One way to expand its reach is to add folders or whole drives to the index. However, the process of indexing your files and keeping that index up-to-date eats up system resources so, if you set Windows to index your entire system drive, you may slow the computer down. You're better off choosing which folders you want indexed. Here's how to add more folders or whole drives to your index.

MORE: How to Access SkyDrive Files Offline in Windows 8.1

1. Open the Windows Control Panel. You can get there by either by hitting Windows + X and selecting Control Panel or by searching for Control Panel.

Control Panel

2. Click Indexing Options. If you don't see an icon for Indexing Options select Large Icons from the View by menu.

Click Indexing Options

 3. Click Modify.

Click Modify

4. Select the folders you wish to index and Click Ok. The system will index any subfolders beneath them. If you select a whole drive, it will index all folders below the root level.

Select folders

5. Click Close. The system will take a few minutes to add the new locations you added to its index.

 

Click Close

Search From File Explorer

 If you need to search the entire content of a drive or folder that hasn't been indexed, you must use File Explorer in Windows 8.1's desktop mode. Here's how.

MORE: How to Enable Boot to Desktop in Windows 8.1

1. Navigate to the Desktop. You can get to the Windows 8.1 desktop by hitting Windows + D or clicking the desktop tile on the Start screen.

 

Click Desktop

2. Open File Explorer. The shortcut icon is on the taskbar, unless you have moved it.

 

Launch File Explorer

3. Enter a search term in the search box. The search box is located in the upper right corner of the window.

Enter a search term

A list of files and folders that match your search term will appear. 

sample results

Tip: If you want to find all files of a particular type, enter *. before the two to four character extension. For example, enter *.jpg to find all jpegs.

search by extension

 

 

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
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23 comments
  • Roger Says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!
    Finally I have found a way to search my sophisticated filing system using the clumsy Windows OS! Could it be that this will render the Windows 8 OS as useful as Windows 2000?

  • Tony G Says:

    This is superb information but for some reason, my Windows search is as hopeless as ever. Even using File Explorer, in an open folder, it can't find a file I'm actually looking at. It doesn't matter what I type in, Windows can't find anything. I actually gave up with it and I'm going to find a third-party search program instead.

  • Yvonne Says:

    Windows is driving me crazy. I've installed google drive on desktop, it was ok and I can search the files I need in the top right boxes, however the function no longer works after I change window default fonts setting.

    I have reversed the fonts setting procedure and rebuild indexing options, yet this doesn't help to fix search function. I can't even search any items on this pc.

    What can I do now?

  • Doc_Ben Says:

    Back to Windows 8.1 after a worthless venture into Windows 10.
    1.) How come I can Search attached flash drives but not (permanently) attached external drives (1 TB)?
    2.) How come Windows Explorer is so slow yet it ignores some important files (.doc, .zip, etc)?

  • Kurt Sanger Says:

    Does not work for me using Win 8.1. Can not find c:\Program Files\eclipse\eclipse.ini when searching C: for eclipse.ini. Therefor I can not figure out if there are multiple places where eclipse put an ini file and that might account for why Java Development tools disappeared. Guess Win 8.1 shouldn't be used for developing code.

    When I change indexing to index C: it still excludes appdata and data.

    I suppose I could share my hard drive and search using Ubuntu from my office. I don't want a tablet O.S. for my laptop. MS are you listening? This shouldn't be this difficult. What does M.S. do to find files?

  • PinkFluid Says:

    I had the same issue for ages and it was driving me mad (Windows 8 and 8.1). I had repointed my Libraries (Documents, Pictures, Videos etc.) to a separate drive and since then the search didn't work. Adding the SYSTEM privilege to the folders+files via the Properties->Security tab fixed the issue for me. See http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/improve-windows-searches-using-index-faq#1TC=windows-7

  • nigel.ks Says:

    Had the same problem with my windows searches in windows 8.1, tried the above solutions which did not work for me.

    Downloaded a third-party search engine called ava find as an alternative, which seems to make windows respond to all the searches at the current moment. After installing restore settings back to standard settings and within a short space of time the windows search feature should get to working again

  • charles Says:

    Same problem as dee explorer does not find files that are there. I turned off indexing on that folder and bingo the files are found.

  • dee Says:

    The explorer file search does not work in 8.1. I navigate to a folder in the pictures folder. I can see the file sitting there. You go back to the root and do a search for it, and nothing comes up. Totally does not work at all.

  • Ar Says:

    The same problems. No wish to install win 10. Very bad expectations. Don't want to spend my time to tune for my business a product which company dedicated for entertainment. Bye Bye Microsoft

  • Hristo Sredev Says:

    My Local Disc D: doesn't appear in indexing locations options on Windows 10. Any idea what is the reason and how can i fix it?

  • wow Says:

    the reason the search function doesnt work on computers lately is so you will be forced to save your data into the cloud to get accurate searches. the evil asshole computer industry elite want to phase out hard drives so they can data mine and track your ass from the cloud forever. the cheap assholes want to make you buy computers without data storage or proper search function to save on manufacturing costs as well as track everything and everyone. sad but true. dont let it happen.

  • i am right Says:

    the reason the search function doesnt work on computers lately is so you will be forced to save your data into the cloud to get accurate searches. the evil asshole computer industry elite want to phase out hard drives so they can data mine and track your ass from the cloud forever. the cheap assholes want to make you buy computers without data storage or proper search function to save on manufacturing costs as well as track everything and everyone. sad but true. dont let it happen.

  • Thomas Brown Says:

    Avram,

    Windows 8.1 Search from File Explorer does not search, e.g., D:\user\Avram\Documents if the Location attribute of C:\user\Avram\Documents is D:\user\Avram\Documents, even D:\user\Avram\Documents is indexed. Instead it only finds files that are in or added to C:\user\Avram\Documents. This is simply a bug that should have been fixed before it was ever released.

  • Humble Maha Says:

    Many thanks for the search indexing trick: Worked like magic!

  • Brian Says:

    How can I replace with useless win8.1 File Explorer. It cant even find the files in the directory I have open at the moment.

    It's an evil joke.
    Indexing doesn't fix it, and if it slows the computer down, it doubly useless. what were they thinking?

    WIN xp is better than this junk.

  • Jane Highwater Says:

    And this is an advancement over Windows 7's beautifully simple, search methodology? What were they thinking?

  • Ronald Says:

    I have the same problem, I will try & let you know.

  • Phil James Says:

    Windows 8.0 search: brilliant!

    Windows 8.1 search: useless!

    Now there isn't a Start menu, Search is supposed to be the way to access most Windows functions. But it just doesn't work.

    It can find 2,000 things from around the world that I don't want, but not the file I saved 2 minutes ago.

  • Martin Birk Says:

    The search function is bugged. Evn though the folder is indexed, search doesn't give the correct result of a simple search. I have a file called IMG_0013.JPG.
    The following searches return nothing:
    13
    *13*
    *13*.JPG
    I*13*
    *G*13*
    *G_*013*

    This returns OTHER image files, each one with names like "IMG_013*", but NOT IMG_0013.JPG:
    *013*
    I*013*
    IMG_*013*

    So what's going on??

  • Casey Says:

    what the fuck. Why does everything with windows have to be so fucking inconvenient now. Hey remember when you could search your computer for a file? Well now you have to go through steps to do that. Why would I want to go through all these stupid steps to do somegthing that should be easy? I hope windows fails as a company .

  • Firoze Says:

    Thumbs up for Fake Plastic Trees!

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