Can’t Find Mac Apps in Spotlight? Here’s the Fix

Ben Stegner 04-08-2017

Spotlight is a basic feature of macOS, but it’s so powerful. It’s one of the quickest ways to find a lost file How to Find Lost Files on Mac OS X We've all been there: you finish working on a document, save it, close the window, and... where'd it go? Read More , can open any application in an instant, and even packs extra features like a dictionary and calculator. But sometimes, Spotlight won’t pick up applications correctly on your Mac.


If you’re searching for an installed app and only receiving files in your search results, these two fixes will rebuild Spotlight and correct your problem 11 Quick Fixes for Common Mac Problems and Quirks Did you know many of the common Mac issues and quirks that users report can be fixed simply by changing a few settings? Read More .

Method 1: Rebuild the Spotlight Index

The first method involves rebuilding the Spotlight index through the Terminal. Even if you’re not used to text-based commands, it’s pretty simple to perform. Since Spotlight search isn’t working, you can instead open a Terminal window by opening Launchpad. Visit the Other folder and click the Terminal entry.

Now, paste the following commands into the Terminal window, one at a time.

First, turn off Spotlight:

sudo mdutil -a -i off

Next, unload the metadata file that controls Spotlight’s index:

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

The following command re-loads the index:

sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

Finally, turn Spotlight back on:

sudo mdutil -a -i on

After a few minutes to rebuild the index, Spotlight should be functioning as normal.

Method 2: Re-Add Hard Drive to Spotlight

If it’s not, or you’d rather not use the Terminal, here’s another method you can use to reset the index.

Open the Apple Menu and select System Preferences. Choose the Spotlight entry and switch to the Privacy tab. Click the Plus (+) icon at the bottom of the list to add an entry to exclude from Spotlight. This will pop open a Finder window.

Use the shortcut Command + Shift + C to reveal your list of hard drives. You probably just have one — Macintosh HD. Click it, then hit the Choose button. If you have multiple drives, hold Command and click all of them.

Mac Spotlight

Once you press Choose, you’ll see a warning. Accept it, then just press the Minus (-) button at the bottom of the list to clear the privacy setting. This will force your Spotlight index to rebuild itself, which will take a few minutes. Once that’s done, search will work properly.

Now that you’ve got Spotlight working properly again, check out our tips on using it more effectively Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More .

Did either of these fixes work for you? Be sure to share this fix with your other Mac-owning friends so they don’t get frustrated by this problem!

Image Credit: Kozlik via Shutterstock

Related topics: Spotlight, Troubleshooting.

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  1. Elizabeth Bloom
    November 29, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    The instructions to add commands to Terminal worked like a charm. It came up in Spotlight as soon as I was done. Thank so much! Now I am just left wondering why in the heck that even happened. Oh well.

  2. Elizabeth Bloom
    November 29, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    perfect instructions. Terminal came up immediately in Spotlight when I was done entering the commands. Thanks so much. Now I am just left wondering why it was coming up last time and not today. Oh well. :)

  3. Tod
    October 5, 2018 at 10:41 pm

    I spent weeks trying to fix this but these steps did not help. I'm running High Sierra with APFS Encrypted on my main hard drive. The thing that finally worked for me was to rebuild the database launch services. The source of the solution was this Apple forum message, hope it helps someone else.

    • Jon
      November 6, 2018 at 9:04 pm

      This finally resolved the issue for me, thanks!

  4. Chris
    September 3, 2018 at 7:55 am

    Thanks, worked perfectly!

  5. chern wern
    May 25, 2018 at 2:51 am

    Worked on the first try, thanks! Initially I had upgraded my Whatsapp to the latest version through the appstore, then I spotlight couldn't find it anymore. Worked immediately after trying the fix out. Great stuff.

  6. Scott
    February 17, 2018 at 12:22 am

    Method #1 doesn't work with macOS High Sierra System Integrity enabled. The launchctl unload command will fail.

    To fix this you need to boot into single user mode (hold Command R while restarting), go to the terminal and enter csrutil disable, then restart you Mac. Then you can use launchctl to unload and reload the Spotlight index.

    Make sure Spotlight is working properly and then boot back into single user mode. Go to the terminal again and enter csrutil enable, and restart. We wouldn't want to be running without System Integrity protection, would we?

  7. Davidvb
    August 18, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Or just forget about finder and switch to Tembo instead! It’s truly instant! I don’t understand how they were able to be much faster and stable than spotlight but it is.. give it a spin!

  8. Yusuf Limalia
    August 17, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    Step one worked like a charm!