One of the biggest advantages of digitizing notes, if you’re a student, is that you can search for text within Word documents and find where you last saw a phrase that you now need to consolidate with your new lesson. We’ve seen how to use DocFetcher to search within PDF files, but if you already have PDF-XChange Viewer, Foxit or even Adobe Reader, did you know you can already search for text inside PDF documents without additional programs? I didn’t know this so I thought it might be something good to share.
This might be useful too, if you own a large collection of e-books in PDF. I know I have a few copies of the free manuals that MakeUseOf distributes, plus a lot of PDFs for each of my classes so knowing my preferred PDF viewer can do this is tremendously useful.
PDF-XChange Viewer [Windows]
Even with its free version, PDF-XChange Viewer has pretty mind-blowing features. I’ve been using it for quite some time and absolutely adore the fact that you can customize keyboard shortcuts for any function. However, I didn’t realize you could use it to search entire directories until after searching all over the web for a PDF document search tool. It turns out the Search feature in PDF-XChange is pretty powerful and fast. You can either go to the Edit menu > Search or go to the drop-down menu for the Find feature.
You’ll see a sidebar on the right of the open PDF file. What is really neat is that if you have several PDF documents open in tabs, you can search through all of those open files, or only the current PDF. You can also specify a directory. In the Options buttons, you can also choose to search bookmarks and comments.
In the search term box, you can also use the drop-down menu to navigate to the Advanced Search function, which you can use to exclude words, include exact phrases, etc. Once you’ve completed the search, any result you click on will open up the respective file with the search term highlighted.
Adobe Reader [Cross-Platform]
We have seen many alternatives to Adobe Reader, including a portable version, but if you’d rather stick with Adobe’s product, you can easily use the Full Reader Search (which you can invoke by pressing Ctrl + Shift + F) from the Find function’s drop-down menu or by heading to Edit > Search.
Like PDF-XChange, you will then able to search for text inside PDF documents in your specified locations.
After the search has returned results, clicking on any of them will open up the respective PDF file with the search term highlighted on the correct page.
If you want to preview or open up the results from different PDF files though, Adobe Reader will open them in separate windows since it doesn’t support tabbed documents.
What’s very impressive though, even more so than my beloved PDF-XChange Viewer’s Advanced Search, which has plenty for very specific searches.
Foxit Reader [Windows, Linux]
Foxit Reader is extremely popular! This lightweight viewer also has the Search function in the Find drop-down menu and under the Tools menu.
Similar to PDF-XChange, you’ll also see a sidebar on the right of the open PDF file, you can specify whether to look in the current document or in a specific directory, and the functionality will be really fast.
Unlike PDF-XChange however, you aren’t offered the option to search in all currently open PDF files.
It’s worth mentioning that if you don’t have any of these readers but you’re on a Windows computer, you can actually use Windows Desktop Search (the one you get from pressing Win key + F) to look for text within PDF files with the help of the Adobe PDF iFilter for 64-bit and 32-bit systems. If you do have the latest version of Adobe Reader, it will have bundled the iFilter add-in so you can use Windows Search to index PDF file contents without any problems. PDF-XChange enthusiasts also have the option to use the iFilter add-in.
If all you’re looking for is a small utility that’s fast and can search inside files, PDF or not, check out FileHound (here’s the portable version). I haven’t tried searching within scanned PDF files, but if anyone has, please share your experience in the comments.
What do you use to search for text inside PDF files?
Photo credit: Scott Copeland