I love Spotlight, the search technology built into Mac OS 10.4 and 10.5. I find it easy to use and speedy (especially on 10.5 Leopard). The Spotlight search field in the menu bar usually provides almost instant results for finding files, folders, and documents, along with emails, contacts, iCal calendars, items in System Preferences, applications, and even dictionary definitions.

Recently, however, I noticed that Spotlight wasn’t finding files I knew existed on my Mac’s hard drive, and was running slower than expected. After making Spotlight reindex the drive, it’s now back to full speed. Since it’s not obvious how to make Spotlight reindex a drive; here’s how to do it:

  • From the Apple menu, choose System Preferences.
  • Click Spotlight.
  • Click the Privacy tab.
  • Drag a folder or even an entire volume (your hard drive) to the list.
  • Remove the item or volume you just added.
  • Spotlight will reindex the contents of the item you initially dragged to the list.

You can also do this to index any number of external hard drives. If you have a large-capacity hard drive, this may take up to a couple of hours.

You can tell that Spotlight is indexing a drive when a little dot is pulsing in the middle of the Spotlight magnifying glass icon. Also, when you click on the Spotlight icon, it will show a progress bar instead of results. Note that you can continue to use your computer as usual while Spotlight reindexed its hard drive.

Note that many Mac maintenance and utility programs such as Onyx will also force Spotlight to reindex a drive.

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