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It seems that Windows Search is having trouble when I specify a question mark character as the content that I'm searching for within my files.

I've tried:

  • content:?
  • content:"?"
  • content:"\?"
  • content:\?
  • content:%3f
  • content:"%3f"
  • content:\3f
  • content:"\3f"
  • content:\00\00\00\3F

but each of these yield no results when I do indeed have files that contain ? within the scope of the search. If I instead search for something like content:happy it will indeed find all files with the phrase "happy" within those same files.

My assumption is that Windows Search is treating some characters such as the question mark as a special character likely for the purpose of wild card expressions. To test this theory I've also searched for files containing an asterisk * and indeed I have the same issue as when searching for content of question mark. What I'm wondering is whether there is any way to get a search to work where I can search for a literal expression without any type of wildcard matching or at least a way to escape the special characters within the expression.

By the way I'm using Windows 7 Enterprise.

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

Try ~=? where ? is the character you are searching for.

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Excellent! content:~=? worked beautify! Out of curiosity where did you get the idea of using ~= as an escape sequence? – jpierson Oct 21 '11 at 16:04
I'm trying to search for "my_string". It seems to be treating the underscore as a space or a comma or something, and showing me everything that contains either "my" or "string" or both. – Shavais Aug 5 '14 at 23:02
How will I be able to use this to search for files within a file? For example: content:"reports.asp" – John Odom Nov 24 '14 at 16:18

It looks like Microsoft has removed the ability to search just for special characters. In order to search with special characters there must also be a word included with it (Example: Who?). Again, there must be a word, not just a wildcard, with the special character. That is because Windows Search ignores the special characters with the exception of the wildcards?. Per this indows Search Tips and Tricks page, the only wildcards that available within Windows Search are asterisk and question mark. However, it seems that the only one that works is the asterisk. Even when trying its example, s?n, found on the same page page.

Here is quote from a post on Vista64's Forums: (Source)

Actually, the problem is a little different. Search is now word-based, not character based. Brackets are considered punctuation by Search, not wild cards. To get meaningful results, queries that contain punctuation must also contain words, a phrase, or a wild card. For example, If I search on this:[*] or this: {*} I get a bunch of files that have a phrase in their file name within brackets, just as I would expect. So give that a try.

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Unfortunately I don't think your explanation is entirely accurate. When I searched for content:"bark?" I match documents that have both bark? and just bark within them. So it looks like the punctuation is just plain ignored. – jpierson Dec 2 '10 at 22:03
Sir, right. That is what I said. From my answer: That is because Windows Search ignores the special characters with the exception of the wildcard. – SgtOJ Dec 3 '10 at 1:20
... I didn't just tailor my answer to your issue with just question mark. Instead my answer explains what is going on will all special characters with the exception of the wildcard character -- the asterisk. Please note, I'm not saying there is one wildcard but that I have found that only the asterisk works as the wildcard. Please left me know if you find another so that my answer can be updated. – SgtOJ Dec 3 '10 at 1:34

In Windows 7 I had a similar problem only I was trying to search for keywords surrounded by square brackets ("[" was also ignored similar to "?", "(", "]", etc.) within the filename. What worked for me is the following:

filename:"*[Cumbia]*" OR filename:"*[Reggae]*"

This would find all my songs which I tagged with the text string [Cumbia] or [Reggae] within the filenames. What I would then do is select all the files and then right click on the selection to invoke the Sendto feature to send all the songs to my music player program (Winamp in this case).

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I do not use Windows Search, but I wonder if it supports escape characters as described in this Microsoft article :

Using the search Protocol

If it does, you might try using %3f for the question mark.

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I tried your suggestion and searched for %3f, content:%3f, and content:"%3f" but to no avail. I also tried combinations with wild cards but still no luck. Thanks for the suggestion anyways. – jpierson Dec 2 '10 at 21:45

Try content: ~="?" or extension: ~="?" or whatever special character you are looking for in the quotations, etc.

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I've only found a few resources on the search syntax so I'll begin to list them here in hopes of finding one that may provide a solution or at least a workaround for my problem.

Windows Search: Tips and Tricks

Windows Search: Advanced Search Options

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Just use powershell to search file contents:

Get-ChildItem -recurse | Select-String -pattern "dummy" | group path | select name

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