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I have a folder containing files like

... etc.

This is what happens when I search in Windows Explorer:

  • radio: all files found
  • radio*: all files found
  • *button: all files found
  • *radiobutton*: all files found
  • radiobutton*: no results
  • radiobutton: no results
  • radio*button: all files found

So what the hell does the * precisely do? Is there some documentation on this?

And why does radio and radio*button work as a search term, but radiobutton not?


I know that * is usually supposed to be a wildcard matching 0 or more characters. But obviously it doesn't in this case.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

The Windows Help claims the behavior is the same as it is everywhere else in Windows:
enter image description here

But other users also noticed something is weird. Maybe it's a bug?

Or maybe * just means one or more.

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I'll accept this answer mainly for the "it's a bug?" part ;) Explorer 7 really sucks. – user123444555621 May 23 '12 at 10:43
I am having strange symptoms with * too, thanks for the question! – Horst Walter Dec 16 '12 at 17:29

* and ? are called wildcards, and they originate from DOS. Here is a page explaining what they are for.

* matches any combination of characters and any number of characters (even none)

? matches exactly one character

I tried the searches on my machine, and I get these results:

  • radio: all files found
  • radio*: all files found
  • *button: all files found
  • *radiobutton*: all files found
  • radiobutton*: all files found
  • radiobutton: all files found
  • radio*button: all files found

enter image description here

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Sure I did. One of your questions was "what does * precisely do? is there some documentation on this?". I pointed you to a page explaining what it does. – Ove May 16 '12 at 11:23
Right, that's what it's supposed to do, but as I tried to make clear in my question, it's not how it works in Explorer Search. – user123444555621 May 16 '12 at 11:23
I tried it now on my machine, and I get results for all the searches you wrote in your question. – Ove May 16 '12 at 11:26
it was not "originate"d from DOS (MS-DOS) but from math.also Unix shells were using it years before existence of DOS. – Maxwell S. May 16 '12 at 14:48
Just to confirm Ove's experience, on a newly created non-indexed folder in Win7 x64, I see the exact same results as him (i.e. all files found for all the search terms). – Karan Jan 10 '13 at 18:05

I think we all established that * has always been the wildcard for 0 or more (or .* if you are using regular expressions). This is exactly what it is supposed to do, but there have been many times when this has not happened correcly for myself as well. I have found after restarting that the same searches worked correctly. This is probably due to the indexing service, as there have been reported problems with it and there's bound to be mistakes esp. at the rate in which M$ kicks out service packs and security updates.. My suggestion would be, stick with cmd.exe, thats what I do, then I don't have to worry about whether or not files are being left behind. I tried to reproduce your error but was unsuccessful, you might want to check the file attributes of the two files to make sure they arent marked system (which you wont see in the properties dialog) or hidden or have some other property preventing search from seeing it. But like i said, i cant seem to reproduce it.

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+1 for the thoughts on the indexing service – user123444555621 May 23 '12 at 10:43

Documentation for what * does from microsofts website. The document is for windows xp but it is the same in all version of windows, except maybe windows bob(not sure about that one).

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The * normally means all. So for example, if I seached *.png it would search for all .png files.

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How would you explain the symptoms of the OP then? – soandos Jul 15 '12 at 19:48
What is OP....? – Kevin Dodd Jul 29 '12 at 19:04
It means the "Original poster" – soandos Jul 29 '12 at 19:08
Oh i see, i'm not too sure. Maybe it works in different ways depending on where you put the asterix. – Kevin Dodd Jul 31 '12 at 9:33

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