Sign up ×
Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Is there a way to search through all the text files in a folder (and subfolders) for a specific string or bit of text in Mac OS X?

share|improve this question

6 Answers 6

up vote 10 down vote accepted

You can't do this from the spotlight icon in the menu bar. But you can do it with spotlight:

  1. Navigate to the folder in the finder.

  2. Type your search in the search bar on the top right of the folder.

  3. There is a line above the results that says:

Search: This Mac "Your Folder Name"

Click on the name of your folder to restrict the search to the folder instead of the whole computer, which is what the default selection "This Mac" does.

Then click the gear icon, choose show search criteria, and change the kind to text files.

share|improve this answer
unfortunately this seems to do OR not AND, and some symbols are stripped out of queries I think. – Aram Kocharyan Apr 20 '12 at 0:50
do you need to index your folder first ? – jokoon Jun 28 '14 at 13:30
no, as long as the folder is normally indexed by spotlight – ridogi Jun 30 '14 at 19:41
@Aram Did you figure out how to do an "AND"? I'm searching for "My cat mittens" and it's finding everything that has "My" or "cat" or "mittens" and NOT my exact phrase. EDIT - add quotes around it. – 1.21 gigawatts Nov 12 at 7:04

If you prefer the command line,

grep "my string of text" -R .

You'll need to be (or get) familiar with grep. Read man grep for more info.

share|improve this answer
In my .profile I created this helper : function findtext() { grep -ri "$1" . }. I use it like this : findtext toto where I want to start to search. – Maxence Sep 17 at 15:46

In the upper right hand corner of your screen: Spotlight

BBEdit supports great search, too, in files and folders.

share|improve this answer
BBEdit is now TextWrangler and it continues to include excellent multi-file grep search. – Phil yesterday

Very powerful and fast

mdfind "text to find"

Description: Mac Dev Centre - The Power of mdfind

share|improve this answer
mdfind 'kMDItemTextContent="*text*"c' -onlyin ~/Notes/

c ignores case. See this answer for an overview of the query format and other attributes.

grep -F what? -l -r ~/Notes --include *.txt

-F searches for fixed strings instead of regex. -l only prints the names of the matching files.

share|improve this answer

Open Finder

enter image description here

Navigate to the folder you want to search if you have one.

enter image description here

Enter the term you want to search in the search bar in the upper right hand corner. You may need to stretch out the window to see it.

enter image description here

After you start typing or press enter you'll see a section below the search box to the left that says,

Search: This Mac "Your Folder" Shared

If you want to search your whole computer click on "This Mac". Otherwise click on the folder name next to it. It may already be selected.

enter image description here

To the right side of those options is a "Save" button with a plus sign next to it.

enter image description here

Click the plus sign. You'll see two drop down lists. In the first one select "Kind". In the second choose "Any" or "Text .

enter image description here

Choosing "Any" may find more matches, while "Text" will find files Mac OS X determines fall under the category "Text".

The number of search results will appear at the footer if the footer is shown.

FYI I've noticed that sometimes it takes time to do a search and sometimes there is no indication Finder is doing anything. I wouldn't wait too long but if you're searching a small folder it should be very quick. If searching your Mac it may take up to a minute or more.

Nota bene: To find an exact phrase enclose it in quotes.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.