I've been having trouble with the MDS process running wild on my MacBook Pro 13". I've read on other support forums indicating that improperly formatted external drives can be an issue, but I have no drives connected. How can this problem be debugged and fixed?

If it helps, I do have a massive Mail archive. I have not turned off the indexing of this archive, because I haven't been able to find a correlation between the two, but I'm considering it.

(This might be normal right after doing an upgrade from 10.5 to 10.6, in which case the Spotlight search index needs to be rebuilt by mds. But in this case it's been a few weeks.)

  • I did a 'sudo killall -9 mdworker' on my wife's macbook and that seems to have solved her disappearing memory problem.
    – copper.hat
    Mar 29, 2014 at 6:10
  • For your information, this typical nightmare of Spotlight still happens on actual Yosemite versions. I can't tell for El Capitan yet.
    – dan
    Apr 18, 2016 at 9:11

3 Answers 3


To see what mds and more importantly its child mdworker is actually doing - use fs_usage to log what files it is opening:

sudo fs_usage -w -f filesys mdworker

Though there is a lot of unintelligable stuff in there, it does tell you when it opens a file to begin reading from it. Copying a PDF into my filesystem shows mdworker opening the file then immediately after lots of activity...

p.s. if you want a little less detail, this will just list the open file points:

sudo fs_usage -w -f filesys mdworker | egrep "open"
  • I wasn't able to solve my problem (haven't seen the MDS issue lately), but I did learn some good debugging commands for situations like this, which is what I asked for.
    – kubi
    Sep 28, 2009 at 18:20
  • 1
    The Tentacle's answer worked for me. Specifically: My spotlight processes were hanging at 100% CPU and never completed indexing. With fs_usage I was able to see exactly which files hung up mdworker. I deleted the offending folders (they likely had a symlink loop), restarted the Spotlight processes, and everything worked. Feb 12, 2011 at 23:44
  • 9
    IMPORTANT: once you figure out which folders or files are causing Spotlight processes to hang, exclude them from Spotlight indexing via the Spotlight "Privacy" settings tab. Sometimes the problem files are auto generated by OSX. Feb 14, 2011 at 21:40
  • 5
    If it really is the mds process that runs wild, just replace the mdworker in the command with mds. (This helped me to diagnose the issue when Spotlight suddenly decided to index my Bootcamp partition.) Thanks! Mar 2, 2011 at 18:38
  • This shows the file names but not the folders. Specifically, it is using a lot of CPU while building certain applications in MacPorts. I have already excluded /opt and I think it is indexing /tmp, where some of the compiler files are being written. How do I find the complete path of these files it is indexing? Jun 9, 2011 at 23:17

In the rare case that you would like to disable spotlight, use the following command:

sudo mdutil -a -i off

To re-enable:

sudo mdutil -a -i on

Just wanted to note that Spotlight/MDS may not be the issue at all. Errors with Time Machine (particularly where Time Machine takes a long time to "index") can create a situation where Spotlight tries to continually index the same files.

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