How to create Smart Folders in macOS to find and access files

Create smart folders in macOS on the Apple Mac and use them to find files matching search criteria from filenames to file sizes

Smart folders is a feature of Finder on the Apple Mac, but what exactly are they and how do you use them? They are easier to use than you might think and they can be very useful. Here’s how they work.

A smart folder is not a real folder on the disk drive and it does not contain any files. It is actually a saved search using Finder.

If you search the Mac’s disk using the search box in the top right corner of a Finder window, there is a Save button. This saves the search so that you can use it again.

A smart folder is exactly the same.

Create a smart folder

Go to the File menu and select New Smart Folder.

Create smart folders in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Search for files

Type something into the search box in the top right corner. I am going to search for GIMP images, which have a .xcf file extension. After typing xcf into the search box a suggestion below is exactly what I want - Gimp Image.

Create smart folders in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

View the results

The results of the search are displayed in the Finder window.

A smart folder in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Save the search

Click the Save button in the top right corner and name the search (just the first part, not the .savedSearch).

Tick the option to Add To Sidebar. This makes it appear in all Finder windows. The save location is a folder called Saved Searches. You could save it elsewhere, but this is the most convenient place for it.

Save a search as a smart folder in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Sidebar options

The smart folder (the saved search), appears in the sidebar in Finder. One click shows all the files and it is a quick way to find the files you need, which may be actually located anywhere on the disk.

It looks like a folder, but is really a saved search.

Ctrl+click the sidebar item and a menu is displayed. Select Show Search Criteria.

Show the search criteria used with a smart folder in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Customise the search

The original search criteria is displayed and it can be changed. For example, let’s find files created in the last month.

Click the plus at the right side of the search criteria to add another item. Select Created Date in the first menu, within the last in the second menu and months in the third menu.

After selecting these, the list of files shows only those created in the last month. Click the Save button to save this updated search.

Modify the search criteria for a smart folder in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Remove sidebar items

Suppose you no longer want the smart folder in the Finder sidebar. Ctrl+click it and select Remove from Sidebar.

Delete a smart folder from the sidebar in Finder on the Apple Mac

Find saved searches

This only removes the sidebar item. It does not delete the smart folder. Remember that the smart folder was saved to the Saved Searches folder?

Press Command+spacebar to open Spotlight and enter saved searches. Open the top hit - the Library.

Use Spotlight to find the Saved Searches folder on the Apple Mac

Delete the smart folder

All the smart folders are stored in this Saved Searches folder and they can be deleted by Ctrl+clicking and selecting Move to Trash in the usual way.

Move a smart folder to the Trash in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

Try opening a regular Finder window and searching for anything. You get the same window as when creating a smart folder. A saved search and a smart folder are the same thing.

Smart folders not working?

If smart folders are not working, it is probably because of a Spotlight fault. Spotlight provides the filenames for smart folders.

To fix the fault, open System Preferences and click Spotlight. Select the Privacy tab and add the Mac’s drive using the plus button at the bottom. This deletes the Spotlight index.

Restart the Mac, return to System Preferences and delete the Mac’s disk in Spotlight, Privacy.

Spotlight will then rebuild the index. It is fairly quick on Mac’s with SSDs, but very slow with mechanical disk drives.

When it has finished you can create smart folders.

Find all disk images

There are lots of uses for smart folders. For example, like the example above, you can search for any type of file. You could search for .dmg files. These are often large and you have probably forgotten where they are. A smart folder lists them all and makes it easy to delete them.

At first sight, it does not seem possible to create a smart folder that shows files of a certain size. However, there is a way to do this.

Go to the Finder menu and select New Smart Folder. Ignore the search box and click the plus at the right side of the window. In the first menu, select other.

Select the search criteria for a smart folder in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

A window appears that contains a long list of items you can search for. Select File Size and click OK.

Select the criteria to search for with smart folders in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

You can now set the other items to is greater than and enter a size. I set it to 1 GB.

Use a smart folder to find files of a particular size in macOS Sierra on the Apple Mac

There are lot of other file attributes you can search for and it is possible to create some clever smart folders that do some amazing things



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