How-To

How to Search Through File Contents on Windows 10

Search through file contents in Windows 10

There’s a hidden feature in Windows 10 that lets you quickly and easily search the contents of files, instead of just searching for filenames.

Windows comes with a robust search engine that allows you to find apps, search the Windows Store and the web, and find files on your PC. The search engine in Windows 7 used to find content not just in file names, but also in the contents of files. You could even search the contents of .zip files in Windows 7.

Most people are unaware that this functionality still exists in Windows 10. It’s just not obvious how to enable it. Today we’ll show you how to enable searching through file contents in Windows 10.

Turn on Option To Search Through File Contents

Click the Cortana or Search button or box on the Taskbar and type “indexing options.” Then, click on Indexing Options under Best match.

Open Indexing Options

On the Indexing Options dialog box, click Advanced.

Click Advanced in Indexing Options

Click the File Types tab on the Advanced Options dialog box. By default, all the extensions are selected, and that’s what we want. This will allow Windows to search through all the types of files on your hard drive.

Select the Index Properties and File Contents option in the How should this file be indexed section. Then, click OK.

Index Properties and File Contents

A Rebuild Index dialog box displays, warning you that rebuilding the index might take a long time. That means that all the contents of your hard drive might not be searched until the indexing process is finished. Click OK.

Rebuild Index

Click Close on the Indexing Options dialog box.

Close Indexing Options dialog box

Search Through File Contents in File Explorer

Now, when you search for text in File Explorer, Windows will search the contents of files for the text in addition to searching the file names.

Remember, if you don’t get results for your search right away, you may have to wait for the folders and files to be indexed.

Search through contents of files

What methods do you use to search the contents of files in Windows? Do you use any third-party apps to search the contents of files? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Katt  

    Well THANK YOU Lori Kaufman!! Not being able to search contents has been a pain.

    • Dr. P-J  

      I agree – this page was very helpful!

  2. beergas  

    Thanks. Turn this way down to just a few boxes back when was having h/w issues in Windows 8 & then into 10. Now with more powerful & stable gear it’s time to click these back on. Will help with the video files as well as within .docx & photo, art files.

  3. Ian  

    Microsoft never really promoted the search function well enough, it is fundamental to the way the O/S’s since Windows 7 are geared towards using the search function rather than go trawling through the file explorer tree, I am fairly confident they are visionary in this approach as in the future computers will not rely so heavily on computing, but will have all possible answers pre-loaded in the quantum field and the user would simply feed in the quest and the computer would then search for the single correct answer.

    • William  

      Quite the opposite in fact. Simply having answers pre-loaded does not mean anything for computing speed. The very action of searching, or to be more precise sorting the information in more feasible manner, still requires both computing and time. This has not changed, even with the advent of Quantum Computing. Google operates in the same manner and is a clear example of what is at the forefront, they have machines already performing the search beforehand. Yet what the user inputs is really the search engine sorting out the information in a way that seems the most relevant to the user.

      Working in this field of search/sort algorithms, I do not think that we will see any new innovations on this subject in decades to come, sadly enough.

  4. George  

    This is honestly the first time that I see this feature on Windows. Good job.

  5. Laura  

    Thank you! Is there a way to print the contents of a folder (a list of all the files in a file)? I used to do this on my Atari computer and it was quite handy at times.

  6. Bill  

    Hi

    I have got File – Home – Share – View but not Search on the toolbar.

    What am I doing wrong.

    • Dolly Acherman  

      Me also. I don’t have the Search tab. Only File – Home – Share – View

  7. Katt  

    Hi Bill and Dolly,

    Not to worry! As soon as you enter anything in the search boxes located below the toolbar, the Search tab magically appears!

    For an example, look at the last picture above and you will see the search boxes labeled 1 and 2. Type anything in the #2 box on your computer and you will see the search tab show up.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Weboli  

    How do I force Windows File Explorer to display OpenOffice files on searching a term? I can search “.odt” and get results, but when I search a directory that contains such OpenOffice files, I get no results, other than old doc, docx, adobe and so on.

    • Katt  

      Hi Weboli,

      I tried to search the way you describe above and got .odt results no matter how I searched. I used phrases from .odt documents and I tried searching just .odt and had no problem.

      So, I am wondering if you followed the steps laid out in this post to open search to titles and contents of documents? If not, then I would do that first.

      If you have already done that, I would suggest going to the page shown above named Advanced Options and on the File Types tab, scroll down the list and make sure the odt file type is checked. If not, check the box, wait for indexing (takes a while) is complete, then try your search again.

      Hope this helps you!

      • Weboli  

        Thanks, I had discovered that. Now I am annoyed that details | content shows a tiny thumbnail, not the nice full preview I get with pdf files.

  9. S SenGupta  

    The indexing does not seem to work at all for file content even in indexed locations.
    The disk I am searching has around 55GB data. Where Google desktop would have given a result as I typed, Win10 search either does not find at all or takes several hours.
    Win 10 search takes as input only a word or phrase, not several key words.

    But, I do not know of any tool that will do so either. Any help will be appreciated

  10. Peter  

    Use Windows Commander rather than W’10’s search engine. It is convenience and fast with great configuration.

  11. sunwukong  

    I used to use the free word perfect editor. It worked just like word perfect but worked at a text file level. I could quickly search thru Windows MSWord files for context content. Mainly speaches so I could do a quick analysis of a proposed speech for the main concepts of the proposed speech and advise on what the official line had been on key words.

    It was called WEd.exe
    see it at
    https://sites.google.com/site/texteditors/Home/files/wp_ed.zip?attredirects=0
    wp_ed.zip
    I would run it in a command window. F3 gives you the menu, you set the folder you want to search and specify the content key words you want to find and it would list all the files then you would just do f2 to search thru for the key words. I could do this faster than any two people in my office. Now I would just use findstr in a batch file.

  12. Garry  

    So, if your IT department has any brains at all, you don’t have Administrator Rights on your own PC (preventing you from installing unapproved software – software that might be free for home use but licensing requirements if used for business, software that might have a virus, software that might interfere with the software provided by the company, etc.). You need Admin rights to click on “Advanced” in “Indexing Options”. Is there any other way to search through file contents, i.e. something you don’t need Admin rights for?

  13. Babasaheb Kale  

    Third party software like ultra search

  14. Jan  

    I had been so disappointed all these years with Windows 10 that I couldn’t do a phrase search. I finally decided to look it up…I’m SOoo glad I found you to clear this up!

  15. Steve A  

    I have file with dashes and numbers in the name. No searches appear after a begin typing the dash and first 2 digits:

    ie. Samplefile-1234.345-33455.txt

  16. Don LeMont  

    During the last 3-4 months there has been a drastic (and unwelcome) change to the search feature. I often searched for content inside many types of files with no problems. Now I have nothing but problems. I found the procedure you outline above on my own and hoped things would change, but no joy. I experience many false positives and false negatives. (I.e., files reported by search do NOW contain the search term, and failure to find files I KNOW are there. Additionally, the search is returned in some kind of virtual screen that has no apparent connection to the rest of File Explorer, i.e., I cannot get back to the folder I was searching. Back buttons don’t work, ESC doesn’t work, deleting the search term (my former default) doesn’t work. I can only conclude that someone at MS has royally screwed up this feature. I will have to find a utility to search inside files like I used to use years ago.

  17. Scorpion  

    Search Note is an impressive way to search content inside your shared documents.
    Why don’t you give it a try? Search note is available on github.
    https://github.com/scorpionit01/SearchNote

  18. Doug  

    03 Aug 2020: Followed all steps successfully…EXCEPT A WORKING SEARCH OF CONTENTS. Added the php extension, allowed it to complete indexing, did a cold boot, used the indexing troubleshooter (which said Windows Search wasn’t working, then said it fixed the problem). Still finds two (pdf) files which do not have the string and none that do, same as before.

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