The way Spotlight works, is it crawls your drive, creating an index of everything on it. When you add or delete anything from your drive, the operating system updates the index. When you search using Spotlight, you aren’t actually searching the drive, you are searching the index. In theory, this allows you to search everything very quickly, but in practice, it doesn’t always work out that way. Personally, my index files seem to get corrupted fairly often… making Spotlight incredibly slow, or totally unresponsive. This always seems to happen at the most inopportune moment, when I really need to find something. That’s usually when I reach for EasyFind.
Often, simply restarting you computer will whip Spotlight back into shape, but I find it helpful to periodically reindex my drives. It’s simple to do, but depending on the size of your drives may take a a while to complete.
There are a few ways to force Spotlight to reindex. The most common is probably through the Terminal. I’m not a Unix geek, and I personally am a little afraid of the Terminal. I had a ‘mishap’ a few years back where I accidentally erased my entire Home folder while trying to delete a single file with the Terminal. I’ve been leery of it ever since.
Fortunately, there is a very simple, non Unix geek, way of doing it. Simply open up the Spotlight Preference Pane, and select the “Privacy” button. The Privacy button allows you to specify areas you don’t want Spotlight to index (like your secret stash of porn you don’t want you girlfriend to find). Using the “+” button in the lower left, add your Hard Drive to the list. If you have more than one drive, use this method to add them all. You’ve just told Spotlight to stop indexing your drive, and delete the existing index. Now, just use the “-” button to remove your drive from the list. This tells Spotlight you do want to index your drive. Since no index exists, Spotlight is forced to make a new one. At this point you can quit out of Preferences. To begin the reindexing, simply activate Spotlight (Command + Spacebar). Sometimes there is a slight lag before it starts going, you may need to activate Spotlight a couple of times. You’ll know it is indexing when a little flashing dot appears in the magnifying glass icon. You can activate Spotlight while it is indexing to get an estimated completion time.