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HOWTO: Searching using Windows Explorer’s Search Functions

Windows has a built-in searh function that enables you to search your hard drive for files. Whether you’re looking for Word documents, spreadsheets, pictures, or any other types of files, you can find the files if you know part of their filename.

You can also search for a word or a phrase that is inside a file, but, of course, this search is a lot slower than searching for a file name or file type.

Windows Search also can create an index of your hard drive to make searching faster. This indexing is turned on by default, but you can turn it off. I usually have it turned off on my computers because Windows seems to want to update its index way too often.

Another option for quick searching of your computer is Google Desktop, which is available as part of the Google Pack free software package from Google.

Get started with Windows searching by right-clicking on the Start button and selecting Explore.

In the Windows Explorer window, look on the icon bar. You’ll find an icon for a magnifying glass, along with the word Search. Click on that button. You’ll get the following panel on the left side of Windows Explorer.

The first step is to pick the type search you want to do. In this example, I selected Document.

Windows Explorer - Searching
(click on the image for a larger version)

Now, we fill in a portion of the file name. I’m looking for the Windows Address Book, which is where Outlook Express stores email adddresses. It has a file extension of WAB, so I’ll search for *.wab (“*” is a wildcard that matches anything).

The next step is crucial for finding many files that are in “hidden” folders. We click on the "Use advanced search options" words. Although Microsoft did not make it obvious that this is a button, it is…

Windows Explorer - Searching 2
(click on the image for a larger version)

On the resulting screen, we can add checkmarks to the "Search system folders" and "Search hidden files and folders" checkboxes. The "Search subfolders" box was checked automatically.

The final step is to click on the Search button.

Windows Explorer - Searching 3
(click on the image for a larger version)

As Windows searches for our selection, any matches show up in the right-hand panel of Windows Explorer. As you can see, the search found the tas.wab file for my Windows XP login ID "tas". It also found test.wab, which I created one time when I was experimenting.

Windows Explorer - Search Results
(click on the image for a larger version)

Whatever file name you’re searching for, the Windows Explorer search function will help you find it — if you can remember a portion of the filename.


  1. whenever i use the search function in windows explorer, it lists3 copies of the same document all with the same path. Can you offer a solution?

  2. Is there a way to search for files using two parts? I need to search for files with the letters faa and 4305 in it. In a Google search you can search by typing in ‘faa+4305’. I have a need to search a ton of files with that criteria. Regards

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