How to Manually Reindex OS X Spotlight

Spotlight lamp mounted on a wall

In case you didn’t know, Spotlight is one of the most useful features in OS X. Not only can it help you find files and folders, it can also act as an application launcher, a calculator, and even a dictionary.

Spotlight works lightning-fast thanks to its ability to index all your files so they’re available almost instantly. Sometimes this indexing needs a little help, especially if you recently added or changed a large number of files. While Spotlight will index itself automatically, you can force a reindex pretty easily, too.

Here’s how to manually reindex OS X Spotlight so your Mac can run as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

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Some Terminal Work

Terminal is the Mac’s version of a command prompt. This is where you can do just about anything to your Mac — as long as you know the textual command to do so. Don’t let Terminal scare you; if you follow the commands listed, you’ll come out on top.

To get the manual rebuild started, open up Terminal on your Mac (Applications > Utilities > Terminal). Copy/paste the following command, then hit Return.

sudo mdutil -E /

OS X Terminal window with code

This is what’s called a “Super User” command. Basically it’s you telling your Mac that you’re the boss and you need something done.

Doing this requires your administrator password. When you type it in you won’t see anything being entered, but that’s OK – it’s to protect the security of your password. Enter the password, then hit the Return key.

Once you’ve done this the reindexing process will begin. Now that it’s started, what do you do?

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What’s Up With Spotlight?

The magic in this process basically all happens behind the scenes. But if you click on the Spotlight icon in your OS X menu bar, you’ll see this:

OS X Spotlight in middle of indexing process

While the process is happening, you won’t be able to use Spotlight. Since you’re doing this because it wasn’t working correctly to begin with, this shouldn’t be an issue.

The process will take a few hours to finish, but when it does, you’re good to go and Spotlight should be working perfectly.

This will rebuild your entire Spotlight index, but what if you only need to reindex a specific drive?

To save time you can rebuild the Spotlight index on a per-drive basis with a more detailed Terminal command. Here’s how.

Let’s Get Specific

Light from spotlight making circle on floor

OK, so you’ve changed a ton of files on your external drive and need it to be updated in Spotlight. If you don’t want to wait for Spotlight to do it automatically, here’s how to do it yourself.

Copy/paste this command into Terminal and then hit Return.

sudo mdutil -E /Volumes/(YourVolume)

Replace (YourVolume) with the name of the volume you’re working with. You might be used to drive letters in Windows. OS X uses the name of the drive instead of a letter – much easier to see what you’re doing this way.


You should probably do this rebuild when you’re not planning on using your Mac for a little while, as it will slow your Mac down and make it more sluggish than you’re probably used to.

The best way to do this would be to set it overnight so it’s ready when you wake up. Just remember to change your power settings so that it doesn’t try to sleep during the process.

To learn more about Spotlight from Apple’s help documentation, check out this link.

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