Mastering Windows 8.1 File Search

Mastering Windows 8.1 File Search
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The search function in Windows 8.1 is more powerful than ever. Here are a few handy tips & tricks for mastering the file explorer in Windows 8.1 so you can find your files more easily.

In this article we'll go over search techniques when hunting for pictures, music files or office documents stored on your Windows 8.1 computer by using the File Explorer (aka Windows Explorer; Microsoft renamed Windows Explorer to File Explorer with the launch of Windows 8). Please note that Windows 8.1 also supplies a separate dialog box to search for Windows 8.1 apps.

Windows 8.1 File Explorer Ribbon & Search Tools

There are a couple of ways of getting to the File Explorer function in Windows 8.1:

  1. On a touchscreen device, swipe from right edge of the screen and tap on the Search icon on top and type in 'File Explorer.' Similarly, on a non-touchscreen device, point to the upper right corner of the screen, move mouse down and click Search then type 'File Explorer' in the search box. Next, tap or click on the File Explorer icon.
  2. You can also right click on the Windows icon in the bottom left and select File Explorer from there.

Launching the File Explorer in Windows 8.1Launching the File Explorer in Windows 8.1

For easy access, you can also pin the File Explorer to your taskbar.

Once you launch the File Explorer, you'll notice that as soon as you click on 'Search Libraries'  (or 'Search This PC') the Ribbon tab changes to highlight 'Search Tools'.

Windows 8.1 Library SearchWindows 8.1 Library SearchThe context sensitive tab on the Windows 8.1 Ribbon switches from 'Home' and 'Search Libraries' (above) to 'Search Tools' (below).Context Sensitive TabContext Sensitive TabHere you can click on the sub-menu items like 'Kind', 'Size' or 'Date Modified' (see above). Alternatively, you can master the AQS syntax and type search commands in box to the right.


Windows 8.1 Advanced Query Syntax (AQS)

Advanced Query Syntax (AQS), which is in Windows 8.1 by default, helps you define and narrow your search, delivering better result sets. With AQS you can restrict your search to specific file types or locations. There are hundreds of file attributes that can be used for searching with AQS, including authors, size, date modified, etc. 

The AQS syntax looks like this:

attribute:value

So for example, if you're looking for a file that you worked on yesterday, you can use:

datemodified:yesterday

The trick is to remove the space in attributes with multiple words; the value syntax is more flexible. Let's look at some more examples.

Windows 8.1 Search by File Size

The Search Tools Ribbon offers the Size option for easily finding files of certain size.

  • Size:>10mb Greater than 10 megabytes.
  • Size:<1mb Smaller than 1 megabyte
  • Once you type 'Size:' observe a context sensitive menu featuring Tiny, Medium and Large files.

Windows 8.1 Search by File Extensions

If you know the file extension then type the keyword 'Ext' in the Windows 8.1 explore search box. The syntax is: Ext colon followed by a period, then the letters of your file extension. The good news is that Windows Explorer's autocomplete and autocorrect will guide you to finding the correct files.

  • Ext:.doc
  • Ext:.txt
  • Additionally, you could also apply a Boolean operator Ext:.doc OR Ext:.txt

Windows 8.1 Search by Date

Note the singular 'date', followed directly by the colon, however, there is a space between the two keywords. Here are examples:

  • Date:Last month
  • Date:This week
  • Date:Next year

If you are trying to find a photograph try this:

datetaken:January

Windows 8.1 Search by Kind of File

When I was looking for text documents in different formats, I stumbled across this option to search for file types:

The keyword is Kind: (Remember that colon)

Windows 8.1 Search by Authors

There are other keywords such as Authors that you could use for searching through files in mixed folders.

author:="Christian Bryant"

Windows 8.1 Search with Wildcards * and ?


Sometimes using the * wildcard, or ? for a single character is the quickest way to find your file.

Windows 8.1 Save SearchIf you regularly search for a particular file pattern consider saving your search. Another alternative is to check the Recent searches, see screenshot above.Talking of Windows Explorer Ribbon, from the 'File' menu you can also 'Change folder and search options'. See screenshot to the left. What this offers in addition to tweaking the search locations, is the ability to show hidden files, folders and drives.

Windows 8.1 Search with Boolean Operators

The key to mastering the Boolean search is to type the operator in UPPER case. The File Explorer goes through the contents of files and applies its logic to the words on either side of the Boolean operator, for example:

  • OR e.g. Article OR News.
  • AND e.g. Jackson AND Singer. Also, you could use parentheses (Jackson Singer).
  • NOT e.g. Books NOT Pictures. Alternatively: Books -Pictures
  • Use the * wildcard, especially if you're trying to find a special character such as à.

If you still cannot get the precise search result you want then I suggest you try parallel techniques, such as the built-in Findstr, or better still, PowerShell's Get-Content Cmdlet.

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