Search Perfect: hitting it off with SearchKey 1.0b1

Most of the time, I put files in logical places. But sometimes what seemed logical at the time is far from logical later, and I do have a few folders which are like basements, where I tuck all sorts of unrelated things away.

Searching for content can be tricky. It works best when you can think of words or a phrase which occurs hardly anywhere else but in the document for which you’re looking. It becomes almost impossible when you can’t remember much about that document, and start guessing the words that it contains.

I have been developing SearchKey, a little tool which uses extended attributes to greatly improve search. That app is now in its first beta-release, and available here: searchkey10b1
and from Downloads above.

Why use extended attributes, though? What advantages do they have?

SearchKey edits a group of five extended attributes which have been carefully chosen because they are preserved across different versions of macOS, on most file systems including HFS+ and APFS, and are used by Spotlight when it compiles the metadata indexes which it uses.

One simple way to use SearchKey to enhance your searches is to label documents twice.

SearchKey has two modes: batch and single-file. To mark up a folder of documents for a specific project, first go through the whole folder in batch mode, setting common labels, then tweak them for individual key files using single-file mode. This is surprisingly quick to do. The aim is to provide a general marker for each file which belongs to that project, something you can set in the Headline and Keywords, perhaps, then add more specific labels to those files which you will need to locate again.


You might, for example, use the Headline to contain the project name, and add a couple of Keywords to every file, then for the final contract and other key documents you can add extra Keywords such as “final contract”, “specification”, “milestones”, etc.

You can then access the content of those extended attributes in your searches. This is rather clumsy in the normal Spotlight search feature from the 🔍 icon in the menubar, as you have to refer to those attributes by name. To search for files containing the keyword contract, for example, you type in

This is easier and much more powerful in the Finder’s Find feature, but needs a little preparation.

Open a new window in the Finder, and select the Find command in the File menu. This changes the window from a normal Finder view to a Find window, in which the lowest row in the top part of the window contains search criteria, by default set to Kind is Any.

Open the popup menu containing the first part of that, Kind, and at the foot of that menu you will see the option Other… Choose that option to open the search attributes, and in that list tick the checkboxes next to Headline, Descriptions, Keywords, and Copyright. This adds them to that popup menu.


Now, you can perform Finder searches using the contents of those four extended attributes. Oddly, there doesn’t appear to be any way to add Creator to the search attributes used here, but the other four extended attributes are fully supported. You can, though, search the Creator text which you saved using SearchKey in Spotlight, using a search criterion such as


Design the content of the extended attributes you add to files carefully, and you can ensure amazingly accurate search results.

This version of SearchKey is now feature-complete. If this beta-release proves reliable across El Capitan to High Sierra, and there are no issues outstanding, I intend adding a Help book and taking it to the first full release.

I am now looking at packaging its functions into a Service, to make it more accessible. I hope that it helps you find what you are looking for.