Using OS X Smart Folders

One of the best kept secrets in Mac OS X is actually one that I use quite heavily, but most users don’t even know that it exists (sadly). It’s a feature that is built-in to the Finder app called “Smart Folders”. Smart Folders aren’t your typical folder that contain other folders and files. Smart Folders use Spotlight search to automatically gather files by type and subject matter. Smart Folders are updated as you change, add, and remove files on your computer... all dynamically and in real-time so that they are always current. If you use Smart Albums in iPhoto or Smart Playlists in iTunes, you may already be used to the concept.

We can start building a new Smart Folder by launching Finder and searching for something. We want to make sure this initial search string is generic enough to capture more than what you’re looking for. The next step is to start refining your search so that you’re left with exactly the files your looking for. As you can see from the image below, you aren’t limited on the number of filters that you can apply to your search criteria. Add as much or as little as you need.

When you’re done building your Smart Folder criteria, click “Save”, and give it a name. If you chose to do so, the new Smart Folder will be accessible from the side of your Finder window as well as within your “Saved Searches” folder (~home/Library).

To get you started building your very first Smart Folder, I’ve created a basic video to walk you through the process.


If you need to go back at any point to modify one of your Smart Folders, it’s easy... just highlight the Smart Folder you want to modify, right-click (Option-Click) on it, and choose “Show Search Criteria”. When you’re done modifying, click “Save”.

Here are some sample Smart Folders you can build:

  • files created within the last 24 hours
  • files modified within the last 7 days
  • files that haven’t been opened for 6 months (great for archiving files)
  • files larger than 5 GB in size (great for finding ways to reduce hard drive utilization)
  • From here, let your imagine go wild!

Posted on July 3, 2013 and filed under How To, Mac.