Windows 11 Search Won’t

Windows 11 Search Won’t: a reader asks…

I have a relatively new desktop PC running Windows 11. I generally keep it up-to-date and protected as you recommend, but lately a problem cropped up and I’m not sure what to do about it. Windows 11 search function has stopped being able to find files for me. Got any hints?

While Windows 11 is more stable than previous versions, it still isn’t perfect and errors crop up. Most likely your search index got corrupted. The search index is a database that Windows uses to quickly find files on your computer, and it works in the background creating a quick index of all the files on your computer so Windows File Explorer can locate files for you faster than actually searching your hard drive.

Click to view larger. This is a screenshot of the Indexing Options dialogue box with the Advanced button clicked and the Rebuild button clicked. It shows the warning box that says the rebuild will take a long time.
Click to view larger

Fortunately, the fix is easy, all you need to do is rebuild your Index. Here’s how:

  1. Using the Search box at the bottom of your screen (next to the Start button), type “Index” and then choose Indexing Options from the list that appears. This opens your old-style Control Panel dialogue box called Indexing Options.
  2. Click the Advanced button and then click the Rebuild button on the resulting screen.
  3. You’ll see a warning box that this could take a long time, click the OK button to start the rebuilding operation.

Now just have some patience, it could take a day or longer to completely rebuild the index since Windows does that work in the background (and of course it doesn’t do any of that work if the computer is not turned on, so leave the computer on). At some point the rebuild will finish and you’ll be able to search for files normally again.

How long it takes depends on how many files it has to index. There are also some options you can consider in the settings. On the Indexing Options box there’s a Modify button you can click to choose what to index. In general you may not need to adjust this, unless you’ve added extra internal hard drives or have relocated your personal files to a different location.

Click to view larger. This is a screenshot of the Indexing Options dialogue box with the Advanced button clicked opening the Advanced Options dialogue box and the two checkbox items circled.
Click to view larger

Also on the Advanced Options box there are checkboxes you can check to index encrypted files (useful if you have your entire hard drive encrypted in Windows 11 Pro), and you can choose to have the Search function treat similar words with diacritics as different words. Diacritics are accents over letters that can change the meaning. Without this turned on, Windows treats spelled words the same, such as resume and resumé. With that checkbox checked, those words are separate. In my example, a search for resume won’t return search results that have resumé.

The Advanced Options box also has another tab labeled “File Types”. This allows you to add new file types to index or change the search paramters. By default, Windows only searches the index file properties. That’s the file name, and properties or metadata that’s part of the file. That doesn’t search inside the file. So for example, if you have a file named xyz123.docx, and inside that file you have text that says “tech support news”, a standard windows search for “tech support news” won’t find the xyz123.docx file for you.

Click to view larger. This is a screenshot of the Indexing Options dialogue box with the Advanced button clicked opening the Advanced Options dialogue box, with the File types tab clicked showing the radio buttons for choosing to include file contents in search results.
Click to view larger

If you’d like to have Windows search both the index file properties and the file contents, you need to change the setting. Enabling this option will take a lot longer to create/rebuild the index, but will return better search results for you. Turn this on by opening the Indexing Options as above, clicking the Advanced tab as above, clicking the File Types tab, and clicking the radio button for “Index properties and File Contents”, then clicking the OK button.

These changes to the way Windows searches for you can make it easier for you to find files on your hard drive, especially if you’ve forgotten where you saved them or even what you named the file.

Click to view larger

One last tip: on any file you see in File Explorer, you can right-click on the file, select Properties, and add metadata to the file (aka keywords) from the Details tab. Doing this can make it easier to find the file later on. This is especially useful for photographs. I would suggest that anytime you searched for and found a photograph, you add keywords to that photo so you can find it again easier. For photos, you can add a title and subject as well as tags. For tags, use any words or phrases you like, separating each tag with a comma. By embedding metadata into the file itself, you’ll be able to find the file no matter what type of image management tool you use. This is the same way you find images on the internet, through the metadata that’s embedded in the file.

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