Mac Spotlight Search Not Working? Fix

Spotlight Search on your Mac lets you find apps, contacts, documents and many other things. I use it all the time as it makes easy to find whatever I need. This short article explains how you can troubleshoot If you’re having problems using Spotlight.

Here is what you can do to get Mac Spotlight search working again.

If you are having issues with iOS Spotlight search, see this article.

Before doing anything, simply restart your Mac. Restarting may fix your problem.

This article offers two tips: One is to rebuild the Spotlight index. This can be done in two different ways (1) using System Preferences (2) using the Terminal app. And the other tip is to restart the SystemUIServer process.

System Preferences

1. Choose Apple Menu

Apple Menu

2. Click System Preferences

System Preferences

3. Click Spotlight


4. Click the Privacy section


5. Click the + (add) button

spotlight build

6. And add content or folder that you think Spotlight is not finding. It my cases. I added Macintosh HD to the list.

7. A window will appear saying “Are you sure you want to prevent Spotlight from searching in “Macintosh HD”.  Click “Ok”.

Spotlight privacy add

8. Now, click the – Remove button to remove Macintosh from the list

This process will force Spotlight to re-index the contents of Macintosh HD.


Note that the whole rebuilding process can also be done via the Terminal app. Here is how:

  • Open the Terminal app (Applications/Utilities/)
  • Enter the following command
  • sudo mdutil -E /
  • This command will “Erase and rebuild index”
  • Press enter
  • You may have to enter your administrator password

If rebuilding does not work, read on: Kill SystemUIServer. The SystemUIServer is a background process. It controls several aspects of macOS. The following process will make the SystemUIServer restart and that may fix your problem. Here is how:

  • Launch “Activity Monitor” (Applications/Utilities/)
  • Find “SystemUIServer” (you can use the search box)Activity Monitor
  • Double click
  • And click Quit
  • Do not worry, macOS will restart the process again, automatically within seconds.
  • Check to see if Spotlight is working now.

If you are not happy about the Spotlight search results, go to Apple menu > System Preferences, click Spotlight, then click the Search Results tab. This is where you can change your Spotlight settings.

See also: How to speed up Mac

Dr. Serhat Kurt worked as a Senior Technology Director. He holds a doctoral degree (or doctorate) from the University of Illinois at Urbana / Champaign and a master’s degree from Purdue University. Here is his LinkedIn profile.

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24 thoughts on “Mac Spotlight Search Not Working? Fix”

  1. Did not work for me either. Version 11.0.1 macOS Big Sur:

    When trying to remove the “Macintosh HD” from Spotlight > Privacy, I get an error reading:

    “Privacy List Error”
    “The item couldn’t be added or removed because of an unknown error.”

    Any suggestions?


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