Troubleshooting Spotlight

Just recently I have had a few colleagues who have come to me with various Spotlight issues. These have ranged from Spotlight not returning any results when performing a search, to the dreaded spinning beach ball when accessing the Spotlight menu.
So here are a few things you can try when confronted with various Spotlight issues.

Issue 1: You just can’t access the spotlight menu

If you find you cannot access Spotlight from the Finder’s top menu bar or you get the dreaded spinning beach ball when clicking on it, then one of the simplest things you can try is to restart the ‘SystemUIServer’ daemon. This service is responsible for maintaining the menu items in the right hand end of the Finder’s menu. By restarting this service it forces it to rebuild the menu items which can sometimes cure this problem.
The quickest way to restart this service is to:

  • Launch Activity Monitor
  • Locate SystemUIServer from the list of processes
  • Highlight it and press the quit button.

In a few seconds SystemUIServer should auto restart

Issue 2: Spotlight returning incorrect or no results

If you find Spotlight is failing to return any results or the results are incorrect, then there are a number of things to try.

  • If results are missing from what you would expect, then the most obvious place to start is to make sure that the drive you are searching on has not been added to Spotlight’s privacy section within the spotlight system preference pane. Any drive added to this section will not be indexed and thus won’t be searched. If your drive has been added, then simply remove it. The drive will then be re-indexed which may take a while, depending on how many files you have.
  • The next step is to rebuild the spotlight index. There are several ways to do this.
  1. The simplest way is to add your hard drive to to the privacy tab in the Spotlight preference pane and them remove it. This will force Spotlight to attempt a rebuild of its index. If you go to the spotlight menu, it should report the index is in progress
  2. Another way is to rebuild the index from the command line. Apple supply a handy command line tool called ‘mdutil’ which allows you to manage Spotlight. To rebuild the index run this command from the terminal:

sudo mdutil -E /
After the -E part you specify which drive to rebuild the index on, in this case the / represents the boot drive. You will be prompted for your password and then the index should start to rebuild.

From my experience these solutions help with the vast majority of issues that Spotlight may throw up.