Windows 8.1 Search Not Finding Your Files? Here’s a Fix

Universal Search

Windows 8.1’s universal search feature pulls in results from the Web, your contacts list, content apps such as Wikipedia and even your email messages. Unfortunately, the search function doesn’t always find files that are right there on your hard drive. By default, the operating system only searches for files that live under the \Users directory on your system drive (C:\Users for most), which includes your desktop and library folders.  So, if you store all your MP3s in a folder named C:\mp3s, you like to keep your videos on your E drive or you just dragged a Word doc over to the root, none of those files will turn up in Windows 8.1’s universal search.

Here are a couple of ways to make search find your files in Windows 8.1.

Add to Your Index

Windows 8.1’s universal search only shows files from folders it has indexed. One way to expand its reach is to add folders or whole drives to the index. However, the process of indexing your files and keeping that index up-to-date eats up system resources so, if you set Windows to index your entire system drive, you may slow the computer down. You’re better off choosing which folders you want indexed. Here’s how to add more folders or whole drives to your index.

MORE: How to Access SkyDrive Files Offline in Windows 8.1

1. Open the Windows Control Panel. You can get there by either by hitting Windows + X and selecting Control Panel or by searching for Control Panel.

Control Panel

2. Click Indexing Options. If you don’t see an icon for Indexing Options select Large Icons from the View by menu.

Click Indexing Options

 3. Click Modify.

Click Modify

4. Select the folders you wish to index and Click Ok. The system will index any subfolders beneath them. If you select a whole drive, it will index all folders below the root level.

Select folders

5. Click Close. The system will take a few minutes to add the new locations you added to its index.

Click Close

Search From File Explorer

 If you need to search the entire content of a drive or folder that hasn’t been indexed, you must use File Explorer in Windows 8.1’s desktop mode. Here’s how.

MORE: How to Enable Boot to Desktop in Windows 8.1

1. Navigate to the Desktop. You can get to the Windows 8.1 desktop by hitting Windows + D or clicking the desktop tile on the Start screen.

Click Desktop

2. Open File Explorer. The shortcut icon is on the taskbar, unless you have moved it.

Launch File Explorer

3. Enter a search term in the search box. The search box is located in the upper right corner of the window.

Enter a search term

A list of files and folders that match your search term will appear. 

sample results

Tip: If you want to find all files of a particular type, enter *. before the two to four character extension. For example, enter *.jpg to find all jpegs.

search by extension

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Firoze Says:

    Thumbs up for Fake Plastic Trees!

  2. Casey Says:

    what the fuck. Why does everything with windows have to be so fucking inconvenient now. Hey remember when you could search your computer for a file? Well now you have to go through steps to do that. Why would I want to go through all these stupid steps to do somegthing that should be easy? I hope windows fails as a company .

  3. Martin Birk Says:

    The search function is bugged. Evn though the folder is indexed, search doesn’t give the correct result of a simple search. I have a file called IMG_0013.JPG.
    The following searches return nothing:

    This returns OTHER image files, each one with names like “IMG_013*”, but NOT IMG_0013.JPG:

    So what’s going on??

  4. Phil James Says:

    Windows 8.0 search: brilliant!

    Windows 8.1 search: useless!

    Now there isn’t a Start menu, Search is supposed to be the way to access most Windows functions. But it just doesn’t work.

    It can find 2,000 things from around the world that I don’t want, but not the file I saved 2 minutes ago.

  5. Ronald Says:

    I have the same problem, I will try & let you know.

  6. Jane Highwater Says:

    And this is an advancement over Windows 7’s beautifully simple, search methodology? What were they thinking?

  7. Brian Says:

    How can I replace with useless win8.1 File Explorer. It cant even find the files in the directory I have open at the moment.

    It’s an evil joke.
    Indexing doesn’t fix it, and if it slows the computer down, it doubly useless. what were they thinking?

    WIN xp is better than this junk.

  8. Humble Maha Says:

    Many thanks for the search indexing trick: Worked like magic!

  9. Thomas Brown Says:


    Windows 8.1 Search from File Explorer does not search, e.g., D:\user\Avram\Documents if the Location attribute of C:\user\Avram\Documents is D:\user\Avram\Documents, even D:\user\Avram\Documents is indexed. Instead it only finds files that are in or added to C:\user\Avram\Documents. This is simply a bug that should have been fixed before it was ever released.

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