How to Use Windows Search; Stop Indexing USB Drives; Rebuilding Index

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page explains how to use Windows Search, how to set it to not index USB drive or sensitive files, and also some tech details for programers. (This article is tested with Windows Vista, but should be similar in Windows 7.)

Using Windows Search

Ways to Start Windows Search

There are several ways to bring up the search box.

Windows search
The Start Menu has a search box. You can use it to search or quickly launch programs.

Advanced Search and Options

Windows search options
Search options. To get options, do a search, then click on the Advanced Search on the upper right.

Search location can be set. Also, what type of file to search. Which files to index. Or, whether to search only indexed files.

When doing a search, you can also choose date range, file type, size, and “AND”, “OR”, “NOT” operation on words.

Saving Search

Search query can be saved. To save, just click on the Save Search in the bar.

Setup Index Locations

You can choose what folder or drive Windows will index. You can stop it from indexing USB drives.

Windows search tools
The Search Tools button lets you set options.

To choose which folder or files to index, first do a search on some random word, then in the search result page, there will be a Search Tools button. Click on it. You'll get a “Modify Index Locations…”. Then, you'll get a dialog.

Stop Indexing USB Drives or Sensitive Files

Windows search index loctaion dialog Windows search index loctaion dialog2
The index location dialog.

The dialog is not very intuitive. Click on Modify, then click on “Show all locations”.

There, you can set which folder, file, drive, that you do NOT want to index. A check mark means it won't be indexed.

Stop Indexing Zip files

In the above, you can also set it to not index any file with a particular file suffix, such as “.zip”. Click on Advanced button.

Rebuilding Index; Changing Index Cache File Location

After clicking on the “Advanced” button, there you can also click on the “Rebuild” button to re-index. (may take hours, but runs in the background.)

Tech Detail for Programers

Windows Search is a modern search engine. First it index your files by words into a database. So, when you use search, it can quickly show you files that contain that word.

The Windows Search pane is a virtual folder named search-ms: or Search Results .

Understand File Formats

In order to do indexing on various type of files such as Word document, spreadsheets, PowerPoint file, html docs, MP3, image files, OutLook data files, IE cache… it need to be able to understand the format. Microsoft's technology for this is called IFilter. It functions as a component. When a IFilter for a particular file format is installed, search can understand the file and extract words from that file or indexing.

Search Database Location

The location of the database by default is at: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Search\Data\Applications\Windows.