Before we get started
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Tools such as Finder and Spotlight are handy for quickly tracking down documents, music, images, and videos, but you can’t use them to search every corner of your Mac.
There’s lots of files that your Mac prefers to keep hidden from you! Most of the time, this is for your own protection, since deleting the wrong file can cause all sorts of problems with your apps, and sometimes even across macOS as a whole. However, sometimes you may have legitimate reasons for requiring access to hidden files, for example some system and app errors can only be fixed by editing sensitive system files.
In this article, I’ll show you how to search all hidden, packaged and system files, using the Find Any File (FAF) application. By the end of this article, you’ll know that your searches really are covering every corner of the operating system and every type of file, including files that would never appear in a regular Spotlight or Finder search.
Downloading and installing FAF
When you launch FAF for the first time, your Mac may warn you that FAF is from an unidentified developer. If you encounter this warning, then:
- Select the ‘Apple’ logo from your Mac’s menu bar.
- Navigate to ‘System Preferences… > Security & Privacy.’
- Click the little padlock icon and enter your admin password.
- Read the warning, and if you’re happy to proceed then click ‘Open Anyway.’
Search For Any File
The easiest way to get started with FAF, is to simply enter the name of the file that you want to locate, and then click ‘Find.’ This launches a new dialogue, containing a list of all the files that match your search criteria.
If your search returns a long list of results, then there’s several dropdowns that you can use to filter these results:
- Invisibles. Choose whether to include hidden files in your results (‘Show’), remove them from your results (‘Hide’) or display hidden items only (‘Only’).
- Package contents. Choose whether to include packaged contents in your search results (‘Show’), hide packaged contents (‘Hide’), or include only packaged content (‘Only’).
- Trashed. Include trashed files in your search results (‘Show’), hide trashed files from your results (‘Hide’), or display trashed items only (‘Only’).
What else can I do with Find Any File?
We’ve covered the FAF essentials, but this deceptively simple app manages to pack in some powerful additional features. Let’s take a look at a few of the more complex tasks you can perform with Find Any File.
1. Build multi-step queries
Since FAF scans your entire system, if you perform a generic search based on something simple like a filename, you might find yourself having to wade through hundreds of results. You should always try to be as specific as possible with your searches, for example if you know the file in question was edited recently, then you could restrict your search to files that have a certain name and were modified within the past seven days.
To build more complex searches, click the ‘Add Choice’ button and choose from the available options, which include ‘Is a Folder,’ ‘Path,’ and ‘Creation Date.’ You can keep adding criteria to your search by clicking the ‘Add Choice’ button – remember that the more specific you are, the less search results you’ll have to wade through!
2. Save your searches
Chances are there’s a bunch of files you reach for on a regular basis. However, if these files are buried deep in your file system, then searching for them can feel like a bit of a chore.
If you’ve crafted a complex search query that returns exactly the file(s) you need, and you know you’ll be running this query again in the future, then why not save it? By saving your query as a .faf file, all you need to do is give it a click, and Find Any File will launch with all of your search criteria loaded and ready to go.
Once you’ve created your query, you can save it by selecting ‘File > Save’ from the FAF menu bar, and then entering the file name and the location where you want to save your file.
3. Find absolutely any file
Out-of-the-box, FAF doesn’t have root permissions, which means there are some corners of your system that it doesn’t search by default.
If you want to search every nook and cranny of macOS, then you can restart FAF with root permissions:
- Hold down your Mac’s ‘Option’ key.
- Click the ‘Find All’ button that appears.
- Enter your admin password when prompted.
Once FAF restarts, you’ll have permanent access to the ‘Find All’ button.