Searching Apple Mail Messages

The good news: HoudahSpot 6.0 can again find Apple Mail message files!

With macOS 10.15 Catalina, Apple moved the indexing of Mail messages files from traditional Spotlight to “Core Spotlight.” The problem with this change is that Core Spotlight does not allow searching by third-party applications like HoudahSpot.

More precisely, applications are only allowed to search data they have submitted themselves. Thus the Mail application can call upon Core Spotlight to find messages. Core Spotlight is of no use to search tools like HoudahSpot. HoudahSpot does not manage or create data and thus never has data to submit to Core Spotlight. Instead, as a HoudahSpot user, you expect to find all kinds of files regardless of which application created the files.

This limitation of Core Spotlight does not only interfere with search tools. Many other utilities, scripts, and productivity tools suffer from the fact that messages, notes, and bookmarks are no longer searchable. Previously, a contact manager like BusyContacts could rely on Spotlight to watch for mail messages and maintain an activity list for each contact.

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Mail Search on MacOS Catalina

Note: This blog post strays away from our usual focus on tips & tricks. It does not provide a solution or workaround for Mail searches on macOS Catalina. It rather discusses technical background and ethical considerations.

Spotlight vs. Core Spotlight

Recent versions of macOS use two indexing technologies to power local searches in the Spotlight window: Spotlight and Core Spotlight.

Spotlight was introduced with OS X 10.4 Tiger. It indexes user files. Whenever a file is modified, the Spotlight engine calls upon the appropriate importer plug-in to read metadata and text content from the file. That data is then indexed for searching.

The fact that Spotlight works only with files can be a problem for some applications. For “shoebox” applications, it is often more natural to store data items in a single file or database rather than use one file per data item. Such data items cannot be indexed by Spotlight. Thus such applications either have to change their data storage to fit Spotlight’s requirements or resort to tricks to get their data into Spotlight.

Core Spotlight is a more recent addition. Core Spotlight does not watch for data or files to appear. Instead, applications actively submit data to Core Spotlight for indexing. This reversal of roles allows Core Spotlight to index any kind of data.  Continue reading Mail Search on MacOS Catalina

How-to: Customize the HoudahSpot Alfred Workflow

Alfred by Running with Crayons Ltd. is an award-winning app for macOS which boosts your efficiency with hotkeys, keywords, text expansion and more.

HoudahSpot is a powerful file search tool. It takes the guesswork out of Spotlight searches and helps you find files hidden deep in the “haystack” of files accumulated over the years.

HoudahSpot 5 includes an Alfred workflow that provides an elegant way to start a HoudahSpot search using Alfred. You can install this workflow from HoudahSpot > Preferences > Extensions.

Note: Workflows are part of the extended Alfred feature set. This needs to be unlocked by purchasing the Alfred Powerpack .

Screenshot: Alfred in action
Start a file search from Alfred

The workflow is triggered using the hs keyword in Alfred. You may need to use the arrow keys to select the workflow. Press the space key to activate the workflow.

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How-to: Customize the HoudahSpot LaunchBar Action

Objective Development’s LaunchBar is an adaptive app launcher, document browser, and much more.

HoudahSpot is a powerful file search tool. It takes the guesswork out of Spotlight searches and helps you find files hidden deep in the “haystack” of files accumulated over the years.

HoudahSpot 5 includes a LaunchBar action that provides an elegant way to start a HoudahSpot search using LaunchBar. You can install this action from HoudahSpot > Preferences > Extensions.

Screenshot: LaunchBar in action
Start a file search from LaunchBar 6

The action is selected by typing the hs abbreviation in LaunchBar.

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Use the Mail template to find e-mails in Apple Mail

According to research, e-mail users send and receive an average of 122 business e-mails per day. And the amount is bound to increase in the future. To find specific information in the haystack of archived e-mail data can be a difficult task.

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