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Find Files Within a Date Range with Windows Vista Search

I was browsing our forum earlier today when I noticed a question from a reader asking how to select a date range when searching for files in advanced search. This is something that was extremely easy in XP, but seems to be much less intuitive in Vista.

I figured he can’t be the only person confused by this, so I’m writing it up here for everybody. Hopefully this will help somebody!

Search Date Range with the Keyboard

If you are a keyboard junkie, you can easily select a date range by using the following syntax in the search box in any folder:

modified:2/1/2008 .. 2/20/2008

The key is the two periods between the dates, which tells the search engine to use it as a range. You could use “Datecreated” instead of “modified”, or just “date” if you wanted to.

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If you want to change the search to also use keywords as well, you can use the name: parameter like this:

name:xls modified:2/1/2008..2/20/2008

It’s quite powerful once you get used to it.

Select Date Range with the Mouse

If you aren’t a keyboard junkie you probably don’t want to remember the exact syntax you need to type in, but don’t fear – we’ve got another way to do it. Just open up Advanced search by hitting the F3 key with an Explorer window open (or if you are using Vista pre-SP1 you can use the Search option on the start menu)

Now change the Date drop-down to “Date Modified” and then “is”, then pop up the date range box…

image

Once you have the date range box open, you can just click the first date and drag the mouse to select more dates.

image

You can even click on the month to select the whole month, or even select multiple months. The key thing is that once you’ve got the selection how you want it, you need to click somewhere else… it’s slightly tricky until you get used to it.

Of course you’ll have the best luck if you also put in a filename into the Name box, and select the right folder location to search in.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 02/28/08

Comments (29)

  1. senderista

    Advanced Query Syntax for Vista is documented here (there are still a few undocumented features but this covers most of it):

    http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb266512(VS.85).aspx

  2. Bruce

    Finding files of a certain type modified within a range of dates seemed so much easier under XP that before searching out this article I was trying to shaer my C: drive on my non-domain Vista machine somehow to a domain-based XP machine on the local LAN just so I could search the Vista drive for an important date range from XP. But that was not so easy to do either (so maybe you can cover it in another article).

    Thanks.

  3. John Hudson

    I really wish Microsoft would stop “fixing” things like this that aren’t broken. Why change the XP search behaviour when it’s more inituitive?

    There is no indication even in Vista help that you can search for a range of dates, so this had me frustrated for quite a few minutes until I found this article.

  4. Terry Miller

    Does Microsoft never listen to their market? Their products have always been a collection of mis-named counterintuitive gibberish packaged in the most illogical menu system possible – and rather than fix it they brought Vista which only assigns new counterintuitive names arranged in new illogical menus. Obviously they never use their own products.

    Thanks for the helpful tip – “search by date range” is one of the most useful tools for anyone who actually uses their computer and collects many files over time.

  5. Gayle Larson

    Wow! Thanks so much. Love those keyboard shortcuts and really appreciate the tip for date searches. I don’t know what happened to “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but Microsoft sure dropped the ball on this one.

    Thanks again!
    Gayle

  6. Gabhan

    Can you tell me how I can restrict the search to a number of main folders?
    Like d:\dev and d:\sandbox?
    And for a number of named extensions (*.sql;*.doc;*.txt)
    And the other thing is, do I have to type all this in the tiny little search box at the top right?
    Can I make this box bigger, and can I have advanced search turned on by default?

  7. John

    THANK-YOU for this write-up. Searching a date range within a folder or collection of subfolders is a basic requirement for moderately advanced users. Why M$ would not properly document this (I have been looking for 2+ hours) and why they couldn’t just use two pick-calendars like WinXPO is beyond belief. Here is another example of a solution looking for a problem. I need to do REAL work and do it quickly. Insert M$ into the equation and… well… good luck. Don’t even get me started about opening and printing multiple spreadsheets from Windows Explorer in Vista (the way you could EASILY do it in WinXP). A complete joke. For heaven’s sake! Click, click, click, click, click, click. What we need is a simple modern-day version of a batch system command set… PRINT *.XLS USING XXX ORDER Y PRINTER Z NOW… etc., etc., etc.

  8. anon

    This was HUGELY helpful for me! I am new to Vista and was going crazy trying to find a file. THANKS!

  9. Ewald Gold

    The search function seems to be a step back to DOS when I had to write literally everything. The search function with the right click were so easy with XP. I am also new to VISTA and it seems I have to learn from scrap.
    Thanks for your tips but I still cannot find the advanced search. With F3 I get the simple seach window from Google. And in Start there is no Search command. I spent already hours to find how I can search for files by size. Can anybody tell me why the advance search is so well hidden in VISTA?
    Can someone help me, please.
    Ewald

  10. tito

    >Thanks. This site has shown to be the most purposeful in providing meaningful information that doubtless is not just parroting MS verbage as are SO many “may we help you” sites. Thank you for actually constructing answers based on what appears to honestly be an independent evaluation of experience.
    >I must mention, although, in sympathy with…nay, with the solidarity it demands…I could not agree more with the earlier posters as to the inexplicable determination of MS to “fix” things (such as search) which certainly do *not* need fixing. But it is somehow satisfying to know that I’m not alone in wondering if my 20+ years of experience has failed me…I’m certain it hasn’t.
    >I’ve found countless examples of bewilderment posted by others of which I concur, notably that the Vista Search mechanism works *best* if one *already* knows *where* it is! Leaving the question open as to, that being the case, of *what would be the purpose of searching* I know the author of this article agrees with this because I am helped by his last paragraph, thus: “Of course you’ll have the best luck if you also put in a filename into the Name box, and select the right folder location to search in.”
    >Thank you so very much. Great tip, too…and I remind all that although it may been said before, it is clearly said best *here*.

  11. kathryn

    thanks so much for your help, i am new to vista and hope i can find my file this way.

  12. Nita

    Thanks so much for this!!!! You are now prominently bookmarked as a “most-helpful-resource”. I was beginning to think I was nuts for wanting this function (date to date search) back when Vista is supposed to be soooo advanced (Hah!). I agree with all of the above in spades.

  13. James Briggs

    Is there any software that would give me the search capacities on Vista that I have on XP.

  14. Tina

    Just when I was hoping I was comfortable with Vista, I thought I would lose my mind searching for files with a date range. Microsoft really missed the boat with this one. The date range search was sooooo easy in XP. Thank you for your help!

  15. Emma

    Firstly, to Ewald Goldīs q about not being able to find the advanced search button, yes ironically I had to do a search for “advanced search” before that turned up. but then it did.

    Secondly, and more gushingly, I love you all for this How-to and following comments. It saved me from an imminent and violent hissy fit, I absolutely concur with the comments re the frustration of this silly change to a non-intuitive method, but reading that I was not the only one banging my head against this particular wall was a great relief. Thanks to all :o).

  16. Emma

    ooh, my smiley went funny – shows my un-savvyness. trying again :)

  17. Neweton

    Modified works slightly. But F3 does NOT work, at least if you have Google desktop. Indeed, if you turn Google desktop off, F3 just turns on Google desktop again. Ugggh.

  18. G Ronald Dalton

    Many thanks for the clear description of using Vista Search by date range article. It was most helpful.

  19. popularbob

    Thank you for the tips on searching. I spent the last half hour trying to find this using MS help and you explain both text and gui in one quick screen

  20. diane

    Thanks! I was one of the frustrated until seeing your instructions.

  21. Lisa

    That was extraordinarily helpful! Thank you! I was pulling my hair out!

  22. rob3401

    This is just one example among others in Vista that convince me that Microsoft is very subtly being sabotaged. What used to take a few clicks now requires many; or the feature is now hidden. It is obvious to anyone that the changes are counterproductive. So why make them, unless there was some purposeful intent? The Vista OS is so massive, I understand how a subtle change can get past the pre-launch quality assurance teams. I find it interesting that a Google search window pops up when you hit the F3 key if Google products are already on your desktop. I suspect a “mole” agent programmer from another company with designs on breaking MS’s lead in the OS market is introducing these frustrating changes. I also think MS won’t admit this ever. It would be a public relations catastrophe. What an unfortunate bind.

  23. rob3401

    Dear blogsite moderator:
    Please delete my previous (March 18, 2010 8:31 pm) submission and this one too. It doesn’t help anything.
    Kind regards,
    Rob

  24. DeeC

    I love how when it comes to MS stuff editors use print like “just hit f3″ and when its a small company that has stuff much easier than MS they complain about how hard something is – it’s so unintuitive and have to read the manual and do this and that to find you have to press f3…. XP was much easier than vista/win7 – I’d have spent hours if I didn’t take the time to have to connect the internet and find a 3rd party source to figure it out.

  25. kbus

    Neither F3 or “Ctrl F” provide the feature-rich drop-down menu. I simply get the lame drop-down menu in upper-right corner ——- Attn: Microsoft, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Windows XP allowed me to search all sorts of ways, and I knew how to get to the feature. I’m sure I can get to it somehow, but it will be a PITA figuring it out. Microsoft, I’ll send you the bill for my hours ——- The “x” in the file extensions .docx and xlsx stand for “X-tra” “X-tended” income for Microsoft on products that required NO fixing.

  26. keimo

    And even worse.. vista will not find all your files. I have 10500 .wma files on my drive. Vista found 174 of them with search criteria “wma”. I re-indexed the drive. Vista indexed 1562 files and then found 168 wma-files.

    I have some duplicate files on the drive e.g. MySong.wma and MySong[1].wma. I wanted to find the duplicates but vista only found a few files with search criteria “1″ and no files at all with criteria “[“.

    Any ideas anybody?

  27. Kate

    Thank you. This is just what I needed.

  28. Andrew

    Nope, sorry this didn’t work. I agree with one of the posts above. Microsoft developed yet another useless software program. Yet another example of “evergreening” their patents with more and more useless inferior changes. I am hoping for the day when the Microsoft software monopoly is finally broken. We all need to work to having the laws changed to break software patent limits. Laws need to match the times.

  29. burlington_bob

    Wow I just can’t believe how crappy the search is. I think everything has already been said so I’ll just add that I’ve pretty much had it with MS (no win phone 7 for me). Thanks for the tips they helped a lot, should have checked out this site earlier, would have saved a couple of hours. I refused to go to the MS site.

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