Learn How to Use Windows 7’s Advanced Search Operators

By YatriTrivedi on September 6th, 2011

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While many people feel searching in Windows is less than ideal, 7’s abilities are fairly amazing. The big trick to unlocking them, however, lies in Advanced Query Syntax. Using these advanced operators can make finding files dead simple.

Advanced Query Syntax

Windows 7 eschews a proper “Advanced Search” option in favor of using Advanced Query Syntax. It was developed alongside the Windows Search tool and has been seamlessly baked into 7’s goodness.

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AQS allows you to use special operators and searching syntax to quickly pare down results. The biggest benefit to this is that if you know the operators, you can find results more quickly because you can type faster than you can click. AQS feeds off of natural language keywords along with specific operators to get the job done. You enter your search terms, you put down an “operator,” then follow up with a “property” that can be mathematical, from a specific list, or from everyday speech.

If you refuse to memorize things on principle, though, you don’t need to worry; you can add operators and select properties with the mouse, as well. The best part is you can use AQS anywhere you search, including the two most prominent areas: the Start Menu and in Explorer windows.

Searching and Omitting

Pop open an Explorer window and search for something. I searched for “photo” because I’m looking for things with that in the title or location.

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But, let’s say I wanted to eliminate anything that had “adobe” in the title or location? That’s easy! Just add a dash before words you want to “subtract” from your results.

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You can see that my search options changed a bit. If you want to search for exact phrases, you can use quotes (just like with Google).

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It’s important to note that Windows Search does not differentiate between letter case.

Here’s a list of AQS operators that have to do with text searching:

  • NOT/- : Both “not” as well as prefixing a dash will tell your search to exclude items that include the following term.
  • AND/+ : Both “and” as well as prefixing a plus sign will force your search to only include items that match for both terms.
  • “” : Using quotes will force a search to filter for an exact phrase.

Kinds and Types of Files

Let’s take things a bit further and search for a specific kind of file. If you click on the search terms, you should see a box pop up asking if you want to add a search filter.

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If you select “Kind,” you’ll get a drop-down list of different types of files. “Picture” seems appropriate in my case.

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You can also choose “Type” instead.

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Now you can choose a specific extension or a group of extensions for a known type. For example, you can search with the extension “.jpg” or you can search for “JPG File.” The latter will pick out “.jpg” and “.jpeg” files.

Date and Size

Maybe we knew we had edited the file at some point. Choose “Date modified” and you’ll be able to select a range of dates with your mouse.

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Yes, I searched for modified files from midnight to several days into the future. Sometimes, you just want to be sure.

Alternatively, you could also use the following syntax instead of using the mouse:

search terms >mm/dd/yy

search terms datemodified:mm/dd/yy..mm/dd/yy

search terms date:past month

As you can see, AQS accepts a very diverse set of operators and mathematical and natural language cues.

You can search for size in a similar fashion:

search terms size: gigantic

search terms size:>= 128mb

The “size” operator has a list of properties that correspond with specific file size ranges.

  • Empty: 0kb files
  • Tiny: 0-10kb
  • Small: 10-100kb
  • Medium: 100kb-1mb
  • Large: 1mb-16mb
  • Huge: 16mb-128mb
  • Gigantic: larger than 128mb

These can come in handy if you know that you resized a pic, for example, and it wasn’t the huge 6 MB JPEG it was originally. You can search with “size:medium” for the smaller file.

Searching with Natural Language

As mentioned, a huge (64mb) advantage is that if you know the operators, you can use normal words as properties. This makes AQS fairly easy to learn and use daily. There’s such a wide plethora of options out there for you search with. Here are a few more examples:

size:>=3mb <=9mb

author:(Yatri OR Geek)

modified:January..yesterday

type:music bitrate:>=160kbps

Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Because AQS has this crazy range of input, here are a few guidelines you should follow, in general:

  • Operators that use multiple words should not have a space. “datemodified” instead of “date modified”
  • The operator should have a colon directly after it, and no empty space following. “size:>10mb” and NOT ”size: >10mb” or “size :>10mb”

While your results may seem unaffected for some searches, they may not work properly with others. It’s best to stick to the scheme outlined above.

Oh, and of course, you can stack multiple operators together:

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For more information about what operators you can use with AQS and what properties they take, check out Microsoft’s article on Windows Search AQS.

Have you found any neat tricks with AQS? Share your search prowess in the comments!

Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.

  • Published 09/6/11
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