How to Search for File Contents on Windows

Windows Search is a built-in feature that allows Windows users to quickly search for a file or a group of files using metadata or its name. The good thing about Windows Search is that it is very powerful tool that can be used to narrow down your search criterion even further. Windows Search not only indexes the file with their properties or metadata, but it also indexes the files with their content. This means that you can search the files with a specific word or a phrase in it.

The problem with Windows Search is that it doesn’t content index all the file types. The content indexing is done for the plain-text file types. But, if you have a custom file type with plain text then it might not be indexed by the Windows Search. The good thing here is that you can change the file types that are content indexed so you can easily search any type of file based on a word or phrase.

File Types that are Content Indexed by Default

There are the file types that are content indexed by default. If your targeted file is of type that isn’t in this list then your file won’t be content indexed and, therefore, you won’t be able to search the file with words or phrases.

A, ANS, ASC, ASM, ASX, AU3, BAS, BAT, BCP, C, CC, CLS, CMD, CPP, CS, CSA, CSV, CXX, DBS, DEF, DIC, DOS, DSP, DSW, EXT, FAQ, FKY, H, HPP, HXX, I, IBQ, ICS, IDL, IDQ, INC, INF, INI, INL, INX, JAV, JAVA, JS, KCI, LGN, LST, M3U, MAK, MK, ODH, ODL, PL, PRC, RC2, RC, RCT, REG, RGS, RUL, S, SCC, SOL, SQL, TAB, TDL, TLH, TLI, TRG, TXT, UDF, UDT, USR, VBS, VIW, VSPSCC, VSSCC, VSSSCC, WRI, WTX
All these are file extensions/types. So, there should be a “dot” before these types. For example TXT will appear as .txt at the end of your file name.

If you don’t want to go through all the steps and you only have to do this search once then try the steps given below:

  1. Hold Windows key and press E
  2. Navigate to the folder where you want to search a file based on its content
  3. Type content: “your phrase” in the search box

This should search the file’s content. This is, of course, a very tedious way of searching this file. So, we highly recommend you follow the steps given in method 1. Once you are done with method 1, your settings will be changed and you won’t have to type anything extra from that point forward.

Method 1: Indexing Options

If your custom file type (or the file that you want to be content indexed) isn’t in the list of file types that are content indexed by default then you can add the file type via the Indexing Options. Follow the steps given below

  1. Press Windows key once
  2. Type indexing options in the Windows Search box
  3. Click Indexing Options from the results

  1. Click Advanced. Click Yes if it asks for permission

  1. Select the File Types tab
  2. Now, search for the file type, that you want to be content indexed, in the list
  3. If the file type is in the list then select it and make sure it is checked. On the other hand, if your file type isn’t in the list then type the file type in the text box under Add new extension to list: and Click Add

  1. Make sure your file type is selected from the list
  2. Select the option Index Properties and File Contents. This should be in the How this file should be indexed? Section
  3. Click Ok

  1. A warning will appear that it might take a lot of time to build the index. Simply click Ok

That’s it. Now your chosen file type will be search for a word or a phrase as well.

Note: If you want to always search within the file contents of a group of files or a folder then follow the steps given below

  1. Hold Windows key and press E
  2. Now, if you want to always search within the file contents of multiple files and these files aren’t in the same place then copy them under a same folder. On the other hand, if all the files are already in a folder then don’t do anything. We are doing this because you can turn on content indexing for a whole folder. So, it’s easier to put all the files in a single folder and turn this option instead of turning this option on for multiple folders
  3. Once done, navigate to the folder
  4. Click View
  5. Click Options
  6. Click Change folder and search options

  1. Select the Search tab
  2. Check the option Always search file names and contents (this might take several minutes). This option should be under the When searching non-indexed locations section

  1. Click Apply then select Ok

The files in this folder should now be searched for their contents as well.

Kevin Arrows
Kevin is a dynamic and self-motivated information technology professional, with a Thorough knowledge of all facets pertaining to network infrastructure design, implementation and administration. Superior record of delivering simultaneous large-scale mission critical projects on time and under budget.

Expert Tip

How to Search for File Contents on Windows

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