Better searching in Apple Mail

Hi all,

I’m finding Mail’s search feature frustrating. I’m not sure if I need to get better at my boolean, or if I need a better search tool. Seems like I could always find what I need in Mailmate or Gmail, but in Apple Mail my results are so crowded with noise.

For those that use, are there strategies or external apps you use to search email?


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search tokens and conversation view. I find almost everything I search for very quickly because of the way Apple Mail shows conversations. At least half the time the search results surface a message in the same thread as the message I really want to find. Then I just scroll up or down to get to the one I need.

This sounds like a lot of extra work, but in practice I usually spend less than 30 seconds to find any message.

I looked up “search tokens” because I wasn’t sure what they were and found this article, which articulates what I find frustrating about them, “You can’t force Mail to make a search token; you can only take what it offers.”

I am used to being able to say things like from: and to: and subject: and has:attachment. Can I reliably evoke these things in Mail or do I have to rely on it to suggest them?

I have never been happy with the search function of any Apple email client. I normally recommend webmail (or Mailplane) on the Mac for Gmail users.

I installed the Gmail app on my iPhone primarily for its excellent search then, over time, it became my preferred IOS email client.

Apple Mail has some very good features and I continue to use it from time to time, but not for search.

Yes, Mailplane’s a great app and I used it for many years. IIRC it doesn’t unify inboxes, correct?

I know what you mean. I would rather be able to type subject:xxx but I use the dropdown to create the tokens. It can be done entirely with the keyboard:

  • ⌥⌘F to activate the search box
  • Type search query
  • Arrow Down to select from “People” Subject" etc by hitting RETURN, which will insert the token and put the cursor back in the search box (or hit RETURN to search all, without tokens, and go directly to results)
  • Arrow Left to highlight the search term/token in the search box, then Arrow Down on it to switch To/From
  • Repeat with additional tokens and terms, hit RETURN to search.

I can’t remember the last time I was unable to find something I knew was there.

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Not that I know of. I consolidate everything by forwarding mail from my 2 private domains into my primary gmail account then sort and label it via server side rules.

I use from:somebody or to:somebody or subject:something all the time in mail in Catalina. Mail converts them to the tokens for me.

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Apple Mal sucks at a lot of things – search is the suckiest.

I eventually bought FoxTrot Pro just for that reason. It’s a quite a bit better, though a bit weird in the interface, and doesn’t render rich text in mail messages. But it finds them without all the dreck that Mail throws up.

(I never understand when I search in Apple Mail for “” I get nothing but completely unrelated email.)

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This is my experience, too. I can’t follow the logic of many of my search results so I start to throw up my hands. I should probably go back to Mailmate.

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Do I take it you still use it, tho?

How strange that some people are having such a bad experience with search. It is extremely accurate for me. Using @anon41602260’s example, if I type “” I get literally every message from and nothing else.

What gives?

Webmail mainly for most purposes. And Airmail on my iPads.

This is an inconsistent experience for me.

For example, typing yields results I expect, but typing “apple” yields a ton of odd results. It took me two tries to find one that has zero mention of the word “apple.” How many others are also false positives, in the way of scanning for the message I’m looking for?

Okay, I am with you. “Apple” served me up a bunch of nonsense. I even looked at the raw source in a couple messages. No "apple"s :frowning:

In fairness, I should mention that deleting the “envelope index” files in ~/Library/Mail/V7/MailData... (for Catalina) has in past versions of macOS / OS X been helpful in fixing search issues. As has rebuilding the Spotlight index. In recent versions of macOS, I find these fixes are less persistent or do not help at all.

I use DEVONTHink for all deep searching. I import the messages into DT and search there.

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Interesting… I see my email in DT3, but how do I search it?

I import into DEVONThink the messages I want to archive and then I use the search window and type my search in there. Over on the right is where I put the search bar, you can move it around if you wish by customizing the toolbar.

Here’s my DT toolbar

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Thanks, so you’re deciding per message what to archive in DT? Or is there something automated about it?