Some Spotlight Discoveries

/ 22 January 2008

The first discovery related to Spotlight I have learned in these past few days I found on Saturday. That was when I noticed, that unlike in 10.4, Spotlight can index and search flash memory. This includes all USB Thumb Drives and all digital camera memory cards as long as the camera is mounted into Finder. This can be quite useful depending on how much of your data is on flash drives (next to none of my data is).

The second discovery involves Time Machine and Spotlight. At first I had disabled Spotlight for the external hard disk that is housing my Time Machine archives, but as I’m now also storing many iMovie projects and other related documents on the drive I wanted to re-enable it. I’ve read many user reports outlining that Spotlight indexing Time Machine archives can hurt both the backups and the integrity of the Spotlight database. So, a compromise I’ve settled upon that seems to be working fine is to let Spotlight index the hard disk, but tell it to exclude the Backups.backupdb folder from indexing and searching. I’ve run a Time Machine backup to test this idea working, and it does. You’ll notice that each time the disk is attached Spotlight will begin to index, but will never actually index all your backups.

The third discovery involves remotely mounted filesystems and Spotlight. Here at school I have a user account on the Mac OS X Server that all the labs of macs at the school provide user accounts from. I mount this user account every so often on my own MacBook to save files to it and copy them across from one to the other. Just now I mounted this user account (a remotely mounted filesystem) and copied the entire name of a folder in my Documents folder there and pasted it into the Spotlight search field in the Spotlight menu. The only results I got were results that were from the local filesystem on my MacBook. So, I copied the same text into the search field in the Finder window that had the user account mounted and it searched my internal disk. But, in the criteria was the option to search the remote user account. Testing a search there found the original folder, just the search took 10 seconds (as opposed to under a second). I looked and there wasn’t a direct Spotlight index at the root of the user account, and the macs here at Crosswinds all run Tiger, so will have 10.4 Spotlight indexes that I thought weren’t compatible with 10.5. This is quite a neat discovery as it then applies to any Shared filesystem that you mount through Finder.

The fourth discovery is that the 10.4 and 10.5 Spotlight indexes are named the same, but not directly compatible. So if I’m not mistaken then an external disk that is regularly attached to both a 10.4-based and a 10.5-based mac then Spotlight may end up re-indexing endlessly. Enjoy, Alex.