Thoughtful, detailed coverage of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, plus the TidBITS Content Network for Apple consultants.

Flashlight Brightens Up Spotlight in Yosemite

For years, Mac power users have relied on third-party launchers like LaunchBar and Alfred to launch apps, search their computers, and perform numerous other actions. In OS X 10.10 Yosemite, Apple borrowed many of these features, incorporating them into a redesigned Spotlight. Beyond just finding files on your Mac, Spotlight can now search for things in Apple’s various digital stores, look up Wikipedia articles, perform calculations, and more (see “Apple Unveils iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite at WWDC,” 2 June 2014).

Part of what makes apps like LaunchBar and Alfred so powerful is their plugin architectures, which enabled developers to expand their capabilities, something that Spotlight lacked until recently. Developer Nate Parrot has created Flashlight, an open platform that makes it possible for developers to expand Spotlight’s repertoire of commands. The free Flashlight app helps you find, install, and manage the necessary plugins.

Once you launch the Flashlight app, you must click Enable Spotlight Plugins to open Spotlight up to Flashlight’s plugins. After that, it’s just a matter of going through Flashlight and picking the plugins you want. What can you do with Flashlight out of the box? Here are some examples:

  • Perform a quick Web search by inserting / before a Spotlight query.

  • Search Google Maps by prefixing your query with “google maps” or just “gm”.

  • Eject a mounted volume. You can also eject all mounted volumes by typing “eject all”.

  • Create reminders, like “remind me to cut slats for the porch box”.

  • Create calendar events, with a certain amount of natural language processing, like “make a doctor appointment at 3pm tomorrow”.

  • Send iMessages by typing “text person your message”, assuming that person is in your contacts. Press Return to send your message.

To see a full list of installed commands, select the Installed category in Flashlight’s sidebar. You can also click the optional Flashlight menu bar icon to see sample searches for all available commands.

You can install any of hundreds of plugins. The Flashlight app offers browsable categories including Design, Developer, Language, Media, and System, or you can search through the full set. Here are a handful of the more interesting plugins:

  • ESPN Scores: find sports scores with Spotlight
  • Google Translate: translate words and phrases
  • Lorem Ipsum: generate placeholder text
  • Fast Tweet: tweet from Spotlight
  • Spotlight Timer: set a notification timer from within Spotlight
  • Terminal: execute Terminal commands in Spotlight; commands are run in the current Finder folder if the Finder is open.

If you want to create your own Flashlight commands, you can do so with Automator actions, or if you’re more technical, via a Python API.

While this initial version of Flashlight provides many interesting capabilities, it still has lots of rough edges. For instance, the weather command has trouble recognizing states alongside cities, so typing “weather lafayette, in” results in question marks instead of a forecast. I’ve also encountered server errors when trying to perform Web searches and rendering issues while browsing available commands. And while Flashlight extends Spotlight nicely, it has nothing to compare with LaunchBar’s extensive file and clipboard manipulation features.

But it’s hard to complain, given Flashlight’s price and how it extends Spotlight in useful new ways. For those who prefer sticking with Apple’s built-in services when possible, it’s worth turning Flashlight on to see if it shines a light on your queries.


Try productivity tools from Smile that will make your job easier!
PDFpen: PDF toolkit for busy pros on Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
TextExpander: Your shortcut to accurate writing on Mac, Windows,
and iOS. Free trials and friendly support. <>

Comments about Flashlight Brightens Up Spotlight in Yosemite
(Comments are closed.)

David Morrison  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-06-24 07:09
This is all well and good, but is there a plugin that makes Spotlight default to looking for files containing the given string in their names?

I am almost always looking for files by name, and the last thing I want is thousands of files whose contents contain the string. Even less attractive is the idea of Spotlight adding to that thousands more web sites, items from Apple stores, etc, etc.

I know it is a file I want. If I wanted to search the web, I would use a browser. If I wanted a song, I would search iTunes.

Where did they get the idea that more irrelevant responses is better? Psychologists will tell you that once it gets beyond a few results, people switch off, rendering the whole process pointless.
Jorg Schumacher  2015-06-29 16:56
Use the free FOUND application. It does exactly what you want.
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-06-29 19:09
I use Find Any File when Spotlight isn't appropriate - as when searching for invisible system files. It uses the old Mac OS Find File format which was drop dead easy to use. You can customize your search criteria in a variety of ways, just as you could in the old OS. And it does not search file contents.
David Morrison  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-06-29 20:56
Not really. It does not find folders for one thing. It does not seem to find .webloc files either. And it seems to find files containing the string rather than the ones whose name contains it. Some other bizarre behaviours too, like it will not let me specify my home directory because it will take too long to search. But it will allow me to specify a whole disk, including the one my home directory is on.
David Morrison  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2015-06-29 21:06
I use EasyFind, which does much the same thing. Both of them search directly. Is there something that uses the Spotlight database to give quicker results? (Not the EasyFind is slow, but it is slower than Spotlight.)
B. Jefferson Le Blanc  2015-06-29 19:02
This sounds like a power user's wet dream. For a tired old-fogey like me, though, it's just more stuff to learn. If I can already do by standard means anything I might use Flashlight for, shaving a second or two off the time it takes me to do it isn't worth the trouble of learning a whole new set of procedures. If I were twenty years younger though....
nudolfan1  2015-07-04 14:00
It appears that Flashlight stopped working when Yosemite was updated to 10.10.3 and still doesn't work with 10.10.4.