How to View a File’s Pathname in Spotlight

Spotlight search bar

Spotlight is a handy macOS utility that allows you to quickly find documents, applications, files, and folders on your Mac. It can also serve up the latest weather forecast, movie times, currency exchange rates and even look up someone in your Contacts – plus a whole lot more.

Personally, I hadn’t used Spotlight all too much, mostly because I was (and am) a creature of habit. If I want to find a specific email, I Cmd (⌘) + Tab (⇥) over to my Mail app and Cmd (⌘) + F to “find” what I need. If I want to launch an application, I navigate to my finder and Shift (⇧) + Cmd (⌘) + A to take me to the Applications folder where I type the first few letters of the app’s name and then Cmd (⌘) + Down Arrow (↓) to open it. If I want to find a place to eat, I just Yelp it.

All of this is kinda crazy considering Spotlight was first released with Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in 2005 – you’d think I’d have gotten with the program by now.

I would venture to guess that 90% of the time when I am trying to find something on my computer, it’s a file or folder. Or if I know where a file is, I don’t feel like manually navigating 10 levels down my directory tree. So, I simply pop open a Finder window and use the search bar — viola! It shows me the path to the searched-for file, and a single click takes me there. Spotlight doesn’t do that. Sure, it will find the file, but it frustratingly won’t show me its location, let alone take me there.

Or so I thought, because… well like I said, I’m a creature of habit who never took the time to ask myself, “Is there a way to view the pathname of a file in Spotlight?”

Well, of course there is, or you wouldn’t be reading this! And the mystery that has eluded me all these years is not exactly complex:

Cmd (⌘) icon

Yep, that’s all there is to it.

Use Spotlight to find the file, select it from the list, and hold the Cmd (⌘) key. Want to quickly navigate to its location? Hit “R” while still holding Cmd (⌘) and a finder window will pop open for you.

Screenshot of macOS Spotlight search return results with file pathname highlighted
Holding Cmd (⌘) in Spotlight search results reveals the pathname.

I won’t say this has completely revolutionized my workflow, but it certainly has sped it up a bit. Here it is again for those of you who prefer an ordered list for reference…

How to View a File’s Pathname in Spotlight

  1. Open Spotlight by clicking  in the upper-right corner of the menu bar, or pressing Cmd (⌘) + Space Bar
  2. Enter the filename you are looking for. It will start matching the characters as you type.
  3. Use the up and down arrows to move through the results list, or click an item with your mouse.
  4. Hold the Cmd (⌘) key to view the pathname.
  5. Hit “R” along with Cmd (⌘) to open the file’s location.