Indexing and Searching PDF Content Using Windows Search

Several customers of EZDetach and MessageSave have asked how to configure Windows Search (built into Windows), also formerly known as Windows Desktop Search, to index and search PDF files. Short answer – you need to install a PDF iFilter. Read on for a more detailed explanation.

Step 1 – Check if you have PDF iFilter installed

Go to: “Control Panel->Indexing Options->Advanced Options->File Types”  and check the text next to PDF extension. If you see “PDF Filter”, it means you have the right filter already installed. Skip to Step 3.

Step 2 – Install PDF iFilter

As of the time of writing this article, the right steps depend on whether you are using a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows.

Step 3 – Enable PDF content indexing

Open “Control Panel->Indexing Options->Advanced Options->File Types”, make sure you see “PDF Filter” next to the PDF extension. Select “Index Properties and File Contents” under “How should this file be indexed?”. Click “OK” to close this window.

Step 4 – Configure folders to be indexed

Make sure the folders which contain the PDF files you would like to search are listed under “Included Locations” in “Control Panel->Indexing Options”. If they are not, click “Modify” and add them.

Windows will start building an index of your content. This step might take a long time depending up on the number of documents. You can check indexing progress at the top of the “Indexing Options” window. Once Windows Search finishes building the index, you should be able to search for the contents within PDF file by simply typing the text in the search box.

31 Replies to “Indexing and Searching PDF Content Using Windows Search”

    1. Henry,

      It is possible that you might have missed one of the steps. Please go through them again.

      Or if you have a large number of files, it might take Windows Search a while to index them all.

      1. Hi it may be that he is having a faulty installation of the Adobe software. He download and install PDFiFilter Installer from the Adobe website. Might even work without the Reader being installed

  1. Thanks – the indexing of pdf files (and their contents) is now working fine. However, I’m wondering if it’s possible to rank the pdf documents that are found – I guess I’m looking for something like ‘Google scholar’ which looks at the pdf’s title, and abstract, and body; and gives more weight to the earlier fields. At the moment when I use Windows Desktop Search it finds too many documents.

    1. Chris,

      As far as I know, Windows Search does not provide control over its ranking algorigthm. If you see too many results, you could try to narrow it down using additional search terms. If that is not sufficient, you might want to consider using a different desktop search product.

      1. I followed the steps and was able to improve searching results. However, the bookmarks are not being included in the search results.

  2. I’ve managed to get a bit further by using ANDs, ORs and ()s, so on the whole I’m finding Windows Search is pretty good. Thanks for your help.

  3. I have installed Windows 7 on a 32 bit Dell Laptop and I can no longer search the content of PDF files. I’ve tried following the advice listed in this series and all the others I can find on line and nothing seems to work. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
    I can see that the PDF files get indexed when I set up the indexing in the control panel but the search still does not return anything other than what it finds in the file name.

    1. These instructions work for other customers. Please double-check that you followed all steps.

      If that does not help, it might be possible that your PDF files do not have text in them. Some PDF files are just images without text. For example, if you scan a document into PDF and do not run OCR on it, it might be just a picture of the original document. In this case, text will not be indexed.

  4. I will never understand why but in the end I rebuilt my 32 bit dell laptop from scratch and the pdf files can now be searched.
    I cannot search them on a mapped drive as I was able to with Windows XP because now they must be indexed and windows 7 will seems not to allow a mapped location to be indexed which must be done to make the pdf files searchable so I have had to move the files to the local drive.
    My Windows 7 64 bit systems can search the mapped drives just fine without needing to be indexed. Again I will never understand why this works and the 32 bit machine does not.

    1. Hi DAC8190,
      This means to say i need to install fresh copy on my pc? Because my pc was a installed in an image. Might some components did not work well.


  5. This is helpful. But i tried this to one of my pc running on Windows 7 and im using outlook 2007. Instant search don’t work even searching by attachment (pdf) content. Or even the content of word doc no joy. I rebuilt the index for almost 48 hours, still no luck. Any suggestion that you may add? Appreciate it.

  6. So I work at a lawyer’s office and these steps work for searching among PDFs on my desktop. But I still cannot search for text in PDFs that are on our shared drive. Any idea why that might be or how to fix that?

    1. Hi Willie,

      After Windows XP, Microsoft has removed an ability to index content of files on network shared drives from Windows Search. To make that work, you need to install “Windows Search 4.0” on the file server. Please see replies from Jeremy_Wu in this discussion thread. It describes how to configure your server to support searches from Windows 7 and newer clients.

    2. What needs to be done on a windows server is the Windows Search Service Role needs to be installed and then the Control Panel/Index Option on server should be setup. Then you need to make sure all iFilters are installed. Once this is completed you can search the items on a network share.

  7. Still having problems searching into pdf files from Outlook 2010 on a pc with Windows 7 32-bits.

    Deactivating pdf en pdfxml in indexing options, removing Adobe Acrobat 11. Resarting pc, installing Adobe Acrobat 10 and rebuilding index won’t help. Also tried everything about searches in Outlook. Does anybody maybe have the register settings for Adobe 10, with Outlook 2010 and Windows 7 32 bits?

    Please help !!!!!!

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Chris, This article talks about a different type of indexing – file indexing by Windows Search, as opposed to creating an index in a PDF document. Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for your question.

  8. The folder properties need to be set to all the contents of files to be indexed. Right click on the folder, select properties, general tab and click the advanced attributes. Check the “Allow files in this folder to have contents indexed in addition to file properties.” This took 2 days to figure out!!!

  9. We are currently unable to search a mailbox for PDF’s on their Windows 7 32 Bit machine running 32bit Office.
    We have tried reverting back to an earlier version of Reader as it seems the issue has been present ever since upgrading to DC. This hasn’t solved the issue and even though Windows Indexing Options is indexing Properties and Contents of PDF’s that do contain active text we still can not search. We have repeatedly tried different filters, A Plain text filter when using DC, iFilter and PDF filter when using Reader 11 and still no luck.
    We have re indexed the machine and removed the old index in-case of any corruption, I seem to be running out of options as I have the issue on a customer machine and a local test bench running the same configuration on a clean install.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    1. Same problem.
      Adobe does not offer phone support for Adobe Acrobat so you must use the search feature on the website. I can’t find anything about this problem.
      Dead end
      So I am forced to use another product to do searching. Currently I am using DogFetcher (FreeWare) which does work. You just need to update the search index manually as it does not do it automatically. But it will index PDFs which has text (converted from Word, Open Office, Libre Office, or Adobe products, or OCR done on it). Beats getting a new machine!
      Good Luck!

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