Keyboard shortcuts to switch Mail's search focus?

I frequently use Mail’s search to dig out old messages I’d never find by hand. Basically all of that I can do straight from the keyboard, except—as far as I know (so far)— changing the search focus from let’s say all mailboxes to currently selected folder. It seems I always have to pick up my mouse or go to the trackpad to switch between the two options. As I often find I have to do that switch and I don’t like leaving the KB, I’m wondering if maybe somebody here knows a convenient KB shortcut to switch that search focus, or rather, to toggle it between the two options?

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I’ve found that Spotlight on my Mac and global Search on my iPad and iPhone work better and faster than Mail search.

If you enable ‘Tab to All Controls’ in System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts, after entering your search term, you can then hit the Tab key three times to cycle and highlight the current folder (whose name now appears in the Shortcuts bar; i.e. 1=Mailboxes; 2=All; 3=[current folder]) then press Spacebar to switch to that folder while still maintaining the Search term.

Command-Option-F returns focus to the Search field without changing folder focus, if you want to change/add/refine your query.

If, for some reason, you prefer not to have ‘Tab to All Controls’ enabled System wide, you can accomplish the same thing (with three fewer keystrokes) using the excellent Keyboard Maestro by using the ‘Found Image’ feature to locate the (always variable) target area immediately right of the text ‘Search: All’ and simulate a mouse click.

( note that you will typically also want to set window conditions to acknowledge you are in Search mode, and disable this action under normal conditions)

The latter method is how I manage on my Mac(s); the former how I deal with other people’s Macs.

Thanks, Frederico. Great advice. I’ll have to try that.

Works very nicely indeed. :slight_smile: Thanks!

Only confusing thing to me is that when tabbing between folders I have to hit space to select rather than enter/return. Other than that, it does exactly what I wanted.

Any way to set tab to all controls on a per-app basis rather than globally. Sure, there’s ctrl-F7, but even if I could remember that, it offers no visual cue so you don’t really know which state you’re in (unless by trial and error).

Interesting the things that show up in the system over the years. In the past I’ve been able to tab backwards to my mailbox list from the messages, but one of my upgrades, either to Sierra or an upgrade to that, has broken it. I was hoping this would fix it, but it didn’t.


@Simon Simon, the Spacebar requirement over Return/Enter is based on the issue that in many places, especially dialogs, Enter/Return is reservedfor the fully-highlighted button; or May make a normal action for whatever controls are designated in the current window (e.g., a text editor, calculator, Excel or Numbers cell, etc.).

Spacebar has always been the action key for edge-highlighted objects.

To the best of my knowledge, there’s no System-based way of designating All Controls access on a per app basis; however, once again, the mighty Keyboard Maestro can be used to set System conditions based on the active application; so you could use it to toggle access control on and off based on whether Mail is in focus; indeed, if desired, only when a Mail viewer window is in focus, and only when the Search mode is active.


@dianed143 Dianne,

Yes, that massively annoying bug was introduced in El Capiitan; and though I’ve filed numerous RADAR reports for every point release since, it’s clear they have no intention of fixing it.

To further beat a familiar drum, this can, like thousands of other annoyances, be fixed with some magic from Keyboard Maestro.


Ahhh I skipped El Capitan. This year I set up smart mailboxes that keep all my unread mail for the day in a folder so it eliminates a lot of hopping around between boxes, but I do still have need to go back and re-read things.

How do you make RADAR reports? I will be happy to do that too.

Life in quicker when we keep our hands on the keyboard. It would be nice if those born into the mouse generation understood that.


Yeah, indeed. That makes perfect sense. Thanks for pointing that out.

@Dianne Mail-specific feedback for consumers can be made here: ; a listing of all products can be found here:

A developer account is required to access Apple’s Radar bug reporting.