What's up with search in Mail in Big Sur?

Search has gotten really bad in MacOS Mail.

I just tried searching for thispersonsname@me.com and nothing came up. But if I go to gmail.com and search for from:thispersonsname@me.com I get all of them right away.

Even Outlook on my iPhone finds them all right away.

I use MacOS Mail on my MBP because I can use MsgFiler to file and I like the photo annotation feature.

I use Outlook on my iPhone because the filing is better than the really bad one in standard iOS Mail. At least you can search for a folder to move messages to.

But the Mail search in MacOS Mail has become unusable lately.


Open System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy Tab. Add your disk(s) to the Privacy tab window. Then remove it again. This triggers a search to build Spotlights database, it can take some time. Be patient.

I was skeptical, but I tried it, and search does seem to be working ok now. Thanks!

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Never mind. Didn’t work after all. I just tried searching for email from an address and nothing showed up. In Outlook on my iPhone though results popped up right away. I really think there is something wrong with search in Mail in MacOS in Big Sur.

Works fine for me. The only time I’ve had trouble is when I searched in the wrong mailbox instead of All Mailboxes.

There is some advice for search problems in mail that people where having when upgrading to Catalina here: https://www.techradar.com/how-to/macos-catalina-problems-how-to-fix-the-most-common-issues Maybe worth a try?

I’m afraid I have little to help out with apart from reindexing, which @paalb already pointed out.

I have to admit for me search in Mail has in fact become more useful lately. I’m not sure it’s related to Big Sur — IIRC it was Catalina where Mail search was changed to push a few most likely matches to the very top and ever since that was introduced I’m finding my stuff much more quickly in Mail. I still miss * wildcards, but that’s a Spotlight thing I can’t fault Mail for specifically.

Maybe it’s helpful to know that you can use natural language search in Mail. So you can search using something like “from Bob with [PDF] attachment”. More details in this Apple tech note.

It’s just horrible. I just spent 10 minutes trying to search for an email I sent where I suggested some phrasing for documentation. It was slow and I couldn’t find it.

Finally I just logged into gmail.com and searched and found what I was looking for in 10 seconds.

My requirements for a perfect email app now include:

  1. The ability to easily file (this can be done with Mail and the MsgFiler plugin, or easily in Gmail itself.)
  2. Annotate images (this is the one thing that works best in Mail).
  3. Search (this works best in Gmail directly).


Oh, and resend. That’s available in Mail and Spark, but not in Gmail directly for some reason. Nor is it available in Outlook.

Well, different users have different “must haves.” For me they are:

  1. Easily file (ok in Mail with MsgFiler plugin, not good in iOS mail, good in Spark, good in Gmail on the web but not in iOS Gmail, better-than-nothing in Outlook)
  2. Annotate images with text and arrows, etc. (great in Mail and iOS mail, not good in Spark or Gmail, simple draw in iOS Outlook, more in Mac Outlook but very confusing).
  3. Search (terrible in Mail, good in Spark, great in Gmail, seems ok in Outlook).
  4. Resend (great in Mail and Spark, no feature for that in Gmail and Outlook).

I should write up a more comprehensive table with these features, for both desktop and iOS/iPadOS.