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searchfs is a macOS command line tool to quickly search by filename on entire HFS+ and APFS volumes. Searching takes place at the driver level using the file system catalog. This means the volume's directory tree can be scanned much faster than with a standard recursive filename search using find. Due to limitations in the underlying Darwin API, only case-insensitive filename matching is supported at this time.

searchfs is free, open source software and has a home on GitHub.


Apple added file system catalog search to Mac OS with the introduction of the Hiearchical File System (HFS) back in 1985. HFS replaced the previous flat table structure in the old MFS file system with a catalog file using a B-tree structure. Unlike Windows' FAT file system, HFS (and later, HFS+) thus arranged the entire directory tree into one large file on the disk, with interlinked nodes that did not match the hierarchical folder structure. This meant that volumes could be searched very quickly regardless of size.

The Classic Mac OS exposed this functionality via the FSCatalogSearch() function, which iterated efficiently over the nodes, thus minimizing disk seek times. In the pre-SSD era, this gave the Mac a significant performance advantage over Windows when it came to full-volume search. For a long time, FSCatalogSearch continued to be available in Mac OS X / macOS via the Carbon APIs but it has now been deprecated and does not support APFS, Apple's new file system.

However, catalog search for both HFS+ and APFS remains available in Darwin's low-level system libraries via the searchfs() function. The searchfs program makes use of this function.