One of the nicest features on a Mac is how intelligently it can help you search your email. You can do your search in Mail.app or from Spotlight. Sometimes, though, you’ll experience problems. Here’s how you can fix broken Mail search on macOS Catalina and Big Sur.

Your first step in fixing broken Mail search should be to stop, clear, and restart your Spotlight indexing. The other method that usually works will reset all your defaults in Mail.app. To avoid this, try following Apple’s support article on rebuilding the Spotlight index. Or, follow these steps

Quit Mail.app, then open Terminal.app. To stop and flush the indexes, enter the command sudo mdutil -i off -E.

Now, let’s verify indexing is stopped:

sudo mdutil -s

We’ll restart Spotlight indexing like this:

sudo mdutil -i on

To verify indexing is turned on again, just do sudo mdutil -s a second time.

Next, you need to clear the Mail.app indexes in ~/Library/Mail/V7/MailDatafor macOS Catalina. On macOS Big Sur, it will be ~/Library/Mail/V8/MailData. From Finder > Go to folder, enter ~Library/Mail/V7/MailData or ~/Library/Mail/V8/MailData. You’ll see some Envelope Index files; drag them to the Trash, then empty the Trash. Don’t worry, they’ll be rebuilt.

Now, restart your Mac and then reopen Mail.app. Hopefully, this will have solved your issue with searching Mail.

Fixing Seriously Broken Email Searches

This next method is a bit more destructive to how you have Mail.app set up, but it might be your only hope if reindexing Spotlight didn’t do the trick. Nevertheless, when you’re dealing with broken email search, this could be your last resort. What you’re going to do is completely reset Mail.app to its defaults.

Go ahead and close Mail.app completely. Now, hold the Shift key (either one will do) and click on Mail. Once it’s fully launched, close Mail.app completely again.

Once again, hold Shift and click on Mail.app. Close Mail.app completely one final time. Now, restart your Mac.

Enjoying Your Mac’s Email Again

After your Mac boots back up and you get logged in, open Mail.app. Everything should start working fine again. Bookmark this article, just in case the problem rears its ugly head again.

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

8 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
PhilattheBeach

I had tried many different “solutions” to my problems with Mail, but as soon as I read this article, I knew I had found the right advice. After following the Terminal steps, plus the Envelope Index file removal steps, Mail started an almost two hour process of repairing itself. Solved all of my issues with Mail. Thanks for such thorough information.

John Kheit

Wow this article is a tour de force. Freak’n great job Jeff!

Macsee

How is that different from these:

  • Apple – System Preferences – Spotlight – Privacy (remove & add items to reindex them)
  • Apple Mail – Mailbox – Rebuild.

BTW, is there a way to rebuild all Apple Mail mailboxes at once?

Thanks!

Macsee

Thanks. In my case I must rebuild mailboxes on a one-by-one basis, or it does not work. Likewise when applying rules to move messages between mailboxes (and I must do it manually, since its automatic timing does not work).