Using Finder’s Advanced Search to Find Recently Modified Files

| MGG Answers


Terry Writes: I’m encountering situations in which changes to system settings, such as enabling Universal Access in System Preferences, are not being registered by the system. Even though I’ve double-checked that the option is selected in System Preferences, the system doesn’t recognize it as being enabled. I believe this may be due to corrupted preferences, but I have no idea how to find out which file is corrupt. How can I find the relevant file(s)?


In your case, it looks like the [home]/Library/Preferences/ file is corrupted. To fix this, close all applications, delete this file, and reboot the computer. Then enable the setting in System Preferences again and test to make sure it sticks.

This file was found using a very helpful Finder search command. This method, detailed below, is great for finding any files on your computer that have been recently modified. It works in near-real-time and is especially helpful in troubleshooting these kinds of questions.


In Finder, choose File > Find (or Command-F)

Step 1
In the Finder window that pops up, select “Kind” then choose “Other.” In this window, search for “System Files” and check the box that says “In Menu.”

Step 2

Step 3

Select “OK” and then choose “Kind” again. You will now find System Files listed at the bottom. Select it and change the adjacent drop down box to “are included.”

Step 4

Click the plus sign on the far right to add another set of search criteria. In the new row, change “Kind” to “Last modified date” and the range to “today.”

You will now see a list of files propagate the window below. These files represent all files on your mac that have been modified today.

Sort by “Last Opened” by clicking on it in the title bar and you will have the most recently modified files appear at the top of the list.

Step 5

Make (or attempt to make) a change to a system preference or application that is causing you trouble. You’ll see all the files affected by your change jump to the top of this list. Once you find the file, select it and choose FIle > Open enclosing folder. This will take you directly to the file’s location on your hard drive.

If you think you’ll need this search more than once, you can save it by clicking “Save” in the upper right corner of the Finder window and have it handy the next time you need to track down a pesky file or preference.

This question was originally answered on

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Each week Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun provide some great troubleshooting advice to listeners of the Mac Geek Gab podcast. Here with MGG Answers we share some of those tips with the rest of the world!

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Well I must be a really dumb SNOW LEOPARD user. I am not on Lion and won’t be until just before June 2012, so hopefully someone can try this in Snowy and post what to do.

I clicked on my house - the home folder which is right up front and center in the finder the Snow Leopard OS !
I opened finder and did the find as Dave mentions above.
When I clicked on OTHER a white box came up but NO PICK LIST WAS DISPLAYED.
When I typed system files into this white box NOTHING HAPPENED.
I could not get ANY results .
Also, in SNOWY there is NO ability to ” check the box that says ?In Menu.? as noted above.
I could save under ANY all files modified “today” and a plist file came up for example. But I really wanted to try this system file approach and struck out. (I have a post on this in the forums as well)>

Could someone try this in Snow Leopard and Post back. I know it is assumed that we all need Lion help but some of us are a little slow - like me! Thanks.

Jim Tanous


I’m sorry you’re having trouble. The steps above work exactly the same in Snow Leopard as they do in Lion. I’m guessing from your description that something else in wrong in your Snow Leopard installation. Please email me by clicking on my name at the top of the article and selecting “Contact Author.” I’ll do my best to help you resolve this problem.

We still love Snow Leopard!


Please email me by clicking on my name at the top of the article and selecting ?Contact Author.? I?ll do my best to help you resolve this problem.

Thanks! I’ve done that now!


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