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Configuring Search and Indexing Options (part 1) - Which Files and Folders Are in the Index?

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3/18/2011 9:59:59 PM
Windows Search is the collective name for a set of features that affect practically every aspect of Windows 7. At its heart, Windows Search relies on a speedy, powerful, and well-behaved indexing service that does a fine job of keeping track of files and folders by name, by properties, and (in supported formats) by contents.

All of those details are kept in the search index, a database that keeps track of indexed file names, properties, and the contents of files and e-mail messages. As a rule, when you do most common types of searches, Windows checks the index first and returns whatever results it finds there.


The search index is stored by default in %ProgramData%\Microsoft\Search\Data. Default permissions for this folder are set to allow access only to the System account and to members of the Administrators group. This folder contains no user-editable files, and we recommend that you leave its contents undisturbed.

Inside Out: When do searches skip the index?

Although we focus mostly on indexed searches in this section, Windows 7 actually includes two search engines. The second engine is informally known as grep search (the name comes from an old UNIX command derived from the full name global \ regular expression \ print). Windows Search uses the index whenever you use the search box on the Start menu, in the Search Home folder, in libraries, and in locations that are part of a homegroup. In those circumstances, search looks only in the index and ignores any subfolders that are excluded from the index.

Windows uses the grep search engine if you begin your search from the Computer window, from the root of any local drive (including the system drive), or from a local file folder. Grep searches include the contents of all subfolders within the search scope, regardless of whether they're included in the search index. 

To build the index that makes its magic possible, Windows Search uses several separate processes. The index is constructed dynamically by the Windows Search service, Search-Indexer.exe. The indexer crawls through all locations that are prescribed to be indexed, converting the content of documents (in supported formats) into plain text and then storing the text and metadata for quick retrieval.

The Windows Search service begins running shortly after you start a new Windows session. From that point on, it runs in the background at all times, creating the initial index and updating it as new files are added and existing ones are changed or deleted. Protocol handlers do the work of cracking open different data stores to add items to the index; Windows 7 includes protocol handlers for Microsoft Office Outlook and Windows Live Mail, for example, to enable indexing of your e-mail messages as well as files. Property handlers allow Windows Search to extract the values of properties from items and store them properly in the index. Filters extract the contents of supported file types so that you can do full-text searches for those items.

1. Which Files and Folders Are in the Index?

Indexing every 0 and 1 on your hard disk would be an exhausting task—and ultimately pointless. When you search for a snippet of text, you're almost always looking for something you wrote, copied, or saved, and you don't want the results to include random program files that happen to have the same snippet embedded in the midst of a blob of code. So the default settings for the indexer make some reasonable inclusions and exclusions.

Certain locations are specifically included. These include your user profile (but not the AppData folder), the contents of the Start menu, and your Internet Explorer history. If your mail program includes a protocol handler, the files that contain your saved messages are indexed when you are logged on and the mail program is running. Offline files stored in the client-side cache (CSC) are automatically included in your local index. You can explicitly add other folders to the index, but Windows 7 eliminates the need to do that. Instead, just add the folder to a library; when you do so, Windows automatically adds that folder to the list of indexed locations and begins indexing its contents, without requiring any additional steps on your part.

To see which folders are currently being indexed, open the Indexing Options dialog box. You can find this in Control Panel, but it's usually quicker to type index in the Start menu search box. Indexing Options should appear at the top of the results list, under the heading Control Panel.


If you poke through the Windows Features list under Control Panel's Programs And Features category, you might notice an entry for Indexing Service (Cisvc.exe), which is missing from a default installation of Windows 7. You might be tempted to install and enable it. Don't. This service is a holdover from previous Windows versions and deserves its reputation as slow and difficult to use. It was supplanted by Windows Search beginning with Windows Vista, and the only reason this feature is still available (albeit buried deeply) is to enable corporate applications that rely on this legacy service.

Figure 1 shows the list of indexed locations on a system where we've already added one custom folder to the index. The Archives folder at the top of the list is a new folder we created in the root of the system (C:) drive and then added to the Documents library.

Figure 1. When you add a local folder to a library, it's automatically added to the list of locations included in the search index.

To add locations manually or to remove existing locations, click Modify. That displays the dialog box shown in Figure 2 where you can browse through a list of local drives, folders, and subfolders; select a check box to add a location to the index; or clear the check box to remove the corresponding location.

Figure 2. The best way to add locations to the local index is to add them to a library; doing so automatically selects the corresponding check box here.


We strongly recommend that you not try to manage locations manually using the Indexed Locations dialog box. If you add a folder to a library and then remove it from the list of indexed locations, the folder will remain in the navigation pane under the associated library, but none of its contents will be visible in the library itself.

In its default view, the Indexed Locations list shows only locations that are accessible to your user account. To see (and manage) locations from other user profiles, click Show All Locations. As the User Account Control (UAC) shield icon makes clear, you'll need to be logged on as an administrator (or provide an administrator's credentials) to continue.

Within that list of indexed locations, the Windows Search service records the file name and properties (size, date modified, and so on) of any file or folder. Files marked as System and Hidden are indexed but are only displayed in search results when you change Windows Explorer settings to show those file types. Metadata for common music, image, and video file formats are included in the index by default. The indexer also includes the contents of a file and its custom properties if the file format has an associated property handler and filter. The list of formats supported by filters included with Windows appears in Table 1.

Table 1. File Formats That Support Content Indexing
File FormatExtension
HTML.ascx, .asp, .aspx, .css, .hhc, .hta, .htm, .html, .htt, .htw, .htx, .odc, .shtm, .shtml, .sor, .srf, .stm
MIME.mht, .mhtml, .p7m
Office.doc, .dot, .pot, .pps, .ppt, .xlb, .xlc, .xls, .xlt
Plain Text.a, .ans, .asc, .asm, .asx, .bas, .bat, .bcp, .c, .cc, .cls, .cmd, .cpp, .cs, .csa, .csv, .cxx, .dbs, .def, .dic, .dos, .dsp, .dsw, .ext, .faq, .fky, .h, .hpp, .hxx, .i, .ibq, .ics, .idl, .idq, .inc, .inf, .ini, .inl, .inx, .jav, .java, .js, .kci, .lgn, .lst, .m3u, .mak, .mk, .odh, .odl, .pl, .prc, .rc, .rc2, .rct, .reg, .rgs, .rul, .s, .scc, .sol, .sql, .tab, .tdl, .tlh, .tli, .trg, .txt, .udf, .usr, .vbs, .viw, .vspcc, .vsscc, .vssscc, .wri, .wtx
XML (xmlfilt.dll).csproj, .user, .vbproj, .vcproj, .xml, .xsd, .xsl, .xslt
Journal File.jnt
Rich Text.rtf
Wordpad.docx, .odt
XML Paper Specification.dwfx, .easmx, .edrwx, .eprtx, .jtx, .xmlps

Inside Out: Add text from received faxes to the search index

Eagle-eyed readers might notice that no pictures are included in the list of formats in Table 1. That's perfectly normal, because images by definition consist of colored pixels rather than words, and thus contain no content to index. But one image format is a noteworthy exception to that rule. If you use your PC's fax modem to receive pages sent from a remote fax machine, the received faxes are saved using Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), but the original document usually consists of at least some text. Windows 7 Home Premium and higher editions contain code that can perform optical character recognition on received faxes saved as TIFF files and include the recognized text in the search index. To enable this feature, open Control Panel and click Turn Windows Features On Or Off (under the Programs And Features heading). In the Windows Features dialog box, select Windows TIFF IFilter and then click OK.

To see which file formats support full-text indexing, open the Indexing Options dialog box and click the Advanced button (you'll need to supply an administrator's credentials to do so, although elevation is silent if your logon account is a member of the Administrators group). On the File Types tab of the Advanced Options dialog box (see Figure 3), you will find a long list of file name extensions. By default, the check box next to every item in this list is selected.

Figure 3. The File Types list shows whether and how each file type is included in the index.

The list yof formats on the File Types tab on your computer might include more file types if you've installed Windows programs that include custom property handlers and filters, such as those installed with Microsoft Office 2007 or Microsoft Office 2010. The list shown in Figure 3 includes several file name extensions that aren't part of a default Windows 7 installation. When we installed Acrobat Reader 9 on this machine, it installed a PDF filter and assigned it to the file name extensions it supports, including .pdf and .pdfxml. Any file with one of these extensions that is stored in an indexed location has its full contents added to the index, courtesy of the PDF filter.

Each of the file types in this list can be indexed in one of two manners, using the option buttons below the list—Index Properties Only or Index Properties And File Contents. The latter option is selected by default for any file type that has a registered filter, and the name of the associated filter is listed in the Filter Description column. If you don't need to search content in a file type that has a filter and would normally be indexed, you can save some processing overhead by selecting the file type and choosing Index Properties Only. If you need content indexing where none is currently provided, you can try switching a file from Index Properties Only to Index Properties And File Contents. In that case, the indexer will use the Plain Text filter—which might or might not yield satisfactory results.

Windows Search does not index the content of files that are saved without a file name extension, nor does it index contents of files that are protected by Information Rights Management (IRM) or digital rights management (DRM).

A handful of locations are specifically excluded from indexing. Even if you manually specify that you want your system drive (normally C:) to be included in the index, the following files and folders will be excluded:

  • The entire contents of the \Windows folder and all its subfolders (Windows.000 and Windows.old folders are also excluded)

  • \$Recycle.Bin (the hidden folder that contains deleted files for all user accounts)

  • \Users\Default and all of its subfolders (this is the user profile template used to create a profile for a new user)

  • The entire contents of the \Program Files and \Program Files (x86) folders and all of their subfolders

  • The \ProgramData folder (except the subfolder that contains shortcuts for the shared Start menu)

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