no spot Disable spotlight indexing   OS X Lion and Mountain LionMac OS X Spotlight search is a powerful beast, returning all types of search results in seconds. However, if you don’t use it to launch apps, or find files then it can take up precious CPU cycles for no good reason.

As with all features such as this, if you don’t use it or use alternatives such as QuickSilver then switch it off. Doing so will prevent Spotlight index service from indexing the drives on your machine, thus meaning it will return no results when used.

To switch off the indexing open a Terminal window and type:

sudo mdutil -a -i off

NB: You will be prompted to enter your admin password.

If you change your mind about Spotlight, and decide to give it another try, then it’s just as easy to switch back on as it was to switch off.

Again, in a terminal window type the following:

sudo mdutil -a -i on

NB: You will be prompted to enter your admin password.

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  • Mike Hudson

    You can exclude discs such as your Time machine disk from being indexed, if you launch system preferences then goto the spotlight applet, click on the privacy tab, and click the + button. Now select the disks/folders you’d like to exclude.

    If you truly do hate time machine, why not try another backup app, such as Carbon Copy Cloner -

    • Jeffrey Gomberg


      When attempting to exclude discs from Spotlight indexing via the Spotlight Applet under System Preferences, Lion throws up a: “PART 2″ is a Time Machine backup disk. Spotlight will continue to search Time Machine backups but will not search other items on the disk.” where “PART 2″ is the name of the partition where my Time Machine back is stored.

      So it appears your suggestions does not work under Lion. Any other suggestions?

      • Mike Hudson

        Hello Jeffrey

        I have just removed it and added my TimeCapsule again on mine, and don’t get the same error. 

        What model TC Is it? What version of the software are you running on the TC? What build on Lion are you using?


        • Tiago Félix

          i got the same problem , my mac  get frozen when this spotlight indexing r running so then i can’t use nothing and takes ages … what can i do please? 

          • Mike Hudson

            Same questions Tiago

            What model TC Is it? What version of the software are you running on the TC? What build on Lion are you using?

  • Jonathan Brooks

    Nope – I already had my Time Machine partition excluded from the back up, and yet the light  on the drive continues to flicker – as per the comment in my post:
    /Volumes/time-machine/Backups.backupdb: Indexing enabled.

    Any other suggestions?

    • Mike Hudson

      You could try running 

      sudo fs_usage

      From a terminal window, It will give you a
      running display, which you can Ctrl + C stop running, an then scroll back up
      and see what is hitting your drive?

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  • Anonymous

    Just for the folks who may not know otherwise (like me)… Recommend NOT disabling Spotlight if you use Outlook or other programs that rely on Spotlight indexing to produce search results within the programs themselves.

    • Anonymous

      For the folks that don’t know any better (like me) … Recommend NOT disabling Spotlight if you use Outlook or other programs that rely on Spotlight indexing to produce search results within the programs themselves.

    • Mike Hudson

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Mike.

      I use outlook, but rarely use the search facility.. I am quite anal with filing, so rarely need to search. 

      Not something I had thought of tho.. 


      • Anonymous

        Mike, like you I used to have a well-organized system of folders in my email accounts … until I started using Gmail, which has the google search engine built in (you know this, I’m sure).  When I converted my business accounts over to Exchange accounts, I continued the process of not organizing by folder/topic/client/etc.  The Outlook search engine uses the Spotlight indexing to return search results.  It’s not as good as the Google engine, but it has always worked for me nonetheless. I don’t realize that Outlook relied on the Apple indexing service until AFTER I killed the Spotlight process and got zero results on every query I made in Outlook.  While sometimes a cpu drain, I decided I could live with Spotlight after all.


        P.S.  Very sorry for the double post.  For some reason Disqus wanted to REvalidate my email address.  Didn’t realize it launched on the first try.

        • Mike Hudson

          I too use Google Mike, so I know exactly what you mean. When I am not searching for mail, I am searching on my iPhone.. Who’s spotlight search is even worse/more memory intensive then the OS X one – so this one is also turned off. In light of this I have to be disciplined enough to create folders for everything!

          Though I know exactly what you mean, and I too am guilty of that with my work outlook/exchange account

          No worries about the double post, I know disqus can be a royal pain in the a** as it goes to moderate.

          Thanks again 

  • Steve Bennett

    On Lion, you probably don’t want to disable Spotlight, since the Mac OS App Store relies on it (go figure).

    If Spotlight is disabled, Mac OS App Store fails to notify you of updates, and attempts to manually update an app fail with the misleading message “You have updates available for other accounts”.

    Re-enabling spotlight (“sudo mdutil -a -i on”) and ensuring that the root volume is indexable fixed the issue for me.

    The relevant discussion seems to be:

    • Mike Hudson

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I don’t really use the AppStore that much, and the software I use has its own update processes. So this isn’t really a problem for me, but others may want to bear it in mind.


  • Ernani Joppert Pontes Martins
  • USB 3G

    Well, interesting post,

    • Mike Hudson

      Thanks, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Preston Lanier

    Works great!  Thanks!

  • David Moore

    Thanks, works a treat. I can’t comment on Time Machine drives because I don’t have one, but it definitely turns off indexing of all locally mounted drives and images.

    • Mike Hudson

      Thanks for taking the time to comment David, glad it worked out for you.

  • Laraine Barker

    I don’t remember it being this much of a kerfuffle on my G5, which got bogged down far too long to make Spotlight worth bothering with. I seem to remember I used system preferences to stop indexing; far more Mac-like that using the nerdy Terminal.

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    • Gerald H. Reisner

      Works great for me!

      • Mike Hudson

        Glad I could help


  • EuroSkeptic

    Thanks, but like so many other suggestions on Mac forums, it does not solve the problem. 

    • Mike Hudson

      What problem are you experiencing? 

  • Diego Rooks

    it does not let me type the password whats this bullshit about?

    • Mike Hudson

      You won’t see any characters or stars appear whilst your typing, type your password and press return an you should find it will work.

  • Bruce Jenkins

    The issue is “Why do I have to turn off SpotLight in order to use TimeMachine?” There are plenty of “work-arounds” but the point is that SpotLight should be on all the time WHILE TimeMachine is working in the background.

  • M.Carlsen

    This suggestion does NOT work. Spotlight will NOT be disabled even though the terminal states that it HAS been disabled. Apple has lost total control of their protocolish weird OS !!!!

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  • Antonio Murillo

    Thank you very much Mike!!!!

  • Antonio Murillo

    (I disabled it accidentally when was turning of some lion’s eye-candy effects trying improving CPU usage even more)

  • ds001

    worked for me. watched as 3 external drives being indexed dropped from the spotlight menu. thanks for the tip.

  • Jonathan Payne

    It pains me to agree, but yes, Lion is a joke. It has always been the case that you cannot turn off spotlight on your TM disk. As long as it is mounted it will be indexed. The big difference with Lion is that it doesn’t seem to unmount the disk after a backup occurs. (I am talking backup over network, not attached drive.) I am not sure about this, but if you go to a Snow Leopard machine and your Time Machine disk is mounted remotely, and you run mdutil -sa it will tell you that indexing is enabled on the TM backup, and there is nothing you can do about it. It just didn’t seem to matter on Snow Leopard.

    Meanwhile – and this really pisses me off – I have never succeeded over the years in doing a spotlight search while entered in Time Machine to find a file that is gone now but was present in the past. That just has never EVER worked and I have never seen it demonstrated. So we’re being screwed by this nonstop (in my case) network traffic, slower machine, extra memory in use and absolutely no benefit from it. It boggles the mind.

    Just one of many things which makes this Lion transition horrific.

  • Mike Hudson

    I don’t get your problem, my TimeCapsule disk (wireless) is used for backups daily and when I run your commands it says indexing and searching is disabled.

    I think Lion has it’s pitfalls, as does every OS – but I prefer it to snow leopard.. Each to their own I guess..

  • Ben Sugerman

    Turning off the mds (meta-data storage) impacts a lot more than Spotlight since it seems that any app that has a search feature relies on mdutil being on.  That is, if you use Mail and want to search, you have to have mdutil on.  Probably better to leave this on and suck up the extra use of RAM…

  • Mike Hudson

    Thanks Ben

    It doesn’t seem to have effected any app I use. But worth knowing… Thanks!

  • Jerry

    Helpful, I disabled my indexing, hoping for faster boot up as with lion it became incredibly slow. Although I am not sure if that’s right thing to do. 

  • Mike Hudson

    I’d be surprised it the spotlight indexing was to blame. Have you tried cleaning your mac with one of the numerous software products?

    Maybe ZeoBits MacKeeper

    Or CleanMyMac

    Obviously the best method would be a complete backup and fresh install of Lion..

    Let me know how you get on


  • EuroSkeptic

    If you truly prefer Lion, which I doubt, you are possibly the only user who does.

  • Mike Hudson

    I live on the ‘bleeding edge’, I upgraded all my mac’s to Lion on day of release, as I will upgrade to Mountain Lion on it’s day of release. 

    Shame you don’t like Lion.

  • Idil Sukan

    Hi hi – so. My Time Machine back up drive (USB connection) suddenly did not show up in my Finder under Devices & Time Machine could not find the disk to back up to. Horrors. Mysteriously though the disk was showing up in the Disk Utility as a volume. Witchcraft. I suspected – as is usually tediously the case when a disk for no other reason isn’t showing up on a Mac – that it just simply hadn’t unmounted properly. So I right-clicked on the volume in Disk Utility and pressed Eject. To no avail: it said that it could not be unmounted as there were still processes going on/it was still in use. Lies. I relaunched Finder, tried shutting down/restarting, yanking out the USB cable, reconnecting etc and nothing, processes will still going on. I grew to suspect the pesky Spotlight indexing which has always been troublesome. Some panic-googling later, I found your post, typed in your Terminal command above. Seemingly was still not ejecting via Disk Utility but but but the error message saying it was still in use no longer appeared, so I assumed it had kind of unmounted. I yanked out the USB cable. This time when I reconnected, blammo, it showed up as a device in the Finder and Time Machine immediately started backing up again nonchalantly, as if nothing had happened. Spotlight indexing is a cruel mistress. Thank you so much for your help.

  • Mike Hudson

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.. Im glad my tutorial could be of assistance.


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