Mail not finding things usually means your Spotlight index is corrupt or incomplete.
I don't find any problems with Mail's search, so I don't have a need for anything else.
hi barney. thanks. i just read up again on some of the documentation you provided earlier.
i am wondering about some things. some apply to both machines and the other applies to my laptop only.
1. it appears that you have to download all attachments and messages for mail search to work correctly. i turned this off on the laptop to save space but have turned it back on.
2. do you know what Mailbox menu item > Rebuild does - if for instance i run this when my Global Inbox is selected?
3. do you know how to search On My Mac mail? i mean, i have a LOT of mail in here and the documentation seemed to indicate that searching for all (not sure) did not search for On My Mac Mail. also, to the best of my recollection i CANNOT select the "On My Mac" icon and instead have to select an actual folder. since i have like twenty five folders this means i would have to know where an email or term was before searching which is silly. would a workaround for this to be to put ALL MY MAIL IN ONE FOLDER in the On My Mac area and search this separately (by necessity) from my other mail?
4. what is the difference between running a search in Mac Mail and running a search in Spotlight? are you saying these are the same in the sense that they both are taking information from the same database and the Mac Mail search is just limited to mac mail specific items in some way?
5. will searching for a term in mac mail also search for an any /attachment/ with that term?
Question 3. From Mail Help.
You might need to rebuild a mailbox to update the list of messages in the mailbox. For example, if messages appear to be missing or garbled, or if you can’t find all relevant messages when you search using Entire Message. Rebuilding a mailbox can take a while depending on how many messages are in the mailbox.
When you rebuild mailboxes for Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) and Exchange accounts, locally stored messages and attachments are discarded, and the messages and attachments are downloaded again from the server to your Mac. Your mailbox appears empty until the download is complete.
There is a way to reindex your mail.
If there are problems with information in your mailboxes, you might see an alert message saying that Mail needs to repair your mailboxes by reindexing your messages for you.
At other times, you may want to reindex messages yourself—for example, when searching mailboxes using Subject, To, or From doesn’t return the correct results.
1. I don't now that you have to download the messages for it to work, but you do need to download them to search their contents.
The list of messages that you see comes from a database that is built from the individual messages. Rebuilding the mailbox re-indexes all of those messages. That does not rebuild the Spotlight index.
Eric has pretty much covered the rest of the details.
I'm getting returns from the On My Mac mailboxes, so this may be an issue with the index/Spotlight index.
Yes, spotlight will search email messages. You can set the order of things returned by Spotlight in the Spotlight Preferences. Everything on OS X is search using the Spotlight Index. It is hidden at the root of your hard drive.
The Mail search is limited to email, including attachments, but it allows for narrowing your search with tokens.
As you type, the search is on, and it will display any category that matches what you are typing. A list of categories will drop down to indicate how you may narrow the search. If nothing is offered, it isn't finding the term you are typing at all. When you select a category, it adds the token to the search field along with the search term. You can change the category by clicking on the arrow. The Attachment category only seems to be the name of the attachment, not the contents. The contents are in the "Message contains" category which ends up with an "Any" token. You can add more "tokens" which will further narrow the search. After setting one, click next to it and type away.
Mail Help, Search a message, has some more info on using the tokens.