Quickly search Safari bookmarks and history

If you frequently dig through your browser history to find a Web page you looked at a few days earlier (or accidentally closed a few seconds ago), or peruse your bookmarks to revisit a page you saved months ago, today’s hint can help you find those pages more quickly than by browsing menus or venturing into Safari's Bookmarks screen.

You could do this using Mac OS X’s Spotlight feature, which searches your Safari bookmarks and history; however, Spotlight also searches everything else on your hard drive, making it an inefficient way to find something specific to your browser. What few people know is that Safari has its own “quick search” feature, hidden in an unexpected location.

To perform a Safari-specific search, you simply click on Safari’s Help menu—or, if your fingers prefer to remain on the keyboard, press Command+?—and enter your search term. Instead of searching just Help documents, OS X also searches your Safari history and bookmarks—or, more specifically, the title of each Web page in your History and Bookmarks menus.

The results of your search appear instantaneously in the Menu Items section of the Help menu—listed first are history items, followed by bookmarks. (Results from Mac OS X Help are listed at the bottom of the menu next to Help Topics.) Mouse over a result, or use the up- and down- arrow keys to highlight it, and OS X will show you exactly where in the History or Bookmarks menus that Web page resides. Click the page name—or press Return—to open the Web page in Safari.

(This “feature” is really just a side effect of the fact that the OS X Help system searches the current application’s menu commands to make it easier to find a particular command; since your bookmarks and history items are listed in Safari’s menus, they get searched, as well. This means that to include Safari's bookmarks bar in these searches, you must enable the Safari setting to include the bookmarks bar in the bookmarks menu. Of course, if you’ve created additional bookmark folders outside of the bookmarks menu or bar, those folders won’t be searched.)

For example, in the screenshot below, I was looking for a specific site I visited while checking for the latest versions of the screen savers I covered last week. The search for “screen saver” found six results in my history and two in my bookmarks; when I highlighted one of the history results, OS X showed me the name of the site and the date on which I visited it.

There are a couple limitations to this approach to searching Safari compared to a full-blown Spotlight search. The first is that whereas standard Spotlight queries, as well as queries you initiate in Safari’s Bookmarks/History screen, search both the title and the content of every Web page, the Help-menu version searches only the title. The second issue is that the Help menu is often too narrow to view each site’s name, especially for history results, where each site’s name is preceded by the day and date you visited it; in these cases, you need to highlight an item to view its name. (Bookmarks are displayed with the folder name preceding the name of the page, so you'll have the same issue with long bookmark-folder names.)

I find myself using Safari’s “hidden” search feature several times each day to quickly revisit a site. It’s also useful when I accidentally close a tab or window, and it’s especially convenient if, like me, you prefer keyboard shortcuts to mousing about: just press Command+?, type a few characters, and then use the arrow keys to select the desired site from the search results.

Oh, and here’s a related bonus hint: If you’re using 1Password 3, and you enable 1Password’s Show In Top Menu Bar setting, Safari's Help-menu search will also search your 1Password logins, letting you quickly open and log in to a Website.

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