Monday, September 1, 2008

Disabling Spotlight Search on Mac OS X 10.5

(Update 2009-11-09: WARNING: It appears that the information in this blog post is not compatible with Snow Leopard 10.6, and may render your system unbootable)

I recently installed the Google Desktop application on my MacBook, and have had good luck with using it. I know there's all kinds of privacy issues, but for now I'm willing to exchange this a little for the convenience of Google searching of all my personal documents... :)

One problem, though, is that Spotlight is still on and chewing up CPU time, in addition to Google's indexing service. Since I'm using Google search and not Spotlight search, it would be nice to my battery life and fan life (and ears) to not have Spotlight needlessly burn cycles.

Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be any good way to disable Spotlight. The only way that I could easily find was to go to "Apple Icon->System Preferences...->Spotlight->Privacy" and select my whole hard drive under the "Prevent Spotlight from searching these locations:" box. This worked, but after looking at the Google Desktop settings (in System Preferences...->Google Desktop), I discovered that "Google Desktop will not search items in Spotlight's Privacy list". So essentially by disabling Spotlight (in this manner), I've also disabled Google Desktop search.

With more searching, I found a way to disable Spotlight by getting a little dirty with system settings. There are a number of 'wrong' ways to do this, as evidenced by several blogs that suggested moving or deleting system files, or changing there permission flags to 0000. From the best I can infer, the 'correct' way to disable Spotlight for Mac OS X 10.5 is by standard system services calls. Open a terminal and run the following commands:
> sudo launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/
> sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/
The second command will result in an "launchctl: Error unloading:" error, but (from what I've read) you can ignore this error.

To later re-enable Spotlight search, type these commands:
> sudo launchctl load /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/
> sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

Sources: Comments within the following blogs (don't follow the main article suggestions):
Hope this helps!


  1. The -w flag merely enables the writing of plist (adding or removing of the enable flag). You are essentially running the load and unload commands twice.

  2. Word of warning:

    running this:
    sudo launchctl -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

    in 10.6 (snow leopard) will render your system completely unbootable and even the snow leopard install disk will not be able to repair it. (only an erase and install or restore from superduper/timecapsule will work)


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