Fixing Instant Search

Instant Search doesn't display any results at all, only displays results before a certain date or always shows that there are items left to index. I let it index overnight but nothing has changed.

How can I get it to completely index my messages?

Search Outlook buttonThere are a couple of levels at which Instant Search in Outlook can break.

You can troubleshoot Instant Search in the mentioned order in this article.

Known issue?

Unfortunately, there are regularly issues with the Search Index either on the Windows side or the Outlook side. Some of these bugs are relatively minor but on other occasions, it could prevent Outlook from showing any search results for certain configurations.

You can check for any currently known issues regarding Search and other Outlook features on this page: Fixes or workarounds for recent issues in Outlook for PC.

Marked for indexing

If the issue isn’t caused by any currently known issue, check whether the pst-file or mailbox has been marked to be indexed.

  • Outlook 2010
    File-> Options-> section Search-> button Indexing Options…-> button Modify-> expand Microsoft Outlook
    In the list that is shown under Microsoft Outlook, make sure that your pst-file or mailbox is displayed and selected. If it is not listed, you’ll have to recreate your mail profile.
  • Outlook 2013 / 2016 / 2019 / Microsoft 365
    File-> Options-> section Search-> button Indexing Options…-> button Modify
    Here, make sure that Outlook is selected.
    Unlike in Outlook 2010, you cannot specify which mailboxes or pst-files in Outlook to index; You either index Outlook or you don’t.

Search Options in Outlook 2010
Locations selected to be indexed in Outlook 2010.

Outlook selected as an Indexed Location in Indexing Options.
Outlook selected as an Indexed Location in Indexing Options.

Check for pst-file corruptions

SCANPST.EXE (Inbox Repair Tool) buttonIf your pst-file has been marked but Outlook doesn't display the correct results, it usually means there is some corruption going on in your pst-file. In order to fix these you should scan your pst-file for errors with scanpst.exe. You can find this file in the same folder as outlook.exe or use OutlookTools (free!) to locate it for you.

Once repaired, open Outlook and leave it idle for some time. To see if everything has been indexed now use:

  • Simplified Ribbon (Microsoft 365)
    Click in the Search field in order to make the Search Tools tab visible in the Ribbon. Here click on the ellipsis menu (3 dots) on the right and choose; Search Tools-> Indexing Status…
  • Classic Ribbon
    Click in the Search field in order to make the Search Tools tab visible in the Ribbon. Here click the Search Tools button and select the Indexing Status…

When you have a big pst-file or mailbox, this indexing could take some time but if the number of items left to index doesn't change after leaving your computer idle for over 30 minutes, something is wrong still.

Indexing Status of Outlook.
Indexing Status of Outlook.

Disable and then re-enable Outlook or pst-file for indexing

To force Outlook to re-index its data, go back to the Search Options and, depending on the version of Outlook that you are using, deselect Outlook or the data file that is giving you issues. Close Outlook and wait for about 5 minutes and also verify in Task Manager (CTRL+SHIFT+ESC) that on the Processes tab the outlook.exe process actually quits.

You might get a lot of disk activity; this is the Search Indexer removing the indexed items from the Index.

After this, open Outlook again and go back to the Search Options and select Outlook or the pst-file we just deselected. Leave the computer idle again and see if it will eventually reach the status of “0 items remaining.”

Rebuild the index

If Outlook still can’t complete indexing, it might be that the Index itself has been damaged. You can rebuild tine index via the Advanced Search Indexer Settings dialog;

  1. Open the Indexing Options dialog.
    • Start-> type; Indexing Options
    • Windows 10
      Start-> Settings-> Search-> in the left pane select; Searching Windows-> at the bottom click the text link; Advanced Search Indexer Settings
    • Control Panel-> Indexing Options
      (Type “Indexing” in the Search field of Control Panel to quickly locate the applet.)
  2. Click on the button Advanced.
  3. Click on the button Rebuild.

This will rebuild the entire Index from scratch and depending on the amount of documents to be indexed, this could take quite long and degrade your system's performance while the Indexer is still busy. I would recommend to have it rebuild itself overnight.

Advanced Indexing Options in Windows 10
Advanced Indexing Options allows you to Rebuild the Search Index.

Troubleshoot email search results

If it still doesn't work press the blue “Troubleshoot search and indexing” link in the main Indexing Options dialog (so not in the Advanced dialog shown above). This will start a troubleshooting wizard in which you can select the option “E-mail doesn’t appear in search results”.

Troubleshooting wizard for Search and Indexing.
Troubleshooting wizard for Search and Indexing.

Reinstall the Windows Search feature

If your installation of Windows Search got damaged, you can remove and reinstall it in the following way.

  1. Control Panel-> Programs-> Turn Windows features on or off
  2. Deselect: Windows Search
  3. Press OK and wait until the installer is finished.
  4. Reboot your computer.
  5. Repeat the above steps to enable it again.

Note: Windows Search can’t be uninstalled and reinstalled in Windows 10.

Check Event Viewer and post in the Outlook forum

Event Viewer buttonStill running into indexing issues?
It might be good to take a look in the Event Viewer and look for any errors logged by the “Search” or “Microsoft Outlook”.

If the error logged there is not helpful to you, post it in the Outlook forums together with your configuration details in order to help you troubleshoot it.

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