Beginner's Guide to Alfred: Searching your Mac and the Web

Got a friend or family member who's new to Mac? If you've been looking for an introduction to Alfred, this is the perfect Alfred 101 Guide to get you started!

Each step below is short and simple, with a link to more details on our support site so you can dig a little deeper when you find features you're curious about.

First, why use Alfred?

Usually, when using your Mac, you'll find yourself switching from keyboard to mouse, back and forth, in order to launch applications and websites, or find a file nested in some subfolder of your Documents.

Alfred is your clever helper, waiting in your menu bar for you to call him up without lifting a finger off the keyboard. Using a hotkey, you can bring up the Alfred input window and tell him what you're looking for; an app on your Mac, a web search online or a system command like ejecting a drive. He'll then speedily locate it for you, saving you the manual labour.

How do I launch Alfred?

You'll see the bowler hat in your menu bar at the top of your screen. To summon Alfred, the default hotkey is Alt + Space, but you can change it if you wish.

How do I search my Mac?

There are a few ways to get started, depending on what you want to do:

1. Launch an application

Easy peasy! Pop up Alfred and type the name of the application you want to launch. Keep typing until the app comes to the top of the list, or use the arrows on your keyboard to pick it. Press return to launch the application you selected.

Alfred window with Safari search

2. Finding a document or image

As there are many more files and images on your Mac than applications, Alfred searches for these in a slightly different way, which ensures that the files don't clutter your search for apps.

To open a file, type "open" followed by the name of your file. You'll see all the relevant results, and you may need to scroll down if there are a lot of results - Just use the arrows to keep navigating down the list. Press Enter to launch your file.

You can also press the spacebar for the same action as the "open" keyword. It's quicker and shorter.

There are two other useful keywords; "find" will reveal the file in Finder instead of launching it and "in" will let you search for the content of files, such as text in a document.

Learn more about File Search.

How can I search the web?

Now that you've mastered searching on your Mac, it's time to try searching the web.

A little tip before you start

Under Alfred's General preferences, you can specify your geographical location; This will help Alfred present you with the most relevant version of a website, such as your local Google results.

1. Use Alfred's default web searches

We've included a wide range of popular web searches - Google, Wikipedia, Maps and many more - to help you find what you want quickly. To see the full list of default web searches and their respective keywords, take a look at Alfred's Features > Web Search preferences.

Default web searches

To use a default web search, simply type the keyword for it followed by your search term. Alfred will launch your default web browser with the results page for the search term you entered.

For example, I can search the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) by using its keyword followed by my search term:

IMDB Search for

2. Create your own custom searches

Beyond the default searches we've provided you with, you can learn to create your very own custom searches for websites you use regularly. In our example, I created a useful custom search for the Pinterest website.

Pinterest custom search

Fallback searches are so convenient!

By now, you've probably noticed what happens when you type a search term in Alfred and there are no local results; Alfred shows you a few fallback searches, so that you can just hit the Return key and launch a web search.

The default fallback searches are Google, Wikipedia and Amazon, which are popular web searches. However, Powerpack users can customise these to use any combination of web searches, custom searches and workflows.

Fallback Search - Back to the future

I've opted for DuckDuckGo as my first fallback search, followed by the OS X Dictionary app, IMDb and Wikipedia. What are your favourite fallback searches?

Learn how to customise Alfred's fallback searches to give you the results you want.

Discover more of Alfred's features, as well as the Powerpack, and boost your daily productivity!

Alfred 2.8.1 Released: Compatibility improvements for OS X El Capitan and performance enhancements

Today, we released Alfred 2.8.1, which includes compatibility improvements for Apple's OS X 10.11, El Capitan.

You can update to 2.8.1 from Alfred's Update preferences or by downloading it directly from alfredapp.com.

Alfred themes can now use the System font and the System Light font, which means Powerpack users can create lovely themes that feel native to El Capitan using Apple's new San Francisco font.

The release also includes a number of bug fixes and performance improvements to Alfred's existing features, to give you the best and smoothest experience possible. Take a look at the full changelog for details.

5 Tips on Searching the Web Efficiently with Alfred

It's easy to search the web using Alfred, with web searches, custom searches, workflows and more. In this post, you'll find 5 ways to the information you want even more efficiently!

Open a URL

To open a URL in your browser, you can paste or type it into Alfred and press return. Alfred will recognise that it's a URL even if you forget to start with http://, and he'll launch the URL in your default browser.

Powerpack users can also choose to store their URL history, so that Alfred suggests possible URLs next time you start typing a previously used URL.

URL History

Take a look at your own URL history in the Features > Web Search > URL History preferences or take a look at the URL History feature page.

Create great custom searches

We've included a range of helpful web searches to Alfred, and you've no doubt created a few of your own custom searches. Why not take a look at your most-used ones and see how you can improve them?

For example, I use Google Translate to translate from and to many different languages, so using the keyword "translate" in Alfred results in Google taking its best guess at which language I'm pasting in, and which one I want it to translate to.

Instead of letting Google play Russian roulette, I've added a few custom searches that specify which languages I want Google to use. This particular custom search ensures that Google knows I'm entering a French word and I want the outcome to be in English. Predictable and simple!

Custom Search in Alfred - Translate from French to English

Pick your own fallback searches

If you prefer using an alternative search engine to Google for fallback searches, you can modify your fallback search engines with the Powerpack. For example, many users like to use DuckDuckGo as their top fallback search.

You can set this up in Alfred's Default Results under the "Setup fallback results" button. Find out more about creating your own Fallback searches.

Set up your own fallback searches

Skip local results, search online

Let's say you want to search for information about the 1Password app on the web, but it's installed on your Mac so when you type "1password" in Alfred, you're presented with the app as a local result. What's the quickest way to search the web instead?

Hold the Ctrl key and press return, which will search using your default web search. The subtext will change to let you know what the action modifier does; you can customise these action modifiers in Alfred's Advanced preferences.

Search the web with Ctrl Return

Try out the Google Suggest workflow

Did you know that we include a few example workflows in Alfred to get you started? To add these, launch Alfred's Workflows preferences and click on the + button in the bottom left. You'll see a list that includes "Examples"; Choose any of these to add them to your list of workflows.

Google Suggest workflow

These examples also show you how you can create your own workflows, from simple keyword-based searches and file filters to advanced workflows with in-line results like Google Suggest.

You can also take a look at our favourite workflows for more ideas of what you can achieve with workflows.

Featured Workflow: Compress images with TinyPNG

Every day, members of the Alfred community create and share great workflows. Once in a while, a workflow will appear that's so perfect for my own daily habits that I jump with joy!

The TinyPNG workflow, created by prolific creator CarlosNZ has changed the way I prepare images for blog posts. Every post I write is accompanied by images, which are compressed via TinyPNG to be as lightweight as possible so that they load quickly, no matter the speed of your internet connection.

Instead of laboriously processing each image - which involves a lot of dragging and clicking - the workflow allows you to compress .png and .jpg images via the TinyPNG API with lightning quick efficiency and without lifting a finger off the keyboard.

The workflow simply adds a File Action to Alfred's File Navigation.

File Action for TinyPNG

Find your image in Alfred, tap the right arrow and choose "Compress with TinyPNG" as a file action. The workflow does the rest like magic; It uses the API to compress the image and drops the finished version in a folder on your Desktop, ready to use!

Process multiple images at once

Using Alfred's File Buffer feature, you can process multiple images at once. Add them to your buffer using Alt + up arrow, then press Alt + right arrow to take action on all of them at once.

File Buffer

Download the workflow and get your own API key

After you download the workflow from Packal, we highly recommend getting your own API key from TinyPNG, as the API has a limit of 500 files per month.

Type "tinypng_getkey" to request your own API key. Once you get your key, type "tinypng_config" followed by your unique API key to save it into your workflow configuration.

A minute or two to set up, tons of hassle saved when working with images later!

How to safely back up and sync your preferences before upgrading OS X

Yesterday, Apple officially released El Capitan, the latest version of OS X. Before upgrading to a new OS, it's wise to back up as much of your data as possible, in case the unthinkable happens and you lose any data during the upgrade.

Powerpack users can use Alfred's syncing feature to back up their settings to Dropbox, or to any similar syncing service where your files are stored locally.

Syncing your settings keeps your carefully created preferences safe. Most importantly, it also allows you to stay in sync on more than one Mac; No need to re-download workflows, themes or re-write snippets, they're all conveniently synced between your Macs.

Setting up your first (or only) Mac

If you have more than one Mac, pick the Mac that has the most complete Alfred preferences you'd like to use.

You'll find the syncing settings in Alfred's Advanced preferences tab, in the bottom right.

Sync settings

Choose a folder in Dropbox and Alfred will copy your Alfred.alfredpreferences package to it.

Let Dropbox sync Alfred's settings online fully, then proceed with your OS X upgrade with the confidence that your Alfred preferences are safe.

Locating your preferences (after upgrade or on your second Mac)

Once you've installed the latest OS X upgrade to your Mac, re-install Dropbox and let it sync fully from online.

Once Dropbox is up to date, launch Alfred's preferences to the Advanced tab and select the same folder location you set on your first Mac, which lets Alfred know these are the settings you want to use. From this point onwards, changes to your preferences will be shared between your two Macs.

Customising the preferences that are not synced

A few settings deliberately aren't synced, allowing you to customise them on each Mac. This means you'll need to set up a few preferences, including:

  • Your main Alfred hotkey and default search scope
  • Currently selected theme
  • Clipboard History enabled checkbox
  • Custom home folder location for File System navigation
  • 1Password enabled checkbox and keychain location

Don't forget to take a look at our support site for help setting your Alfred hotkey to Cmd + Space or for a more detailed guide to syncing your Alfred preferences.

Latest Blog Post: Alfred 3.1 Released: Workflows and Performance Improvements
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