I’ve upgraded to macOS 11 (Big Sur) only a few days after it was released in November 2020. Soon I noticed that search in Apple Mail was broken—no matter what I typed into the search box, it would just continue to show all mail that was in my inbox.

I have two user accounts set up on my machine—one for work, and my personal one. Only my personal account (using Fastmail) was affected. My work account (using  Exchange via Office 365) was working just fine from the beginning.

I decided to wait for the next Big Sur update, hoping that it would solve the issue. However, 11.1 didn’t fix it… And 11.2 didn’t fix it either! So I started my research and found this post in the MacRumors forum that helped.

Instructions

  1. Quit all apps (using ⌘ Q), including Mail.
  2. Hold the Shift key (⇧) and open Mail.
  3. Quit Mail (⌘ Q).
  4. Again, hold the Shift key (⇧) and open Mail.
  5. Quit Mail (⌘ Q).
  6. Restart your Mac.
  7. Open Mail (like you normally would, without Shift).

Searching should now work again.

Why Is This Working?

Holding Shift while opening an app prevents it from restoring the last session. Also, for some apps—I assume this includes Mail—it will launch the app in Safe Mode and will restore certain preferences.

What If This Isn’t Working or Breaks Again?

Some people in the MacRumors thread are reporting that the issue came back for them after a few days. If it does, the following solution might resolve it for good. According to MacRumors user daza4, this is a solution suggested by Apple’s support chat. Other users on the MacRumors thread reported that it helped them, too. Disclaimer: I didn’t try it here. (So far, the issues hasn’t returned for me.)

  1. Go to System Preferences
  2. Click “Spotlight”
  3. Remove the checkbox from “Mail & Messages” (screenshot below)
  4. Re-check the checkbox

This will cause Spotlight to reindex the mailbox. Depending on the size of your mailbox, this may take a while!

Sources