FoxTrot Professional Search

I had been trying FoxTrot Professional Search for several months before eventually deciding to buy the professional version. My initial motivation was to find a tool that could search inside Papers3 library, but I have discovered that the appeal of FoxTrot is much stronger.

Searching with FoxTrot Professional in the Papers3 library

Searching with FoxTrot Professional in the Papers3 library

There is no one-size-fits all search engine. Files that are used or have used recently can easily be found through a simple Spotlight search or even navigating to their specific folder (e.g. through LaunchBar where I index my most frequent folders). The speed of getting to the right file really matters if you need it several times a month. But many reference files used in academic work are not like this. You definitely don’t remember their name, but you may have tagged them for a year ago and/or you may remember a particular term or phrase in the text. To find such ‘needles’ in your ‘haystack’ you really need a professional-grade search tool and so far FoxTrot is my favorite choice.

FoxTrot’s UI is not exciting or super-sleek but it’s very clear and functional. The app gives you a feeling a good search engine should provide: ‘Aha, good I found this one! I’ve completely forgotten about it!’ (instead of ‘Oh. What does this one have to do with what I am looking for?‘). And, yes, it does seamlessly search within Papers3 library as if it was just another ordinary location (the recent Papers3 version already allows Spotlight search – and yet I often prefer going through FoxTrot to find out what I need).


About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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22 Responses to FoxTrot Professional Search

  1. trwhite6979 says:

    Hi Alech. I am not an academic, per se, but a non-trad student. I have been following your blog for some time and find it useful, even for student stuff. As far as FoxTrot, I wonder if it will look through Mendeley reference files? That’s the manager I use and really don’t need Papers currently to get my research together, at least I don’t think I do. Keep up the good work with the blog, enjoy it.



  2. Dear Aleh (if I may), I’m also a fan of your blog. I’m a seventh-year PhD student in the humanities (pre-modern Japanese religious history). I’ve just begun using Tinderbox and Devonthink Pro—I learned of the former from one of your previous posts—but I hadn’t really been aware of alternatives to Spotlight and Alfred, until this post. Now I’ve downloaded Foxtrot and am trying it out. One question (for you or anybody else who knows): will Foxtrot search through Mellel, Scrivener, Tinderbox, Devonthink, and Evernote files? If this question is terribly naïvie, my apologies. I will certainly find out what the case is as I begin using Foxtrot but thought I’d ask.


    • Aleh Cherp says:

      Thanks. It’s actually a good question. I guess it would easily search through Mellel documents. I did not have much luck trying to search for Scrivener files. I do not know about Tinderbox’ format. How do you mean to search DevonThink – it’s a search tool itself? Finally, for Evernote I recommend to use Spotlight – in the recent versions Evernote makes its files searchable with Spotlight which is very convenient.


      • Dear Aleh,

        Thank you very much for your reply. I’ve only begun working with Devonthink Pro this week—hence my ignorance of its full range of functions. I should mention for other readers that I figured out how to include Evernote in Foxtrot searches: go to Foxtrot preferences, then to “files,” then add the Evernote folder. (In my case the folder was named “com.evernote.Evernote” and was found Library > CoreData > com.evernote.Evernote. But as you mention, Aleh, Spotlight automatically indexes Evernote, so perhaps there’s no need for this. It’s regrettable that Foxtrot may not index Scrivener files; if I found away around this I’ll post my findings here. Thank you again for your reply and, more generally, the blog.

        Luke Thompson
        PhD Candidate, Columbia University


    • Jérôme says:

      FoxTrot can search any file that Spotlight can search, as it uses the same third-party plugins (metadata importers).


  3. Marc says:

    Foxtrot is good at what it does. Where the product severely lets its users down is in its support. I have issues with the menu tray icon in v4 – it turns up twice in the menu bar after a boot. Sure, there’s worse things in life but this also disables the Foxtrot quick search function. I contacted CTM support about it. Weeks later they acknowledged that they had heard about this bug from other users but couldn’t do anything about it as they could not reproduce it. That was it from their end. No one was going to look into it to fix this aberrant behaviour.

    More recently, Foxtrot’s quick search window under Yosemite is completely unusable (v4.6) – you type black text in a dark blue window which is completely illegible. This is fixed in v5 – a paid upgrade at $49 with no additional functionality that I would require. Again, I mailed support asking whether they’d be able to fix this bug. This was a month ago and I still have not heard a word. This is all very poor form for a single trick pony app that costs > $100. I have had stellar support from independent developers whose apps cost $15.

    So go ahead and get this software if it does what you want. Just be clear before you buy it that support is only a word on their website – if you run into problems you’re on your own.


    • roblumba says:

      I don’t see how you can blame support for fixing it in the latest version, but you don’t want to pay the fee to update to the latest version. They can’t support previous versions forever, and they need to get money from users to keep fixing bugs. How can they survive at fixing bugs if you don’t pay them?


      • Marc says:

        Not answering support requests (now a 2 months old ticket with a reminder from me over a week ago) is pretty poor service for a product costing > $100. YMMV but I find this to be unacceptable.


    • Jérôme says:

      As the author of FoxTrot, I apology for the lack of support; this issue can be fixed by quitting the extra icon using its menu. Concerning the bug with Yosemite, it has been fixed in the current version (FoxTrot 5); unfortunately, we can’t address non crucial bugs in previous versions (you can’t see what you type, but the quick search actually works; the application itself is 100% functional).


  4. James Rudd says:

    Nice article.

    Does Devonthink not have this functionality?



  5. Stephan says:

    I use a script provided by the papers team, which I modified slightly, to index the pdfs and import abstracts & notes inside the papers3 library using devonthink. Using another script, the corresponding pdf of each paper can instantly be opened in devonthink in order to use it´s search engine. Opening a paper in papers from inside devonthink is possible by using the papers3 link…


  6. David says:

    I’ve been using FoxTrot for a very long time, I think since it came out. My experience of the support is that where the problem is clearly a FoxTrot-specific problem, the support is good. Usually, Jerome, the main author, helps to fix problems. If the problem is a result of some interaction with another application or a bug in OS X, the support can be less definite. It varies though, there was very good communication between CTM (the developers) and another independent developer to sort out a problem I had.

    Aleh mentions one thing that FoxTrot is good at which is *finding* files that you vaguely know are there or think might be there, but can remember very little about. The search function is fast, powerful and has many filters for kind, size, location, time of modification, etc.

    I find that FoxTrot is also very useful in an academic context when you do not know what *file* you are looking for, but you are seeking some particular content. Suppose you’re searching for Wittgenstein and Beckett. I have loads of files with the word Wittgenstein in them and very few with Beckett. FoxTrot makes it very easily to search *inside* a file by color coding the hits on specific search terms. So I can quickly look into a file that might have 1000 hits for Wittgenstein and 2 for Beckett and go straight to the Beckett references. All this works with complex search operators such as proximity (e.g. this word within ten words of that word). Once you realise that this capability is there, it is like getting a 100% increase in the utility of FoxTrot.



  7. Pawel Frelik says:

    Since it searches the Papers database, does this mean it also searches Sente ones?


  8. Pingback: Papers 3 matures, adds Spotlight search capacity | Academic workflows on a Mac

  9. portaferry15 says:

    I am using HoudahSpot & interestingly have not really come across Foxtrot Search even though I take an interest in these things. I note the search on papers gives you the Papers generated files name which is a Random alpha-numeric name – so you have to click thru these files to locate what you want? I could not find any detailed reviews on the web for Foxtrot Search so hard to work out benefits of Pro over Personal (& also differences with Houdah Spot).


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