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Search, don’t sort – Using GMail search operators to the fullest

This article was been published more than 6months ago. The information contained herein may be outdated.

Google’s mail service GMail is built on the idea that, instead of sorting emails into different folders, you use the search functionality to find your emails. If you insist on sorting your email, GMail offers labels rather than folders, the idea being that an email may belong to more than one logical group of sorting, and you should be able to find it in both.
 
The system really shines when you start using the search operators that are available, both separately, and in combination. Here are the operators:
 

Operator Definition Usage
from: Used to specify the sender E.g.: from:Sarah
Result: Messages from Sarah
to: Used to specify a recipient E.g.: to:William
Result: All messages that were sent to William (by you or someone else)
subject: Search for words in the subject line E.g.: subject:dinner
Result: Messages that have the word “dinner” in the subject
OR

Search for messages matching term A or term B
NOTE: OR must be in all caps

E.g.: from:Sarah OR from:William
Result: Messages from Sarah or from William
Used to exclude messages from your search E.g.: dinner -movie
Result: Messages that contain the word “dinner” but do not contain the word “movie”
label: Search for messages by label|
NOTE: There isn’t a search operator for unlabeled messages
E.g.: from:Sarah label:friends
Result: Messages from Sarah that have the label “friends”

E.g.: from:William label:my-family
Result: Messages from William that have the label “My Family”

has:attachment Search for messages with an attachment E.g.: from:William has:attachment
Result: Messages from William that have an attachment
list: Search for messages on mailing lists

E.g.: list:mail@domain.tld
Result: Messages with the words mail@domain.tld in the headers, sent to or from this list

filename: Search for an attachment by name or type

E.g.: filename:physicshomework.txt
Result: Messages with an attachment named “physicshomework.txt”

E.g.: label:work filename:pdf
Result: Messages labeled “work” that also have a PDF file as an attachment

” “

Used to search for an exact phrase (capitalization is disregarded)

E.g.: “i’m feeling lucky”
Result: Messages containing the phrase “i’m feeling lucky” or “I’m feeling lucky”

E.g.: subject:”dinner and a movie”
Result: Messages containing the phrase “dinner and a movie” in the subject

( ) Used to group words
Used to specify terms that shouldn’t be excluded

E.g.: from:Sarah (dinner OR movie)
Result: Messages from Sarah that contain either the word “dinner” or the word “movie”

E.g.: subject:(dinner movie)
Result: Messages in which the subject contains both the word “dinner” and the word “movie”

in:anywhere Search for messages anywhere in Gmail
NOTE: Messages in Spam and Trash are excluded from searches by default
E.g.: in:anywhere movie
Result: Messages in All Mail, Spam, and Trash that contain the word “movie”
in:inbox
in:trash
in:spam
Search for messages in Inbox, Trash, or Spam E.g.: in:trash from:Sarah
Result: Messages from Sarah that are in Trash
is:important
label:important
Search within messages that Priority Inbox considers important. E.g.: is:important from:janet
Result: Messages from Janet that were marked as important by Priority Inbox
is:starred
is:unread
is:read
Search for messages that are starred, unread, or read E.g.: is:read is:starred from:William
Result: Messages from William that have been read and are marked with a star
has:yellow-star
has:red-star
has:orange-star
has:green-star
has:blue-star
has:purple-star
has:red-bang
has:orange-guillemet
has:yellow-bang
has:green-check
has:blue-info
has:purple-question
Search for messages with a particular star E.g.: has:purple-star from:William
Result: Messages from William that are marked with a purple star
cc:
bcc:
Used to specify recipients in the cc: or bcc: fields
NOTE: Search on bcc: cannot retrieve messages on which you were blind carbon copied
E.g.: cc:William
Result: Messages that were cc-ed to William
after:
before:
Search for messages sent during a certain period of time
(using the date format yyyy/mm/dd)
E.g.: after:2004/04/16 before:2004/04/18
Result: Messages sent between April 16, 2004 and April 18, 2004.
More precisely: Messages sent after 12:00 AM (or 00:00) April 16, 2004 and before April 18, 2004.
is:chat Search for chat messages E.g.: is:chat monkey
Result: Any chat message including the word “monkey.”
deliveredto: Search for messages within a particular email address in the Delivered-To line of the message header E.g.: deliveredto:username@gmail.com
Result: Any message with username@gmail.com in the Delivered-To: field of the message header (which can help you find messages forwarded from another account or ones sent to an alias).
circle: Search for messages that were sent from someone who you added to a particular Google+ circle E.g.: circle:Gamers
Result: Any message that was sent by a person in your “Gamers” circle.

E.g.s: circle:”Bike team” or circle:”my \”Heist crew\””
Notes: For circle names that include a space, parentheses, curly brackets, or vertical bar, add quotes around the name. For names that include quotes, add a back slash immediately before the quotes.

has:circle Search for all messages that were sent from someone who you added to your Google+ circles E.g.: has:circle
Result: Any message that was sent by a person in any of your circles.

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