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Word and Phrase search in PDF Files

There are a number of programs available for word searching in PDF files, some large and expensive commercial solutions, and some freeware. I have tried just about all of them, as I have a large collection of PDF files which I often want to search through.

Two that will do the job are Copernic Desktop Search, and Search Inform (Using Search Inform, only if the appropriate Adobe filter, which is free, is also installed).

Unfortunately, both of these programs rely on indexing files before they are usable, tie up resources, and slow down the machine. They also install a lot of stuff I don't want. Search inform does a much better job than Copernic because the PDF results from Copernic are barely readable. However, both programs are cumbersome to set up and operate.

I spent a long time looking for a reasonable solution to this problem, and then stumbled on it by chance! It may well be that if you do much with PDF files you already have the solution as well, without even knowing it.

The very best free PDF viewer available in my opinion is PDFXChange. If you don't already have it, you can get it here:

This program has a number of absolutely first class and powerful features which are not at all usual in freeware versions, but I am only going to concentrate on one of these here, and that is the search function.

As far as I am able to determine, the functions I am about to describe are not documented anywhere.

So, what are these marvelous functions, where are they, and how do they work? They are not really hidden, just very unobtrusive.


To access them go to the menu bar of PDFXChange and hover on the Search icon button.

This gives you a fly-out menu with Show/Hide Full Search Pane. Click on the icon and the full search pane will be opened in the display. Nothing particularly impressive about that you might think, but wait... there's more!

In the search pane you have various options. The one that interests us here is: What word or phrase would you like to search for?

If you click on the Down Arrow at the end of the box, you get a complete navigation tree.

So, navigate to whatever directory contains the PDF files you want to search, or browse for it, and click on it to select it.

Now, any word or phrase you type into the search box will be searched for in every PDF file in that directory. The results will be shown in the search pane. I set up a test directory with a few files for this article - searching my main PDF directories may take some time as I have several thousand PDF documents in most of them.

So, the results of a search forTesting are shown in the search pane with the title of the document as a header,and the highlighted phrase (or word) shown as part of the text in which it occurs and a small green icon to the left of the text. If you hover on the icon with the mouse cursor it will show the page number of the document where it found the phrase.

Hmm... still nothing magical about that either...



But... and here comes the really magical bit! If you click on any single result, it will be highlighted, PDFXChange opens a tab containing that document in the main view window, jumps to the page containing it, and highlights it there as well. Now that's magic!!! :)



This function has solved all my problems with PDF searching.

I have to admit here, I had this software for a long time before I discovered it could do this. I felt really stupid when I discovered it, most especially in view of the hours I spent on the net looking for solutions, and then testing them all.

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Best Free PDF Tools


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by Sameendra (not verified) on 21. November 2012 - 11:50  (102672)

You can also use Foxit Reader for searching pdfs by content.

by Rieuwert (not verified) on 15. November 2012 - 11:23  (102359)

Awesome, I have around 300 pdf files and this program searches them significantly faster and more accurate than A.Acrobat.

by Des Newell (not verified) on 12. October 2012 - 9:37  (100682)

Thanks very much for this extremely useful free software.
Now I can save time by searching for relevant themes in my pdf's.

by Ann1503 (not verified) on 20. August 2012 - 7:58  (98007)

Thank you! I've been looking for something like this for ages)))

by HARI KRISHNA TOTLA (not verified) on 11. August 2012 - 5:49  (97535)

Dear sir

Found your article informative and very useful. It search very fast in comparision to Acrobate reader itself.

My requirement is to copy all files comes under search result in anoter folder.

Is it possible?

by georgie o non (not verified) on 3. August 2012 - 18:28  (97167)

Very helpful, thanks

by szore on 17. July 2012 - 10:27  (96324)

The problem with the search function is that there is no save option. I have over 35,000 pdf files. It takes hours to do a keyword search. They need an option where you can 'save' a search results for later perusal, so you dont have to run the search (7 hours) everytime you need the results for a kw search. Big problem for me.

by Gianluca (not verified) on 15. June 2012 - 7:37  (94908)

Excellent! Thank you!!

by Jefferson Airpane (not verified) on 12. June 2012 - 22:20  (94762)

Adobe reader itself does the job.

I am now searching using adobe reader X, and it has this function.

I am searching for a COMMANDLINE tool!

by ed199 (not verified) on 26. May 2012 - 23:48  (94017)

Just what I was looking for-and FREE! Thanks for much-will frequent this site more often.

by AzDayton (not verified) on 5. April 2012 - 0:32  (91652)

SO very helpful! Thank you for sharing this tidbit! I've been using the program for years and never knew!

by Steve Smith (not verified) on 4. April 2012 - 23:31  (91651)

Im trying PDFXChange right now and I want to search PDF files on a network share and for a particular word in the text and then copy all the files i find to a folder or memeory stick. I dont see a way to select and copy the files and i have hundreds and they are not OCR'd


by Ann1503 (not verified) on 20. August 2012 - 7:57  (98006)


I'm sorry to disturb you but I have the same problem! There are a lot of .pdf (and even .tif) files in which i need to find some words and then save them to a special folder. So i'm curious if you've found the solution?

by ChrisChen (not verified) on 29. March 2012 - 6:05  (91363)

Thank you very much! It's powerful!

by hkraj (not verified) on 29. February 2012 - 10:27  (89689)

Thanks for sharing dude! :) very useful when searching in huge list of PDF files for a text / phrase.

by Peter Lozsek, Czech republic (not verified) on 14. February 2012 - 8:24  (88826)

Man! YOU are magical. Fantastic help, thank you very much for sharing your discovery!! Lovely program.

by Vickielynnsings (not verified) on 26. January 2012 - 18:20  (87842)

Thanks! I'm wondering if you know if there's a way to do this...

Search a file of documents for the name of a person that exists after "Dear", then save each of those documents with that name added to the file name. So each file would have it's own recipients name in the document name. Is that even possible via a macro or something?? You seem like someone who might know and I'm having a heck of a time find out.


by MidnightCowboy on 27. January 2012 - 4:32  (87863)

This category currently has no editor. You will get a greater response to your query by posting it in our forum.

by HTG (not verified) on 22. January 2012 - 12:38  (87600)

awesome. thanks. works well so far. will update if any problems.

by xrysa (not verified) on 11. January 2012 - 11:35  (86998)

It sounds perfect for my needs!!! Is it possible to tell me if it works ok with greek fonts? I have a lot of greek scanned books and I am looking for something like this you describe for searching in them!!!

by Sanpo on 13. January 2012 - 20:09  (87139)

Try free PDF-XChange Viewer with OCR. Greek is included in the list of supported languages.

by M (not verified) on 30. November 2011 - 17:48  (84181)

Thanks for the great tip. Does anyone know if any of the reference managers such as Zotero or Mendeley allow free text searching like this? Both allow storage of documents in the cloud. In addition to searching, I would like to record summaries and comments of the articles that I associate with the articles and would hopefully be able to search, as well as perhaps reorganizing my comments so that I can organize citations. What reference managers do you use in combination with PDFXChange?

by Nelly (not verified) on 26. October 2011 - 19:12  (82174)

Yes, it is a very useful programme but what happens if the pdf is not a real pdf file? Then the programme has a zero result and says no match, and the documents might have the word in more than once. This is the problem I can not solve for the time being:(Any suggestions?

by KMac (not verified) on 31. December 2011 - 11:27  (86276)

The latest version of PDF-Xchange viewer has an unbelievably good OCR function included with it - for Free!! You can OCR a scanned PDF file and as long as the text on the scan is reasonably readable it will make the file fully searchable. PDF-Xchange is an incredible piece of Freeware.

by Anonomous (not verified) on 20. October 2011 - 19:32  (81795)

Wow! Installed free version of PDF-XChange Viewer and it added the iFilter into the Windows Explorer indexing service. What a relief. What a great program. They deserve mega kudos.

Thanks for suggesting it.


by djt (not verified) on 21. September 2011 - 21:16  (80065)

Works great - very fast search. Thanks for writing about it!!

by LikedIt (not verified) on 31. August 2011 - 16:06  (78756)

It solved my purpose. After spending almost half a day and looking for solution, this find was awesome.
Thanks for it !!

by Bazzline (not verified) on 7. July 2011 - 14:08  (74941)

Adobe reader 9 does the same...
Next to the search window there's an pull-down option to open the full search function of the reader and that does the same (little slower but still OK).

by GDallasTech (not verified) on 28. June 2011 - 19:51  (74482)

Thank you Thank you, what a great tool that I didn't know existed. Have been using PDF X-change for years and didn't know about this.

by Andre Sid (not verified) on 25. May 2011 - 20:08  (72671)

The option “Search” in PDF-XChange Viewer is more versatile. I can find the words or word's part even in Bookmarks or Comments (the same work I can't do in Foxit)