The IE8 Smart Address Bar Without Windows Search

As mentioned in the  first post on this topic, the IE8 Smart Address Bar works better with Windows Search installed. However, IE8 does not require Windows Search, and IE8 will still provide a superior experience to IE7 if it’s not there. We are going to go through and detail the differences between IE8 with and without Windows Search so people can understand the trade-offs.

To start with, we made a choice to use Windows Search as our index & query engine when we began work on IE8 almost two years ago. We could have written our own engine, or we could have used a different engine, but it came down to a simple realization: we have a team of people here at Microsoft who are dedicated to creating a great search & indexing experience, and it’s called the Windows Search team (formerly known as “Windows Desktop Search.” And to avoid any confusion, we’re talking about the local search index team, not the folks who run – those are separate organizations). The people on that team are experts at what they do, and by leveraging their technology, we get the benefit of all of their hard work and expertise. We consider the folks on the Windows Search part of the extended IE team (the same way you can consider, say, the folks on the networking team, who write TCP/IP for Windows, as part of the IE family).

Once we made the decision to use Windows Search, the next question was simple: what happens to IE8 when Windows Search is not installed? Well, on one hand, you could argue that IE8 should work just as well with as without Windows Search, but then we’d just be duplicating Windows Search inside IE, which reverses the decision we just decided not to make. So, while it was clear we would have to make some trade-offs in IE8 when Windows Search was not present, we still wanted to make sure that IE8 without Windows Search was superior to IE7.

This screenshot shows IE8 on Windows XP, where Windows Search is not included by default:

The IE8 Smart Address Bar on Windows XP without Windows Search

As you can see, even without Windows Search, you still get the new look with Titles, URLs, grouping, and hit highlighting. Typed addresses are still available, and you also get the expandable keyboard shortcut section at the bottom. This is one of those areas where we think the IE8 experience is better than IE7: IE8 is providing richer data back to the user in an easier-to read format. An IE8 user in front of the keyboard of this machine will instantly recognize this as IE8, and therefore should be familiar with the other IE8 features (all of which you can read about here on the IE blog). Despite the new look, underneath, IE8 acts a lot like IE7 did when you type in the address bar.

Here are the details about what’s different in IE8 when Windows Search is not available, but first, a primer about Windows Search. Windows Search has two basic parts: an index and a query engine. We’re not going to go into detail about these here, but IE8 works with both parts to return results to users quickly. The part of Windows Search that we rely on when the user types in the address bar is the query engine. It’s fast, and it does a bunch of hard work (like word breaking) for us. It’s the presence of this fast and flexible query engine that enables us to take what you type, search across a huge amount of disparate data, and return results in time measured in milliseconds. Remember that Favorites are file objects, History is represented in an internal WININET container, typed addresses are stored in the registry, and RSS uses structured storage. That’s four different storage mechanisms for four different data types, all of which are first class citizens in IE. Windows Search allowed us to standardize how we search across these four data types, and made it fast. Best of all, by not changing the underlying data types, we incurred no compatibility costs. People can continue to XCOPY their Favorites around or roam them with 3rd party services, and IE8 will continue to work just fine.

Windows Search allows for smarter searches (because of word breaking)

Without Windows Search, IE8 loses the ability to do word breaking when it searches.

“Word breaking” refers to taking a string (say, “”) and splitting it up into individual words or elements (“http” + “www” + “microsoft” + “com” + “windows” + “products” + “winfamily” + “ie” + “default” + “mspx”). Word breakers know to split up strings not just at spaces (which typically don’t occur in URLs), but at characters like slashes, hyphens, and question marks (which are common characters in a URL). Without word breaking, my example URL is just one long big unbroken word, and all IE8 can do quickly in the address bar is strip away the prefix (the “http://www.”) and match against the domain (

IE7 (and earlier) did not do word breaking when it tried to match what you typed against URLs in your history.

For matching against Favorites, I can type “Microsoft at” to match against the string “Microsoft At Home,” but I won’t get a match if I type “Home.”

Windows Search allows IE8 to search across multiple fields for matches

One of the benefits of Windows Search is the ability to quickly search for matches across many fields or properties, all at once. For instance, for Favorites, IE8 can match what you type against a variety of properties of that Favorite: the Favorite’s URL, the Favorite’s local name (whatever you called it when you saved it), and the folder(s) the Favorite is saved in.

Without Windows Search, IE8 is limited to just searching for the Favorite by name. For History items, we’re limited to just searching by URL. This is how IE7 worked as well. One improvement we made in IE8 without Windows Search is that, unlike in IE7 where it only checked the top level of your Favorites folder for matches, with IE8, we’ll search your entire hierarchy of Favorites for title matches.

Windows Search allows IE8 to search for Feeds and Feed Items

Without Windows Search, IE8 won’t return any Feeds or Feed Items in the dropdown. That means the entire Feeds section of the dropdown will never be present on a machine without Windows Search. If you read a Feed Item in the browser, its URL and Title will be in your History, so it will show up in the list as a History item. This is how some of the other browsers (including IE7) already treat Feeds and Feed Items: they show up once they’re in your History.

Windows Search allows IE8 to provide relevancy sorting

Because the rich data about a site you visit is stored in the Windows Search index, without it IE8 can’t quickly save and compute the relevance of any given address compared to another. Instead we’ll fall back to alphabetic sorting, which is how IE7 sorted its results.

Unfortunately, without relevancy, we also cannot provide an Autocomplete Suggestion. For that reason, this option (and its SHIFT+ENTER shortcut) will not be visible when Windows Search is not installed.

Without Windows Search, History entries will be sorted alphabetically by URL, and Favorite entries will be sorted alphabetically by Title.

So in summary, here’s what you get when you use IE8 without Window Search:

  • The new look, including page titles, URLs, grouping, highlighting, typed addresses, and keyboard shortcuts
  • The ability to do simple matching against domains for History items, like IE7 did
  • The ability to do simple matching against Favorite names, like IE7 did (although IE will search your entire Favorites folder hierarchy with IE8)
  • Alphabetic sorting of sites & Favorites that match

For the corporate IT people out there, there are no policies (or preferences) in IE to enable or disable using Windows Search separately. IE8 will use Windows Search if it’s available and running.

As a reminder, IE8 works with either Windows Search 3 or 4. Windows Vista ships with Windows Search 3, and Windows Search 4 is available as a free download for users running Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 & 2008, and Windows Vista (with some restrictions on service pack levels).

For users who choose to run IE8 without Windows Search, we hope this post clears up any questions about how IE8 should act. And for others, we hope it’s convinced you to try out Windows Search to see what IE8 can really do!


Christopher Vaughan and Seth McLaughlin
Program Managers

Comments (31)
  1. XP SP3 says:

    What about XP SP3? What does it use? Search 3?

  2. Windows XP does not include Windows Search to the best of my knowledge. That includes SP3. You can however download WS3 or WS4 from the URL I refer to in the post.


  3. lynncr says:


    I noticed that in the "Introducing Application Compatibility" article from 8-27-2008, one of the comments of the article said that you can create a registry entry for control of this at:

    HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareMicrosoftInternet ExplorerMainFeatureControlFEATURE_BROWSER_EMULATION]

    My question: Is there going to be an equivalent item in the INTERNETFEATURELIST enumeration that I can use via CoInternetSetFeatureEnabled()?

  4. Dave says:

    Is IE8 still going to load up stuff off my desktop when I type in a value and press enter?

    (PS I hate this "feature")

    E.g. If I have an icon on my desktop for "media", (a folder) and I type in "media" then press enter… is IE going to go to my default search provider and run a query? (e.g. Google for "media") or is it going to open the folder on my desktop? (undesired)

  5. Mike says:

    Is there a way I can setup IE so that when I type an URL that is invalid it doesn’t remove the URL I typed?  It is very annoying to mistype and commit, then try to go back an fix it before IE sends me to the search page because the URL is invalid and then replaces the URL in the Address Bar with the search URL when all I need to do is fix a letter.

    I’d prefer to not even need to go to a search page if I type in a valid URL.  Even if the domain suffix is incorrect ".comn" it is still a correctly formatted URL.  Can you put in an option to allow us to setup IE to do nothing then but tell us the page isn’t available and keep the Address Bar alone?

  6. Gkeramidas says:

    1. i show windows live as my only search provider and i see the shift-enter option.

    2. what if i don’t want any search provider? i don’t see any way to remove the one that’s there. i believe in ie7 the remove option is available.

  7. EricLaw [MSFT] says:

    @gkeramidas: You could never remove the last search provider; you must always have one.  You can hide the search box if you’d like; see

    @Mike: See Tools / Internet Options / Advanced / "Search From the Address Bar" for the option to turn off this search.

  8. Marc F says:

    I have Vista Business (32) with WS v4 and no matter what I try I cant get RSS feeds/items to display in the address bar drop down.

    History and Favorites display fine. The indexer is indexing: ierss://{s-1-5-21-1696455099-3907157074-2640921625-1000}

    Any ideas?

  9. NameRequired says:

    IE8B2 on Vista x64 with WS v4 does not list any of my favorites from the "smart bar".

    Desktop search (e.g. from the Start menu) *does* list my favorites, which is odd …

    My favorites are located in a non-default location (I changed the location using the Favorites folder -> Properties -> Location tab feature). Favorites show up in IE and can be modified without problems.

  10. The AI community at large does not use the phrase "word breaking". Instead, it is generally called "word segmentation".

  11. Ted says:

    Brandon: The WTFAYTAW community at large doesn’t use the phrase "word segmentation".  Instead, it is generally called "floozle flossing."  Thanks.

  12. Marc F: This sounds like a bug. If your machine is busy, it may time to index your feeds, but in general, I haven’t heard of them not appearing. We’ll try to repro internally. One note: we know that feeds with a "?" in their title don’t show up in the index – we’ll fix that post-B2.

    Name Required: We only index favorites in the default location in B2. We’ll find favorites in non-default locations after B2.

    Ted: Thanks for making me smile.

  13. John says:

    The problem I’m experiencing is that results should pop up instantly.  Mine are taking 4-5 seconds to display.  This is fine for advanced searching, but I should at least see URL autocomplete matches immediately.  When I type "recon", it should show immediately, and then continue to work on other possible matches.  


  14. Sterling says:

    One of the things I hated about Windows Search (in XP), which always resulted in me uninstalling it, was that it would hog the system at start up, but then I read online about configuring Windows Seacrch to only index certain folders (I set it to only index My Documents, Favorites and History) so that the indexing time would be shorter and Windows Search would not index files that change every time the machine boots.

    I just reinstalled Windows Search and I am very impressed at how matches are quickly displayed in the Smart Address Bar as I type.

    Mucho props to y’all (IE and WS team) for the great way Internet Explorer and Windows Search work together.

  15. Soum says:

    As I understand it, IE8 is a front end to Windows Search. Does it mean IE8 can use the Windows Search Advanced Query Syntax to manually restrict the scope of the search (like limiting to RSS feeds only or limiting history searches to past 2 days or such).

    Are IE items searchable from the Windows Search Deskbar/Windows Explorer-mounted search boxes? Is the AQS syntax usable from there? If so what are the properties that are available from AQS?

  16. Marc F says:

    Chris: Thanks for the info. Prior to this article about WS combined with the Address bar, I had auto complete disabled.

    I enabled auto complete and only fav’s and history items appeared. Then I rebuilt the index and now its working.

    You might be right that the sys was still indexing. When I opted to rebuild it, I let the sys idle until it completed.

  17. David Naylor says:

    I still don’t understand why you didn’t just include the Windows Search functionality with IE8. Wouldn’t that have respected their work? Cos frankly, without it the IE8 smart bar is pretty dumb.

  18. PatriotB says:

    @David Naylor — if the entire Windows Search were bundled with IE (for XP), you’d probably see someone (coughGoogle) complaining of antitrust bundling violations.  "MS is trying to illegally use their IE monopoly to increase the marketshare of their desktop search product and hurt competition (e.g. Google desktop search)."

    Plus, I believe I remember reading numerous complaints (non-antitrust-related) from people about how Windows Search was bundled with Live Photo Gallery.

    The other option is to clone all of Windows Search into an IE-only copy… that would be pretty silly though.

  19. David Naylor says:

    "The other option is to clone all of Windows Search into an IE-only copy… that would be pretty silly though."

    No, it wouldn’t. It would have made perfect sense actually.

  20. SomeGuy says:

    David: so that you can index the same data twice? …

  21. Very well done. Does address bar work like search engine for internet sites?

  22. Phylyp says:

    @Sterling: Not to sound like a Vista fanboy, but Vista’s IO priority levels make it feel even more responsive than XP _with respect to the search indexer_.

    @everyone: Disclaimer: Whether Vista is more responsive than XP on the whole is a separate topic, and is not the objective of my comment πŸ™‚

  23. David Naylor says:

    "David: so that you can index the same data twice? …"

    Sure, why not. I just think the smart bar sucks without this functionality. But hey, I don’t really care, Firefox 3 is way better anyway and I still wouldn’t ever recommend IE8 over Firefox.

  24. greatidea says:

    Great job IE team. Windows Search 4 is currently the best desktop search on the market. Beats Copernic and Google. But you should highlight this when IE8 RTMs. Something like "Works better with Windows Search". Otherwise people won’t know.

  25. John – We are considering ways to improve perf/responsiveness post-B2.

    Sterling – Glad we could help.

    Soum – IE8 does use AQS to WS. In fact our searches are limited to the index based on how long your history is set to expire (by default 20 days), and while you can customize that amount, you cannot independent customize our query. We restrict our data from showing up in other places. From the shell etc. you can still query some basic IE data, like Favorites, like you always could.

    ERP Software Systemes – I believe one feature of WS4 is the ability for it to use remote scopes. So, you could configure your users’ machines to include the WS scope for your intranet site to their local searches by default. I suppose you could leverage that feature to allow your internal users to search across Intranet sites too, but I have not tried it – and I don’t know if users would appreciate it or not. I think a better option is to author and internal search provider so they can easily search your Intranet from the search box.

    David – One of the key lessons we learned from the SDL is "do not ship a copy of other people’s code." The reason for this is you’re responsible for fixing every single security issue, hotfixes and customer requests. Best to let the other team be the experts at their own code, like I said early on in this post.

  26. Sterling says:

    @Phylyp: I hear ya! I would switch to Vista if the current machine (and, yes, OS (XP), wasn’t working well. I’m afraid the money tree I planted out back hasn’t sprung any leaves yet πŸ˜‰

  27. vickyadams says:

    I still can imagine how the mart address bar will be…But I think it’s important to make it really user friendly because for common user to get adapted with something new is not easy. Especially if they use search tool oftenly.

  28. Matt Ellis says:

    Nice post. A couple of quick questions:

    1. Do you search the content of RSS feeds, or just the titles? My experiments show it’s just the titles…

    2. How do you stop your data appearing in the shell search results?



  29.     슀마트 μ£Όμ†Œ ν‘œμ‹œμ€„μ— κ΄€ν•œ 이전글 μ—μ„œ λ§ν•œ λŒ€λ‘œ, Internet Explorer 8 의 슀마트 μ£Όμ†Œ ν‘œμ‹œμ€„μ€ Windows Search κ°€ μ„€μΉ˜λœ ν™˜κ²½μ—μ„œ

  30. IEBlog says:

    During the IE8 beta periods, we unveiled a bunch of exciting new changes to the address bar. Throughout

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