How to Quickly Find Messages with Attachments in Gmail

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Gmail is part of our everyday habits. And, why not. There are plenty of reasons to love Gmail.

It is completely free; there is plenty of storage space; it gives you free POP3 access to your email as well as free offline access to your email messages via the IMAP route; choices like Gmail Inbox or the veteran Gmail app to pick from; and a slew of browser add-ons that make Gmail more interesting

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Then, there are the attachments. They are the icebergs floating in the sea of emails.

Thanks to Gmail’s generosity, you can send attachments with a maximum size of 25MB. A byte larger than that and it turns into a Google Drive link instead of an attachment. There’s no loss in that.

But, how do you manage your attachments in the ocean of emails? You turn to these methods and tips.

Use the Power of Gmail Search

As the search geek, that’s one thing I really appreciate. The advanced Gmail search features

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give me the ability to use very flexible search features to go through thousands of email messages stored for years in one place.

This is where Gmail is a life-saver. You don’t have to worry too much about organizing your email till you reach the 15 GB limit. Your inbox can be a virtual stack but do remember that this 15 GB is shared with Google Drive and Google Photos too.

Attachments are the big elephants in your inbox. Let’s say, someone has sent you high-resolution photographs, videos or large database files. You may want to find them, organize them, or delete them to save space.

  • Quickly and efficiently find email attachments (even if you can hardly remember the file name, the sender name, the date when you received the email, etc).
  • Free up some space (yes, storage space is huge but not unlimited. In case you have ever sent or received high-resolution photographs, videos or large database files, you may want to delete them to save on space).

Even a beginner should learn the basic Gmail skills

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because it is easier to deal with a less crowded inbox before the deluge of emails hit. Organizing the attachments is best done as early as possible.

Search for Emails with Attachments

There are several ways to search for attachments in Gmail using Gmail advanced search operators:

  • has:attachment – Filter emails to only those that have anything attached.
  • has:attachment doc – Filter emails to only those that have .doc files attached.
  • filename:.doc – This works almost exactly as the above one (but this one is the documented operator for searching attachment types).

Note: filename: already implies that there should be an attachment included, so you don’t need to use has:attachment together with it. Also, a dot is not required before the file extension: filename:.doc = filename:doc

  • filename:google*.doc – Filter emails to only those that have doc files attached and these files have [google] in the beginning of the name (whereas filename:*google*.doc searches for messages that have documents attached with “google” mentioned somewhere in the middle of the file name).
  • filename:.doc OR filename:.html – Filter emails to only those that have either .doc or .html files attached (or both).
  • filename:.doc AND filename:.html – Filter emails to only those that have both .doc or .html files attached.
    find attachments in Gmail

You can search emails based on message size. Fat emails will usually have something attached. It can be images or documents. Earlier, you had to search in bytes which confused the basic user. Now, you can use any size and Gmail will go on the hunt. Use either “m” or “mb” to suggest the size.

Gmail Search

Also, you can focus your search on old messages. Use the older_than search modifier. For example, older_than:1y will display any messages that are more than a year old.

The method also doesn’t stop you from using other search parameters that go into any advanced Gmail search trick. So, feel free to use wildcards or sender names to get the attachments you want.

Gmail also supports the “larger” and “smaller” parameters to help you find emails within a size range. For instance:

Substitute the numeral “5” and “10” with a number you want.

  • larger:10mb
  • smaller:5mb
  • And, to find anything in between: larger:5mb smaller:10mb 

See What’s Attached from Search Results

Now that we know how to locate our email attachments, let’s learn to cope with one inconvenience: you have no idea what is attached until you enter the actual message scroll down and see the attached file names.

Chrome users should install the Attachment Icons for Gmail extension. This Gmail Chrome extension can improve your workflow

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 if you receive a lot of attachments every day.

The popular extension replaces the standard (but boring) paper clip icon with a specific icon that tells what the document is all about. One glance and you can see what kind of attachment an email has directly from your inbox.

Attachments for Gmail

Supported file types include: xls, doc, docx, zip, rar, tgz, tar, pdf, tiff, jpg, bmp, gif, png, odt, ods, odp, ppt, pps, pptx, ppsx, txt, rtf, php, xml, exe, mp3, wma, wav, ogg, html, java, vcf, css, js, wmv, mpeg, avi, ics, mov, svg.
Additional formats: AutoCAD and Revit.

You might notice a bug or two — if the email has multiple types of attachments only the first icon is shown.

Firefox users can get the same help with the Better Gmail 2 browser add-on. Along with the custom icons, you get other email management benefits like hierarchical labels, an unread message icon on your browser tab, and the ability to hide some inbox features like the chat box and the spam count.

Find Large Gmail Attachments: Find Big Mail

Find Big Mail is a free service that lets you sort your email by size. It does require access to your Gmail account (using Gmail OAuth

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, so as far as I understand, it doesn’t store your Gmail password and you can make sure the access is removed immediately after you use it in your Gmail account).

After you grant access to your Gmail account, the tool will immediately start scanning your messages. It may take some time. Once it’s done, you’ll receive an email notification which brings you to the stats page:


What you can do now is log into your Gmail interface, click through your full label list and find some new labels created by FindBigMail app. The labels will organize your largest emails by size:

  • Top (the largest emails).
  • 2mb’ messages are larger than 2,000,000 bytes.
  • 500kb’ messages are between 500,000 and 2,000,000 bytes.
  • 100kb’ messages are between 100,000 and 500,000 bytes.
    Gmail attachments

FindBigMail has done the hard work for you in just a few seconds. Now, just follow these two simple steps to declutter your inbox.

  1. Click on each label to view the large messages.
  2. Then follow these Gmail instructions to remove the mail you no longer want.

Be sure to empty the Trash using “Delete Forever” if you need to free up space immediately. Otherwise, it will automatically be removed in 30 days time.

Otherwise, you can consider this smart advice from Amit Agarwal to locate your bulky messages and delete them. Be sure to use the has:attachment filter if you have too many emails stored in your account to make it work).

The Importance of Managing Your Attachments

One of the more persistent attachments come in the form of photos your family shares with you. They can also come as chunky PDF reports from the office. You may need to compile a few of them in a new email. Thanks to your advanced Gmail skills

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you don’t have to spend too much time than necessary to hunt for them.

The good news is that there is a massive Gmail ecosystem out there and several other ways to manage your inbox with Google Drive

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Do you have any other Gmail attachment tips to add to the mix? Please share them in the comments!

Originally written by Ann Smarty on Jan 22, 2011