How to Search Messages on iPhone & iPad (iOS 16)

Learn how to search iMessages in the Messages app and messages in Facebook and WhatsApp to find old messages!

* This post is part of iPhone Life's Tip of the Day newsletter. . *

Are you wondering how to search text messages on your iPhone or iPad to find a specific conversation? We can help! We'll cover how to search through your messages on the iPhone and iPad using the Messages app, search Facebook messages, and search WhatsApp chat. Fortunately, most messaging apps make your text conversations searchable. Let's dive in!

What’s in This Article?

How to Search Texts on iPhone & iPad in the Messages App

You can search your iMessages and SMS messages directly in the Messages app. This is the easiest way to do it, although I'll cover one other search method. The screenshots below are taken on an iPhone, but the process is the same on the iPad. Here's how to search text messages:

  1. Open the Messages app.

    Open the Messages app - iphone search text messages
  2. Scroll down to reveal the Search field.

    Pull down on the screen - search messages iphone
  3. Type the name of the person, topic, or keyword that you are looking for.

    Type the keyword - how to search on iphone
  4. You’ll see the relevant thread(s). You can tap See All if you want to see more threads or tap the conversation to open it.

    See the relevant thread - search texts iphone
  5. You will see your search term within that message.

    You will see your search term - how to get old messages on iphone

In older iOS versions, the search function was inadequate, but it has been upgraded and now allows you to search multiple relevant conversations. However, you can also search the Messages app without ever opening the app itself by using your iPhone's search function.

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How to Search Old iMessages on iPhone & iPad Using Spotlight

Spotlight allows you to search across your iPhone's entire system. Therefore, you will be searching across apps, including Messages. 

  1. Tap Search at the bottom of the Home Screen. You can also access Spotlight in the Today View.

     
  2. Tap the Search field and enter the person or phrase you're looking for.

     
  3. As a result, you will see the results from across apps on your iPhone.

  4. You can look for the correct match under the messages section, or you can tap Search Messages under Search in Apps if you can't find the message.

  5. Tap See All to access all of your older messages.

  6. Once you find the relevant conversation, tap it to view the message you were searching for.

     

Pro Tip: A nice feature of iMessages search is the ability to go directly to the phrase you're looking for within the conversation. To learn more about your iPhone, like how to save an image as a PDF, sign up for our free Tip of the Day newsletter.

Now you know how to search for messages on your iPhone! Keep in mind that you can only look through present messages, which means if you've deleted a message, it will not show up when you search. If you are wondering how to search for messages in other apps, we will break down how to search for messages in Facebook and WhatsApp below!

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From How Far Back Can Text Messages Be Retrieved?

Many people want to find out how to find old messages on iPhone, but they aren’t sure how old is too old. There are several factors to consider here. As I already mentioned, you can only search old text messages that haven’t been deleted yet, since Messages doesn’t let you archive texts. But even if you don’t actively delete messages, your iPhone may be deleting them for you. To check this:

  1. Open Settings.

    Open Settings.
  2. Tap Messages

    Tap Messages - can you search messages on iphone
  3. Under Message History, tap Keep Messages.

    Tap Keep Messages - text history iphone
  4. Here you can pick between 30 days, 1 year, and Forever. Keep in mind that if you select Forever, you may fill up your storage with old texts.

    Here you can pick between 30 days, 1 year, and Forever.

Some people ask if you can search iMessages by date. Unfortunately, there is no good way to do this on iPhone or iPad at the moment. But your messages should be listed in order by date sent or received so that can help you narrow down your search.

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How to Search Facebook Messenger Conversations & WhatsApp Messages on iPhone & iPad

How to Search for Messages in Facebook Messenger

A Facebook conversation search is easy and can be done within the Facebook Messenger app in a few easy steps:

  1. Open the Facebook Messenger app.

    Open the Facebook Messenger app.
  2. Tap the Search field at the top of the app. Please note that the Facebook app is redesigned frequently and may look a little different on your phone. 

    Tap the Search field at the top of your display.
  3. Type in your search term, and you'll see several categories where the search term appears. The categories include Messages (conversations with your contacts), Discover (groups and pages on Facebook), More on Instagram (relevant Instagram accounts that you may or may not follow), and More People (people who are not your contacts.)

    Type in your search term
  4. Tap See More under Messages.

    Tap See More under Messages.
  5. Facebook Messenger will list conversations with the matched search term and how many times it was mentioned. Tap the one you want to see.

    Facebook Messenger will list conversations with the matched search term and how many times it was mentioned.
     
  6. You’ll see the various sentences where the matched search term was mentioned.

    You’ll see the various sentences where the matched search term was mentioned.
  7. Tap on the relevant one, and you'll be brought to your search term within that message; the search term will be highlighted.

    Tap on the relevant one.

Just like with iMessage, if you click on a result, it will take you directly into that part of the message. Facebook Messenger search does a great job of looking through message threads from all time, including individual and group conversations and messages that were archived.

How to Search WhatsApp Messages on iPhone & iPad

WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps on the iPhone. WhatsApp is generally considered to have the best search on the iPhone by reviewers, and like Facebook, it highlights the term you're looking for, so it's easy to find in the thread. As with the other two messaging apps we've mentioned, if you've deleted the message, it won't be available for search. However, if you archived the message, the search will work.

  1. Open WhatsApp and log in if you are prompted.

    Open WhatsApp and log in if you are prompted.
  2. Go to the Chats tab, unless you are already there.

    Go to the Chats tab, unless you are already there.
  3. Locate the Search field at the top of the screen. You may need to scroll down to make the Search field appear.

    Locate the Search bar at the top of the screen.
  4. Type the phrase, words, event, or person you’re searching for. Messages that match will appear with the search terms highlighted in bold. Tap the relevant message.

    Type the phrase, words, event, or person you’re searching for.
  5. You will be taken to the message within the thread, and the term will still be highlighted.

    If you click on a result, it will take you to that message within the thread.

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That’s it! You should now be comfortable searching for messages in the Messages, Facebook, and WhatsApp apps! No one wants to search through dozens (if not hundreds) of messages looking for a specific conversation on their Apple device. Fortunately, most messaging apps make your text conversations searchable. If your friend has sent a link you don't want to lose, you can also pin the shared content, so it appears in the related app. For further information on text messages, see our article on the size limits of group chats. Next, learn how to sync messages from iPhone to Mac & iPad.

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Author Details

Abbey Dufoe's picture

Author Details

Abbey Dufoe

Abbey Dufoe is a freelance writer and a web producer at a nonprofit based in Princeton, NJ. She's always itching for the newest iOS gadget (current favorite - the Apple Watch). She tweets and blogs about the earth and the Internet on Twitter at @abbeydufoe and at abbeydufoe.com.