Perform a semantic or ad hoc work item search

Azure Boards | Azure DevOps Server 2019 | TFS 2018 | TFS 2017 | TFS 2015 | TFS 2013

You can find work items using shortcut filters or by specifying keywords or phrases, specific fields/field values, assignment or date modifications, or using Equals, Contains, and Not operators. Searching is not case-sensitive. Use semantic or ad hoc searches when you want to perform the following tasks:

  • Find a specific work item using its ID or a keyword
  • Find one or more work items across all projects in a fast, flexible manner
  • Perform full text search across all work item fields
  • Review work items assigned to a specific team member
  • Search against specific work item fields to quickly narrow down a list of work items
  • Determine what key words will support a managed search

You can perform a powerful semantic search from the web portal for Azure DevOps Services or TFS 2017.2 or later versions when the server instance has been configured with the work item search extension.

For TFS 2017.1 and earlier versions, or where the work item search extension hasn't been configured, you can perform ad hoc searches.

With semantic search, you search against a more fully indexed set of fields. With ad hoc search, the number of fields that are indexed are limited.

Tip

If semantic search has been configured, you'll notice that the search box moves into the blue bar as shown in the following image.

Search Work Items Text Box

Initiate a semantic search for work items

With semantic search you can search:

  • Across one or more projects
  • Across all work item fields using free text
  • Against specific work item fields

Free text search easily searches across all work item fields, including custom fields, which enables more natural searches. Search results are displayed in a snippet view where the search matches found are highlighted. Semantic search also integrates with work item tracking, providing familiar controls to view, edit, comment, and share information within a work item form.

  1. Choose any Boards page, enter a keyword or phrase in the search box, and press Enter or choose the  start search icon.

    Work Item Search box

  2. Search results are displayed in a snippet view where the matches found are shown in bold.

    Search results

    This is a full text search that uses simple search strings for words or phrases. Work item search matches derived forms of your search terms; for example, a search for "updating" will also find instances of the word "updated" and "update". Note that searches are not case-sensitive.

  3. Select a snippet of a work item to display it in the right window.

    Open the search results in a new browser tab from a search box by pressing Ctrl + Enter or by holding Ctrl and clicking the start search icon icon. In Google Chrome, press Ctrl + Shift + Enter to switch the focus to the new browser tab.

  1. In the search box, check that the text says Search work items. If it doesn't, use the selector to select it.

    The Work Item Search textbox in the title bar

  2. Enter a search string in the text box, and press Enter (or choose the start search icon icon) to start your search.

  3. Search results are displayed in a snippet view where the matches found are shown in bold.

    Search results

    This is a full text search that uses simple search strings for words or phrases. Work item search matches derived forms of your search terms; for example, a search for "updating" will also find instances of the word "updated" and "update". Note that searches are not case-sensitive.

  4. Select a snippet of a work item to display it in the right window.

    Open the search results in a new browser tab from a search box by pressing Ctrl + Enter or by holding Ctrl and clicking the start search icon icon. In Google Chrome, press Ctrl + Shift + Enter to switch the focus to the new browser tab.

Semantic search isn't supported for TFS 2017.1 and earlier versions. You can still perform searches using ad hoc search.

Choose New navigation for guidance. Previous navigation isn't supported for Azure DevOps Server 2019.

Fine tune semantic search results

  1. Fine tune your search by specifying the fields to search. Enter a: and a user name to search for all items assigned to that user.

    Search from the title bar

    The quick filters you can use are:

    • a: for Assigned to:
    • c: for Created by:
    • s: for State
    • t: for Work item type

  2. Start typing the name of a field in your work items; for example, type ta.

    Quick filters as you type

    The dropdown list shows work item field name suggestions that match user input thereby helping the user to complete the search faster. For example, a search such as tags:Critical finds all work items tagged 'Critical'.

  3. Add more filters to further narrow your search, and use Boolean operators to combine terms if required. For example, a: Chris t: Bug s: Active finds all active bugs assigned to a user named Chris.

  4. Narrow your search to specific types and states, by using the drop-down selector lists at the top of the results page.

  1. Fine tune your search by specifying the fields to search. Enter a: and a user name to search for all items assigned to that user.

    Search from the title bar

    The quick filters you can use are:

    • a: for Assigned to:
    • c: for Created by:
    • s: for State
    • t: for Work item type

  2. Start typing the name of a field in your work items; for example, type ta.

    Quick filters as you type

    The dropdown list shows work item field name suggestions that match user input thereby helping the user to complete the search faster. For example, a search such as tags:Critical finds all work items tagged 'Critical'.

  3. Add more filters to further narrow your search, and use Boolean operators to combine terms if required. For example, a: Chris t: Bug s: Active finds all active bugs assigned to a user named Chris.

  4. Narrow your search to specific types and states, by using the drop-down selector lists at the top of the results page.

Semantic search isn't supported for TFS 2017.1 and earlier versions. You can still perform searches using ad hoc search.

Initiate an ad hoc search, use shortcut filters

For TFS 2017.1 and earlier versions, you can perform ad hoc searches from the web portal or from Visual Studio Team Explorer. Ad hoc searches automatically scope to the items defined to the project you're currently connected to.

You can enter or select one or more of the following shortcut identifiers:

  • A =for Assigned To, (for example, A:Annie or A=@me)
  • C for = Created By, (for example, C:Peter or C=@me)
  • S for = State, (for example, S=New)
  • T for = Work Item Type, (for example, T=Task).

Use the @Me and @Today macros to specify your user name or today's date.

Use the =, :, and - operators to specify the operations Equals, Contains, and Not, respectively.

From the web portal

Ad hoc search isn't available from Azure DevOps Services. Only semantic search.

Search box shortcut menu (web portal)

Open the Context Menu Icon context menu and select an option.

Search box shortcut menu (web portal)

From Visual Studio Team Explorer

Open the Context Menu Icon context menu and select an option.

Search box menu (Team Explorer)

Finding work items using the search box (Team Explorer)

Find a work item using the search text box

You can combine shortcuts and use search operators within the search box.

Use the Search box clear icon (Team Explorer) Clear button to remove content from the search box. To switch your context to the search box from within Visual Studio, enter Ctrl+'.

Find items based on keywords or phrases

Keywords or phrases that you type into the search box return a list of work items that contain those keywords or phrases in the Description, Repro Steps, or Title fields. You must enclose each phrase in quotation marks.

In the Search work items box, type a keyword or phrase that appears in the Title, Description, or Repro Steps fields for the work items of interest.

Enclose multiple words in quotation marks.

For example, to find work items with the specified keywords in the Title or Description fields:

  • For the keyword "duplication" enter duplication.
  • For the phrase "Getting Started" enter "Getting Started".
  • For the phrase "Getting Started" or the keyword "feature" enter feature "Getting Started".
Filter for items that contain these keywords or phrases: Type the following string:
duplication duplication
Getting Started "Getting Started"
feature and Getting Started feature "Getting Started"

You can perform partial or exact match queries on a keyword or a phrase contained within any text field. Or, you can perform a full-text search query by filtering on keywords and phrases contained within the full-text search index. Team Foundation automatically indexes all long-text fields with a data type of PlainText and HTML and the Title field for full-text search.

Find items based on specific fields and field values

To find work items based on a keyword or phrase contained within other text string fields, specify either the friendly name or the reference name of the field. Enclose each phrase in quotation marks. You can determine the friendly name of a field by hovering over the field within a work item form. To determine the reference name of commonly used fields or to find a field that is not listed on the form, see Work item field index.

Filter for items that meet this criteria: Type the following string:
Contains one attached file. System.AttachedFileCount=1
Cut user stories. T:Story Reason=Cut
Or
T="User Story" System.Reason=Cut
Resolved by Peter. "Resolved By":Peter
Or
Microsoft.VSTS.Common.ResolvedBy:Peter
Modified today. "Changed Date"=@Today
Created yesterday as a test activity. "Created Date"=@Today-1 Activity=Test

Note

Some fields, such as History and Description, do not support partial word text searches. For example, if the History field contains the phrase reproducible behavior and you search for History:repro the work item will not be found. However, if you search for the complete string History:reproducible the work item will be found.

Use @Me or @Today macros

The @Me macro expands to the full name of the current user in any work item search. The @Me macro is especially useful for creating a search that you can share with other users, and it can simplify your work by reducing the number of characters you must type to specify your own user name. For a description of all macros, see Query fields, operators, and macros, Query macros or variables.

Filter for Type the following string
Currently assigned to you A=@Me
Created by you C=@Me
Resolved yesterday "Resolved Date"=@Today-1
Modified 7 days ago System.ChangedDate=@Today-7
Created yesterday under the Phone Saver team            Created Date = @Today-1
And Area Path = _ FabrikamFiber\Phone Saver

Use Equals, Contains, and Not operators

Use the following search operators to specify search criteria:

   = (EQUALS) to search for exact matches of text.
   : (CONTAINS) to search for partial matches of text.
   - (NOT) to exclude work items that contain certain text. The NOT operator can only be used with field names.

The following examples show how to use operators when you create a search string.

Filter for items that meet this criteria: Type the following string:
Assigned to Peter and not Active. A:Peter -S=Active
In which the Activity field was not Development. - Activity=Development
Resolved by Peter. "Resolved By":Peter
Contain the keyword triage in the title or description, are not assigned to you, and are not closed. triage -A=@me -S=Closed
Active bugs that are assigned to you that do not contain the keyword bugbash in the title. S=Active T=bug A=@Me -Title:bugbash

Q & A

Q: Does the search box support less than/greater than operators?

A: No. The search box doesn't recognize comparison operators such as greater than (>) or less than (<). It translates queries with these operators into a search phrase.