Linux/UNIX/Cygwin find command

This is another one of those notes to myself because I look this stuff up every six months.

Basics of find. The following is a complete rip off of the content at:

But I wanted to keep a copy safe here. Thanks Wayne Pollock on 12/30/2009 10:27:30.


The -print action lists the names of files separated by a newline.  But it is common to pipe the output of find into xargs, which uses a space to separate file names.  This can lead to a problem if any found files contain spaces in their names, as the output doesn’t use any quoting.  In such cases, when the output of find contains a file name such as foo bar and is piped into another command, that command sees two file names, not one file name containing a space.  Even without using xargs you could have a problem if the file name contains a newline character.

In such cases you can specify the action -print0 instead.  This lists the found files separated not with a newline but with a null (or NUL) character, which is not a legal character in Unix or Linux file names.  Of course the command that reads the output of find must be able to handle such a list of file names.  Many commands commonly used with find (such as tar or cpio) have special options to read in file names separated with NULs instead of spaces.

You can use shell-style wildcards in the -name search argument:

find . -name foo\*bar

This will search from the current directory down for foo*bar (that is, any filename that begins with foo and ends with bar).  Note that wildcards in the name argument must be quoted so the shell doesn’t expand them before passing them to find.  Also, unlike regular shell wildcards, these will match leading periods in filenames.  (For example find -name \*.txt.)

You can search for other criteria beside the name.  Also you can list multiple search criteria.  When you have multiple criteria any found files must match all listed criteria.  That is, there is an implied Boolean AND operator between the listed search criteria.  find also allows OR and NOT Boolean operators, as well as grouping, to combine search criteria in powerful ways (not shown here.)

Here’s an example using two search criteria:

find / <strong>-type f -mtime -7</strong> | xargs tar -rf weekly_incremental.tar
gzip weekly_incremental.tar

will find any regular files (i.e., not directories or other special files) with the criteria -type f, and only those modified seven or fewer days ago (-mtime -7).  Note the use of xargs, a handy utility that coverts a stream of input (in this case the output of find) into command line arguments for the supplied command (in this case tar, used to create a backup archive).

Using the tar option -c is dangerous here;  xargs may invoke tar several times if there are many files found and each -c will cause tar to over-write the previous invocation.  The -r option appends files to an archive.  Other options such as those that would permit filenames containing spaces would be useful in a production quality backup script.

Another use of xargs is illustrated below.  This command will efficiently remove all files named core from your system (provided you run the command as root of course):

find / -name core | xargs /bin/rm -f
find / -name core -exec /bin/rm -f '{}' \; # same thing
find / -name core -delete                  # same if using Gnu find

(The last two forms run the rm command once per file, and are not as efficient as the first form.)

One of my favorite find criteria is to locate files modified less than 10 minutes ago.  I use this right after using some system administration tool, to learn which files got changed by that tool:

find / -mmin -10

(This search is also useful when I’ve downloaded some file but can’t locate it.)

Another common use is to locate all files owned by a given user (-user <em>username</em>).  This is useful when deleting user accounts.

You can also find files with various permissions set.  -perm /<em>permissions</em> means to find files with any of the specified permissions on, -perm -<em>permissions</em> means to find files with all of the specified permissions on, and -perm <em>permissions</em> means to find files with exactly permissionsPermissions can be specified either symbolically (preferred) or with an octal number.  The following will locate files that are writeable by others (including symlinks, which should be writeable by all):

find . -perm -o=w

(Using -perm is more complex than this example shows.  You should check both the POSIX documentation for find (which explains how the symbolic modes work) and the Gnu find man page (which describes the Gnu extensions).

When using find to locate files for backups, it often pays to use the -depth option (really a criterion that is always true), which forces the output to be depth-first—that is, files first and then the directories containing them.  This helps when the directories have restrictive permissions, and restoring the directory first could prevent the files from restoring at all (and would change the time stamp on the directory in any case).  Normally, find returns the directory first, before any of the files in that directory.  This is useful when using the -prune action to prevent find from examining any files you want to ignore:

find / -name /dev -prune | xargs tar ...

When specifying time with find options such as -mmin (minutes) or -mtime (24 hour periods, starting from now), you can specify a number <em>n</em> to mean exactly <em>n</em>, <em>-n</em> to mean less than <em>n</em>, and <em>+n</em> to mean more than <em>n</em>.

Fractional 24-hour periods are truncated!  That means that find -mtime +1 says to match files modified two or more days ago.

For example:

find . -mtime 0   # find files modified between now and 1 day ago
                  # (i.e., within the past 24 hours)
find . -mtime -1  # find files modified less than 1 day ago
                  # (i.e., within the past 24 hours, as before)
find . -mtime 1   # find files modified between 24 and 48 hours ago
find . -mtime +1  # find files modified more than 48 hours ago

find . -mmin +5 -mmin -10 # find files modified between
                          # 6 and 9 minutes ago

Using the -printf action instead of the default -print is useful to control the output format better than you can with ls or dir.  You can use find with -printf to produce output that can easily be parsed by other utilities or imported into spreadsheets or databases.  See the man page for the dozens of possibilities with the -printf action.  (In fact find with -printf is more versatile than ls and is the preferred tool for forensic examiners even on Windows systems, to list file information.)  For example the following displays non-hidden (no leading dot) files in the current directory only (no subdirectories), with an custom output format:

find . -maxdepth 1 -name '[!.]*' -printf 'Name: %16f Size: %6s\n'

-maxdepth is a Gnu extension.  On a modern, POSIX version of find you could use this:

find . -path './*' -prune ...

On any version of find you can use this more complex (but portable) code:

find . ! -name . -prune ...

which says to prune (don’t descend into) any directories except ..

Note that -maxdepth 1 will include . unless you also specify -mindepth 1.  A portable way to include . is:

 find . \( -name . -o -prune \) ...

[This information posted by Stephane Chazelas, on 3/10/09 in newsgroup]

As a system administrator you can use find to locate suspicious files (e.g., world writable files, files with no valid owner and/or group, SetUID files, files with unusual permissions, sizes, names, or dates).  Here’s a final more complex example (which I saved as a shell script):

find / -noleaf -wholename '/proc' -prune \
     -o -wholename '/sys' -prune \
     -o -wholename '/dev' -prune \
     -o -wholename '/windows-C-Drive' -prune \
     -o -perm -2 ! -type l  ! -type s \
     ! \( -type d -perm -1000 \) -print

This says to search the whole system, skipping the directories /proc, /sys, /dev, and /windows-C-Drive (presumably a Windows partition on a dual-booted computer).  The Gnu -noleaf option tells find not to assume all remaining mounted filesystems are Unix file systems (you might have a mounted CD for instance).  The -o is the Boolean OR operator, and ! is the Boolean NOT operator (applies to the following criteria).

So these criteria say to locate files that are world writable (-perm -2, same as -o=w) and NOT symlinks (! -type l) and NOT sockets (! -type s) and NOT directories with the sticky (or text) bit set (! \( -type d -perm -1000 \)<!-- -->).  (Symlinks, sockets and directories with the sticky bit set are often world-writable and generally not suspicious.)

A common request is a way to find all the hard links to some file.  Using ls -li <em>file</em> will tell you how many hard links the file has, and the inode number.  You can locate all pathnames to this file with:

  find <em>mount-point</em> -xdev -inum <em>inode-number</em>

Since hard links are restricted to a single filesystem, you need to search that whole filesystem so you start the search at the filesystem’s mount point.  (This is likely to be either /home or / for files in your home directory.)  The -xdev options tells find to not search any other filesystems.

(While most Unix and all Linux systems have a find command that supports the -inum criterion, this isn’t POSIX standard.  Older Unix systems provided the ncheck utility instead that could be used for this.)

Using -exec Efficiently:

The -exec option to find is great, but since it runs the command listed for every found file it isn’t very efficient.  On a large system this makes a difference!  One solution is to combine find with xargs as discussed above:

  find <em>whatever...</em> | xargs <em>command</em>

However this approach has two limitations.  Firstly not all commands accept the list of files at the end of the command.  A good example is cp:

find . -name \*.txt | xargs cp /tmp  # This won't work!

(Note the Gnu version of cp has a non-POSIX option -t for this, and xargs has options to handle this too.)

Secondly filenames may contain spaces or newlines, which would confuse the command used with xargs.  (Again Gnu tools have options for that, find ... -print0 <!-- -->|xargs -0 ....)

There are POSIX (but non-obvious) solutions to both problems.  An alternate form of -exec ends with a plus-sign, not a semi-colon.  This form collects the filenames into groups or sets, and runs the command once per set.  (This is exactly what xargs does, to prevent argument lists from becoming too long for the system to handle.)  In this form the {} argument expands to the set of filenames.  For example:

find / -name core -exec /bin/rm -f '{}' +

This form of -exec can be combined with a shell feature to solve the other problem (names with spaces).  The POSIX shell allows us to use:

sh -c '<em>command-line</em>' [ <em>command-name</em> <!--

-->[ <em>args</em>... ] ]

(We don’t usually care about the command-name, so X, dummy, or inline cmd is often used.)  Here’s an example of efficiently copying found files to /tmp, in a POSIX-compliant way (Posted on netnews newsgroup on Oct. 28 2007 by Stephane CHAZELAS):

find . -name '*.txt' -type f \
  -exec sh -c 'exec cp -f "$@" /tmp' find-copy {} +

Common Gotcha:

If the given expression to find does not contain any of the action primaries -exec, -ok, or -print, the given expression is effectively replaced by:

find \( <em>expression</em> \) -print

The implied parenthesis can cause unexpected results.  For example, consider these two similar commands:

$ <strong>find -name tmp -prune -o -name \*.txt</strong>
$ <strong>find -name tmp -prune -o -name \*.txt -print</strong>

The lack of an action in the first command means it is equivalent to:

find . \( -name tmp -prune -o -name \*.txt \) -print

This causes tmp to be included in the output.  However for the second find command the normal rules of Boolean operator precedence apply, so the pruned directory does not appear in the output.

The find command can be amazingly useful.  See the man page to learn all the criteria and actions you can use.

See Also Stat

$ stat –help
Usage: stat [OPTION] FILE…
Display file or file system status.

-L, –dereference     follow links
-f, –file-system     display file system status instead of file status
-c  –format=FORMAT   use the specified FORMAT instead of the default;
output a newline after each use of FORMAT
–printf=FORMAT   like –format, but interpret backslash escapes,
and do not output a mandatory trailing newline.
If you want a newline, include \n in FORMAT.
-t, –terse           print the information in terse form
–append-exe      append .exe if cygwin magic was needed
–help     display this help and exit
–version  output version information and exit

The valid format sequences for files (without –file-system):

%a   Access rights in octal
%A   Access rights in human readable form
%b   Number of blocks allocated (see %B)
%B   The size in bytes of each block reported by %b
%C   SELinux security context string
%d   Device number in decimal
%D   Device number in hex
%f   Raw mode in hex
%F   File type
%g   Group ID of owner
%G   Group name of owner
%h   Number of hard links
%i   Inode number
%n   File name
%N   Quoted file name with dereference if symbolic link
%o   I/O block size
%s   Total size, in bytes
%t   Major device type in hex
%T   Minor device type in hex
%u   User ID of owner
%U   User name of owner
%x   Time of last access
%X   Time of last access as seconds since Epoch
%y   Time of last modification
%Y   Time of last modification as seconds since Epoch
%z   Time of last change
%Z   Time of last change as seconds since Epoch

Valid format sequences for file systems:

%a   Free blocks available to non-superuser
%b   Total data blocks in file system
%c   Total file nodes in file system
%d   Free file nodes in file system
%f   Free blocks in file system
%C   SELinux security context string
%i   File System ID in hex
%l   Maximum length of filenames
%n   File name
%s   Block size (for faster transfers)
%S   Fundamental block size (for block counts)
%t   Type in hex
%T   Type in human readable form

This might be handy with xargs from find. Here’s an example from cygwin that outputs a formatted display of filename, size in bytes, and date time when the file was last modified.

$ stat -c “file: %N | bytes: %s | modtime: %y” *.ini
file: `XrxWm.ini’ | bytes: 1064 | modtime: 2009-09-14 12:15:19.531250000 -0400
file: `ntuser.ini’ | bytes: 178 | modtime: 2009-12-29 09:19:04.843750000 -0500

This little command works nicely o Windows (to esacpe the spaces in file names).

$ find . -name ‘*.enl’ -type f -print0 | xargs -0  stat -c “file: %N | bytes: %s | modtime: %y” >> find-output.txt

To produce

file: `./Sample library.enl’ | bytes: 13918 | modtime: 2009-12-18 15:02:41.671875000 -0500

Published by

John C. Zastrow

Grew up in Youngstown, NY with a deep respect and fascination for the Laurentian Great Lakes and all things water. After a dabbling with interests in sports medicine, and being a professional potter, undergraduate work at CU - Boulder led me back to my passion for water and science. Undergrad degree in tow, I worked as an aquatic toxicologist and GIS/RS analyst in the Front Range. Graduate work at Wisconsin – Milwaukee fed my curiosity about the Great Lakes extended my interests in data analysis and management. My projects involved climate change modeling, phytoplankton physiology, riding research vessels in the frigid Lake Michigan, managing an environmental database development effort, and of course GIS/RS. My next job found me in Fairfax, Virginia where I was able to continue with most of my professional interests. The chaos of Greater D.C and a need to be closer to family brought us to Portland, Maine. I am still passionate about all things water, environmental, and spatial and am a strong advocate for Open Source software (for a variety of reasons). I lead software development and data management projects for Tetra Tech and focus on things geospatial.

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