The power of xargs

Excerpted (stolen) from

xargs is your friend. Using xargs, you can pull off feats of greatness
and not have to write a script to do it. xargs can take care of things
right on the command line. Though I focus mainly on files in this
article (it’s what I use it for almost exclusively), it’s important to
remember that xargs acts on standard input, which could mean lines
redirected from /var/log/messages or urls or whatever else you can
manage to point in its direction.

$ > rpm -qa | grep mozilla | xargs -n1 -p rpm -e –nodeps

What this says in English, is “Using RPM, query all (-qa) packages,
look for mozilla in the package name, and send the results one at a
time (-n1), to RPM’s uninstall command, and I don’t care about
dependencies, thank you very much (“rpm -e –nodeps”). Also, in case
there’s something that contains the word “mozilla” that I DON’T want
erased, prompt me (-p) before uninstalling.” The above command saves
you from having to manually list the packages containing the string
“mozilla,” then manually running separate “rpm -e” commands against
them one at a time.

$ > find / -name *.mp3 -type f -print | xargs tar -cvzf mp3z.tar.gz

This finds all the mp3z on my entire drive and puts ’em all in a tar
file, and then I can untar them wherever I want 🙂 I actually could’ve
piped that xargs “tar” line into a “tar xvzf” line to automatically
untar them. I also could’ve left out the “-type f” if I had grip set up
to use a custom directory structure that I wanted to preserve. You get
the idea 🙂 PS – this works for other types of files, too, like finding
all the files that belong to you, tarring them and sending the tar to a
backup somewhere, so it does have legitimate use.

$> ls *.mp3 | xargs -n1 -i cp {} backup/.

This command takes all of the MP3 files in the current directory, and
feeds them one at a time (-n1) to the cp command, where the file
argument coming in from ls will replace the curly braces. Notice I
didn’t specify a string with “-i.” I don’t think I’ve ever had to. The
default string that xargs will look to replace when using the -i flag
is the curly braces. As your command lines get a little more complex,
or you start using xargs in scripts, there are a couple of useful
troubleshooting flags you may find helpful if you run into issues. One,
the -p flag, will prompt you for a yes or no before executing a command
on anything. The other, which is a real life saver, is “-t,” and it
does NOT prompt you for a yes or no (unless you use it with -p), but it
will output the command it’s trying to execute, so if something isn’t
quite right, you’ll be able to spot it right away. Comments:

$ > rpm -qa | grep mozilla | xargs -n1 -p rpm -e –nodeps

How about:

rpm -e –nodeps `rpm -qa|grep mozilla`

or if you want a prompt:

for pkg in `rpm -qa`
echo “Remove package $pkg? (y/n)”
read ans
if [ “$ans” == “y” ]; then
rpm -e –nodeps $pkg

Far clearer. The use for xargs is cases where you want to use tools
(such as GNU Grep) which have limits on the amount of input they can
take. For example:

grep foo `find / -type f -print`

might be too much for grep to cope with;

find / -type f -print | xargs grep foo
> ls *.mp3 | xargs -n1 -i cp {} backup/.