02. Searching for Files with find find

The locate command is useful and efficient if you need to locates a file based on its pathname. However, if you want more flexibilty and power in your search, you can use the find command.

There are three main parts of the find command:

  1. Where to look
  2. Criteria
  3. Actions

Below is an example of a typical find command.

find command structure

Let's go through this piece-by-piece.

Where to look

The first argument is which directories we want to look in. By default, the shell searches recursively through the directory specified.

$ find . 

This simple example will list out all file names and directories in the current folder (.). You may place a relative or an absolute pathname here, or your home directory (~).

If you have a lot of files and want to see how many files are being listed, we can use the wc command.

$ find . | wc
3 3 32

This shows us that this particular find command returns 3 words, 3 lines and 32 characters. In other words, we have just three files (including folders) being outputted.


Now, it's probably not manageable to list out all contents, or as useful to just wc results. Additionally, we wouldn't want to pipe our results as that can be too messy of a command.

Luckily we can use criteria to filter our results directly through the find command.

Specifying file type

A useful option we can use is type, which is used to filter based on the type of file.

To specify a directory or file, we simply pass a d, or f respectively.

$ find ~ -type d
# List all directories within our home 
$ find ~ -type f 
# List all files within our home

You can also use a l type for symbolic links.

Specifying file name

In addition to file type, we can specify name with the -name option. We can add wildcards for more flexibility and power.

$ find ~ -type f -name "*.html"
# All files in our home directory with a .html extension

For the case-insensitive option, we use -iname.

Specifying file size

To specify a file size, we use the -size option. Before typing out the size, place either a - or + symbol. This specifies if you want results that are smaller or larger than the given value.

$ find ~ -type f -name "*.html" -size -3M
# Search for all files with an .html extension with a size < 3 megabytes. 

Many more!

There are plenty of other options that are available to suit your needs. Remember to check out the man page for a list of all of them. Here are some of our favorites that you may find useful.

-cmin n
files or directories that were modified n minutes ago.
files or directories that are empty.
-mtime n
Files or directories that were modified within n*24 hours ago.
-mmin n
Files or directories modified at least +n minutes ago and less than -n minutes ago.
-maxdepth n
Descend at most n levels into a directory.
-mindepth n
Descend at least n levels into a directory.
Don't traverse directories that are mounted on other file systems.
-newer file
Files and directories that are newer than file.
-perm mode
Find files/directories that match a specified mode.
-user name
Find files or directories belonging to a name.
Can also use the -uid or -guid to find by user ID and group ID.

Logical Operators

We can combine logical operators to further specify our search specifications; to specify precedence, surround the statements with \( and \).

Both expressions are true.
Either expression must be true.

For example, if we wanted our search criteria to match two criteria, we can link a statement with an -and. If we just want one of the criteria to be satisfied, use -or statement.

$ find . -type f \( -name "*.html" \) -or \( -name "*.php" \)
# Return all files with a .html extension and readable by others 
$ find . -type f \( -name "*.html" -and -perm -o=r \)


Lastly, we have our actions, where apply a command to the files that have been found.

Delete the currently matching file.
Perform ls -dils on matching files.
Output the full pathname of match file.
Quit once a match is made.

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