Find Command

The Most Powerful Command Some Have Ever Heard Of

The find command may just be the most powerful and useful command you can run from the command line (that isn’t an entire language itself like bash, perl, or awk). It has two main uses (1) to find stuff (duh) and (2) to act on the things that it finds. The magic of find is in it’s ability to automatically walk through an entire directory tree by descending down into it. Such traversal is not a trivial coding exercise. (You should write one someday to try it.) Although find isn’t a language it definitely has a syntax. Learning all the switches, their order, and predicates is not unlike learning a small language itself.

It is surprising how many veteran UNIX/Linux users — even administrators — don’t even know about the ultra-powerful find command. Don’t be them.

Advantages Over Shell Glob Expansion

Shell glob expansion is when you use one or two stars * to expand out to all the possible matching files and directories. This usually works but has one major disadvantage. The number of hits that it expands to are limited and unless activated might not even expand at all. Even though find costs a subprocess to use, it avoids these risks entirely and is fully POSIX compliant as well.


The man page is rather large and hard to digest. Here are some examples of common tasks you’ll likely need.

Don’t forget that some of these will need to be run as sudo. Otherwise you want to redirect all the permission to read errors by adding 2>/dev/null to the end.

Find All Files 34 Bytes in Size

find / -size 34c
find / -type l

Find Everything in /home or /var Owned by Root

find /home /var -owner root

Find All Files on System with Setuid or Setgid and Long List

find / -perm /=s -ls

Grep All Files in the Current Directory and Children with a Given Suffix

find . -name '*.md' -exec grep blah {} /dev/null \;

See Also