How Do I Search My Linux and Unix Server For a File?

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I am a new Linux system (CentOS) user. How do I search my Linux box for a file? How can I locate files on a Linux based system using bash command line?

You need to either use find command or locate command to search files on a Linux or Unix-like server.


Find command

[donotprint][/donotprint]The find command is used to find files on a Linux or Unix like system. It will search directories you specify for files that match the supplied search condition. A search condition can be used to search files by name, owner, group, type, permissions, date, time, case, and other criteria. The search is recursive i.e. it will search all subdirectories.ooks like this:

find {dir-name} -name {file-name} action


find where-to-look criteria action

The default action is to print file names:

find /dir/ -name "file-to-search" -print

Find command examples

To find out a file called foo.txt in entire server, type:
# find / -name foo.txt
To find out httpd.log file:
# find / -type f -name httpd.log
To find out httpd.log file in /home/web-server/ directory, type:
# find /home/web-server/ -type f -name httpd.log
To find out httpd.log file in /home/web-server/ directory without case i.e. match httpd.log, HTTPD.LOG, HTTpd.LOG case, type:
# find /home/web-server/ -type f -iname httpd.log
To find out all php file (*.php) in /var/www/ directory, enter:
# find /var/www/ -type f -iname "*.php" -print

Find all files except “*.c” in a directory called ~/projects/?

To find all files except a specific pattern i.e. invert the search with -not or !.
# find /dir/to/search/ -not -name "*.c" -print
# find $HOME -not -iname "*.c" -print

# find /dir/to/search/ \! -name "*.c" print
# find $HOME \! -iname "*.c" print

Finding file by type

The syntax is as follows:

find /dir/to/search/ -type X -name "file_pattern" -print
find $HOME -type X -iname "file_pattern" -print

Where -type X can be any one of the following chracter:

  1. f : Search for normal file only.
  2. d : Search for directory only.
  3. l : Search for symbolic link only

To search for all *.pl (perl) files in /var/www/, enert:

find /var/www/ -type f -name "*.pl" -print
## OR case insensitive search ### 
find /var/www/ -type f -iname "*.pl" -print

How do find files by content on a Linux or UNIX based server?

Use grep command as follows:

grep 'string' *.txt
grep -R 'string' *.txt

Search /etc/ directory for all files and only show files that content an IP address
# find /etc/ -iname "*" | xargs grep ''
See “How To Find Files by Content Under UNIX and Linux” tutorial for more information.

Executing commands on files

You can run any command (such as rm or cp) on files that located using find command. The syntax is:

find /dir/to/search [options] -name "file_pattern" -exec command-name1 {} \;
find /dir/to/search [options] -iname "file_pattern" -exec command-name1 {} \;
find /dir/to/search type f -iname "file_pattern" -exec command-name1 -arg1 {} \;

In this example, find all *.php files as set permission to 0644 using chmod command:
# find /var/www/ -type f -iname "*.php" -exec chmod 700 {} \;

Finding files by owner or group

To find all files owned by the “www” user, type:
# find / -user www -print
To find all files owned by the “lighttpd” group, type:
# find / -group lighttpd -print

See also:


Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

10 comment

  1. Make it more easy. i did not understan nothing. can you tell people simply things? I still doo not know who you areß what are you dooing? nothing is that what you want? think abaut. Young People may know this, but what abaut the 50-60 generation.

    1. Obvious, but still pretty funny… *and* you fell for it. Didn’t you think it was a bit odd he could spell “generation” but not “do”?? Uh, herr-o?

  2. The answer is simple enough to understand although the Doc’s comment isn’t. Thanks for the tip.

  3. I have a new freespire program and like it , but I do have issues , I can not seam to get my lexmark x3550 printer to work the soft ware disk will not run , an other issue is the yahoo messanger I get is yahoo beta I would like the stanard messager 10 , the last issue is I can not find the clock , thank you for your time bob

  4. Please step away from the linux server. You will crash the box and hurt yourself. Call your grandkids they will help you.

    Thanks for the chuckle…..

  5. I tried so many option to find a sting under all directory/file in unix server….
    but many of them showing permission denied after each root path
    couls anyone tell me how to find it.

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