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Xargs Command

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The xargs  utility is one of the most useful and the most underappreciated utilities in Unix piping toolbox. There is also a newer, more powerful Perl reimplementation called parallel  which can run commands in parrallel. Parallel has a very good documentation with multiple examples that I highly recommend to read even if you do not plan to use it.  Almost half of the examples are relevant to xargs. 

Few sysadmin know how to use xargs productivily and even fewer use it to the full extent of its power. But it is a very important part of Unix toolkit. The part that reflects the essence of Unix: ability of classic Unix tools to work together and provide functionality that is superior to monolithic tools.

Xargs constructs an argument list for an arbitrary Unix command using standard input and then executes this command with those arguments

     xargs [option...] [command [initial-arguments]]

Most popular options (see Reference for differences between major implementations):

With option -n 1 xargs  can extend the capabilities of program that accept as argument only a single file allowing to handle multiple files via multiple invocation, each with s single file. In other words it can serve as  a universal extension mechanism that can partially compensates for this shortcoming. Of course, there is no free lunch and there is some "multiple invocation/initialization" overhead involved, but on modern computers more often then not it is negligible.

xargs  normally reads arguments from the standard input. These arguments are delimited by blanks (which can be protected with double or single quotes or a backslash) or newlines. If no command is specified /bin/echo is executed.

Blank lines on the standard input are ignored.

In many Unix shells there is a limit to the number of arguments allowed on a single command line. This is often a problem when you analyze spam blocked by a spam filter or find output that contains large number of files. Here xargs can help: if the argument list read by xargs is larger than the maximum allowed by the shell, xargs will bundle the arguments into smaller groups and execute command separately for each argument bundle.


Option -t Echo each command before executing. In complex cases, especially if it is typically used with a pipe getting its input from commands like ls and find that can contain hundreds of entries, but it is often safer to write first the list to the file, inspect it and only then to run xargs. For example:  

find . -name '*2011*' print | xargs -n2 grep 'From: Ralph'
cat iplist | xargs -n1 nmap -sV

In the example above, the find command searches the entire directory structure for filenames that contain 2011 . The xargs command executes grep command for each two argument (so that filename was visible). In the second example cat command supplies the list of IPs for map to scan.

You can also use option -p which prompts the user before executing each command.

If no command is specified, xargs works similar to the echo command and prints the argument list to standard output.  This feature also can used for debugging.


  1. One type of hard to find errors is connected with filenames that got to Unix from Windows and contain blanks. Because file names can contain quotes, backslashes, blank characters, and even newlines, it is not safe to process them using xargs  in its default mode of operation. Also since most files' names do not contain blanks, this problem occurs only infrequently.  It is safer to use ‘find -print0’ or ‘find -fprint0’ and process the output by giving the ‘-0’ or ‘--null’ option to GNU xargs, GNU tar, GNU cpio, or perl. The locate  command also has a ‘-0’ or ‘--null’ option which does the same thing.

    find $HOME -name '*.c' -print | xargs grep -l sprintf

    However, if the command needs to have its standard input be a terminal (less, for example), you have to use the shell command substitution method or use the ‘--arg-file’ option of xargs.

  2. The xargs  command stops if  the command exits with a status of 255 (this will cause xargs to issue an error message and stop). If you run script  via xrags it make sence to ensure that any unrecoverable error produced error code 255. In case of utilities it ma sence to write an script that can serve as envelope and ensure the same behavior.

You can inspect input to xargs before running it like in the following example:

function safe_del {
   find . -name "$1" > /tmp/safe_del.lst # Step 1: Create the list
   vi /tmp/safe_del.lst  # Step 2: Check the list 
   if [ -f "/tmp/safe_del.lst" ] ; then   # if list is not deleted from vi
     xarg rm < /tmp/safe_del_lst # Execute rm command for each line

Error messages issued by find  and locate  quote unusual characters in file names in order to prevent unwanted changes in the terminal's state.

In many applications, if xargs  botches processing a file because its name contains special characters, some data might be lost. The importance of this problem depends on the importance of the data and whether anyone notices the loss soon enough to correct it.


-a inputfile
Read names from the file inputfile instead of standard input. If you use this option, the standard input stream remains unchanged when commands are run. Otherwise, stdin is redirected from /dev/null.
Input file names are terminated by a null character instead of by whitespace, and any quotes and backslash characters are not considered special (every character is taken literally). Disables the end of file string, which is treated like any other argument.
--delimiter delim
-d delim
Input file names are terminated by the specified character delim instead of by whitespace, and any quotes and backslash characters are not considered special (every character is taken literally). Disables the end of file string, which is treated like any other argument.

The specified delimiter may be a single character, a C-style character escape such as ‘\n’, or an octal or hexadecimal escape code. Octal and hexadecimal escape codes are understood as for the printf  command. Multibyte characters are not supported.

-E eof-str
Set the end of file string to eof-str. If the end of file string occurs as a line of input, the rest of the input is ignored. If eof-str is omitted (‘-e’) or blank (either ‘-e’ or ‘-E’), there is no end of file string. The ‘-e’ form of this option is deprecated in favour of the POSIX-compliant ‘-E’ option, which you should use instead. As of GNU xargs version 4.2.9, the default behaviour of xargs is not to have a logical end-of-file marker. The POSIX standard (IEEE Std 1003.1, 2004 Edition) allows this.
Print a summary of the options to xargs  and exit.
-I replace-str
Replace occurrences of replace-str in the initial arguments with names read from standard input. Also, unquoted blanks do not terminate arguments; instead, the input is split at newlines only. If replace-str is omitted (omitting it is allowed only for ‘-i’), it defaults to ‘{}’ (like for ‘find -exec’). Implies ‘-x’ and ‘-l 1’. The ‘-i’ option is deprecated in favour of the ‘-I’ option.
-L max-lines
Use at most max-lines non-blank input lines per command line. For ‘-l’, max-lines defaults to 1 if omitted. For ‘-L’, the argument is mandatory. Trailing blanks cause an input line to be logically continued on the next input line, for the purpose of counting the lines. Implies ‘-x’. The ‘-l’ form of this option is deprecated in favour of the POSIX-compliant ‘-L’ option.
-n max-args
Use at most max-args arguments per command line. Fewer than max-args arguments will be used if the size (see the ‘-s’ option) is exceeded, unless the ‘-x’ option is given, in which case xargs  will exit.
Prompt the user about whether to run each command line and read a line from the terminal. Only run the command line if the response starts with ‘y’ or ‘Y’. Implies ‘-t’.
If the standard input is completely empty, do not run the command. By default, the command is run once even if there is no input.
-s max-chars
Use at most max-chars characters per command line, including the command, initial arguments and any terminating nulls at the ends of the argument strings.
Display the limits on the command-line length which are imposed by the operating system, xargs' choice of buffer size and the ‘-s’ option. Pipe the input from /dev/null  (and perhaps specify ‘--no-run-if-empty’) if you don't want xargs  to do anything.
Print the command line on the standard error output before executing it.
Print the version number of xargs  and exit.
Exit if the size (see the ‘-s’ option) is exceeded.
-P max-procs
Run simultaneously up to max-procs processes at once; the default is 1. If max-procs is 0, xargs  will run as many processes as possible simultaneously.

Feeding find output to pipes with xargs

One of the biggest limitations of the -exec option (or predicate with the side effect to be more correct) is that it can only run the specified command on one file at a time. The xargs  command solves this problem by enabling users to run a single command on many files at one time. In general, it is much faster to run one command on many files, because this cuts down on the number of invocations of particular command/utility.

Note: Print0 with print list of filenames with null character (\0) instead of white space as the output delimiter between pathnames found. This is a safer option if files can contain blanks or other special characters if you use find with xargs (the -0 argument is needed in xargs.).

For example often one needs to find files containing a specific pattern in multiple directories one can use an exec option in find

find . -type f -exec grep -iH '/bin/ksh' {} \;

But there is more elegant and more Unix-like way of accomplishing the same task using xargs  and pipes. You can use the xargsto read the output of find and build a pipeline that invokes grep. This way, grep is called only four or five times even though it might check through 200 or 300 files. By default, xargs always appends the list of filenames to the end of the specified command, so using it with grep and most other Unix command is pretty natural:

find . -type f -print | xargs grep -il 'bin/ksh'

This gave the same output a lot faster (-l option in grep prints only the names of files with matching lines, separated by NEWLINE characters. Does not repeat the names of files when the pattern is found more than once.)

Also the xargs is used with grep it will be getting multiple filenames, it will automatically include the filename of any file that contains a match. Still option -H for grep (or addition /dev/null to the list of files) is recommended as the last "chunk" of filenames can contain a single file.

When used in combination, find, grep, and xargs are a potent team to help find files lost or misplaced anywhere in the UNIX file system. I encourage you to experiment further. You can use time to find the difference in speed with -exec option vs xarg in the following way:

time find /usr/src -name "*.html" -exec grep -H "foo" {} ';' | wc -l

time find /usr/src -name "*.html" | xargs grep -l "foo" | wc -l

xargs  works considerably faster. The difference becomes even greater when more complex commands are run and the list of files is longer.

Two other useful options for xargs  are the -p option, which makes xargs interactive, and the -n args option, which makes xargs  run the specified command with only N number of arguments. Option -0 is often used with -print0

This combination is useful if you need to operate on filenames with spaces. If you add option -print0  to find  command and option -0 xargs  command, you can avoid the danger to processing wrong file(s) xargs:

find /mnt/zip -name "*prefs copy" -print0 | xargs -0 rm

Using option -p you can provide manual confirmation of each action. The reason is that xargs runs the specified command on the filenames from its standard input, so interactive commands such as cp -i, mv -i,  and rm -i don't work right.

So when you run the command first time you can use this option as a safety valve. After several operations with confirmation you can cancel it and run without option -p. The -p option solves that problem. In the preceding example, the -p option would have made the command safe because I could answer yes or no to each file. Thus, the command I typed was the following:

find /mnt/zip -name "*prefs copy" -print0 | xargs -p rm

Many users frequently ask why xargs  should be used when shell command substitution archives the same results. Take a look at this example:

grep foo ΄find /usr/src/linux -name "*.html"΄

The drawback with commands such as this is that if the set of files returned by find  is longer than the system's command-line length limit, the command will fail. The xargs  approach gets around this problem because xargs  runs the command as many times as is required, instead of just once.

People are doing pretty complex staff this way. For example (Ubuntu Forums, March 23rd, 2010)


I'm trying to convert Nikon NEF images to jpg. Usually I use find and xargs for batch processes like this for example:


find . -name "*.flac" -exec basename \{\} .flac \; | xargs -i ffmpeg -i \{\}.flac -acodec libvorbis -aq 3 \{\}.ogg

However, my latest attempt is giving me no output because I can't seem to get xargs to work with pipes. An individual set of commands works:


dcraw -w -c MEY_7046.NEF | convert - -resize 25% MEY_7046.jpg exiftool -overwrite_original -TagsFromFile MEY_7046.NEF MEY_7046.jpg dcraw -z MEY_7046.jpg

A nice set of commands, but not yet practical for converting a DVD with multiple directories. My truncated find-isized version does nothing:

Code: find . -name "*.NEF" -exec basename \{\} .NEF \; | xargs -i dcraw -w -c \{\}.NEF | convert - -resize 25% \{\}.jpg

Any ideas of where I'm going wrong?


That pipes the output of all the dcraw runs together into one convert call.



find . -name "*.NEF" -exec basename \{\} .NEF \; | xargs -i sh -c 'dcraw -w -c $0.NEF | convert - -resize 25% $0.jpg'

In this example you can also use -0 argument to xrags.

But ability of xargs to use multiple argument can be a source of the problems too. For example

find . -type f -name "*.java" | xargs tar cvf myfile.tar

Here the attempt is made to create a backup of all java files in the current tree: But if the list length for xargs to invoke the tar command twice or more, it will overwrite previous tar and the resulting archive will contain a fraction of files.

To solve this problem you can use either file (tar can read a list of files from the file using -T option) or "-r" option which tells tar to append to the archive, while option '-c' means "create".

find . -type f -name "*.java" | xargs tar rvf myfile.tar


  1. To use a command on files whose names are listed in a file, enter:
    xargs lint -a < cfiles

    If the cfiles  file contains the following text:

    main.c readit.c

    the xargs command constructs and runs the following command:

    lint -a main.c readit.c gettoken.c putobj.c

    If the cfiles  file contains more file names than fit on a single shell command line (up to LINE_MAX), the xargs command runs the lint command with the file names that fit. It then constructs and runs another lint command using the remaining file names. Depending on the names listed in the cfiles  file, the commands might look like the following:

    lint -a main.c readit.c gettoken.c . . .
    lint -a getisx.c getprp.c getpid.c . . .
    lint -a fltadd.c fltmult.c fltdiv.c . . .

    This command sequence is not quite the same as running the lint command once with all the file names. The lint command checks cross-references between files. However, in this example, it cannot check between the main.c  and the fltadd.c  files, or between any two files listed on separate command lines.

    For this reason you may want to run the command only if all the file names fit on one line. To specify this to the xargs command use the -x flag by entering:
    xargs -x lint -a <cfiles
    If all the file names in the cfiles  file do not fit on one command line, the xargs command displays an error message.

  2. To construct commands that contain a certain number of file names, enter:
    xargs -t -n 2 diff <<EOF
    starting chap1 concepts chap2 writing

    This command sequence constructs and runs diff commands that contain two file names each (-n 2):
    diff starting chap1
    diff concepts chap2
    diff writing chap3

    The -t flag causes the xargs command to display each command before running it, so you can see what is happening. The <<EOF  and EOF  pattern-matching characters define a here document, which uses the text entered before the end line as standard input for the xargs command.

  3. To insert file names into the middle of command lines, enter:

    ls | xargs -t -I {} mv {} {}.old

    This command sequence renames all files in the current directory by adding .old  to the end of each name. The -I flag tells the xargs command to insert each line of the ls directory listing where {} (braces) appear. If the current directory contains the files chap1, chap2, and chap3, this constructs the following commands:

    mv chap1 chap1.old
    mv chap2 chap2.old
    mv chap3 chap3.old
  4. To run a command on files that you select individually, enter:
    ls | xargs -p -n 1 ar r lib.a
    This command sequence allows you to select files to add to the lib.a library.  The -p flag tells the xargs command to display each ar command it constructs and to ask if you want to run it. Enter y  to run the command. Press the any other key if you do not want to run the command.

    Something similar to the following displays:

    ar r lib.a chap1 ?...
    ar r lib.a chap2 ?...
    ar r lib.a chap3 ?... 
  5. To construct a command that contains a specific number of arguments and to insert those arguments into the middle of a command line, enter:
    ls | xargs -n6 | xargs -I{} echo {} - some files in the directory

    If the current directory contains files chap1 through chap10, the output constructed will be the following:

    chap1 chap2 chap3 chap4 chap5 chap6 - some files in the directory
    chap7 chap8 chap9 chap10 - some file in the directory

Typically arguments are lists of filenames passed to xargs via a pipe. Please compare:

$ ls 050106*
$ ls 050106* | xargs -n2 grep "From: Ralph"
In the first example list of files that starts with 050106 is printed. In the second for each two such files grep is executed.

Additional Examples

John Meister's UNIX Notes

Change permissions on all regular files in a directory subtree to mode 444, and permissions on all directories to 555:

find -type f -print | xargs chmod 444

$ ls * | xargs -n2 head -10
line 1 of f1 line 2 of f1 line 3 of f1
ls * } xarg -n1 wc -1 
(date +%D ; du -s ~) | xargs >> log
ls *.txt | xargs -i basename \{\} .ascii \
| xargs -i mv \{\}.ascii \{\}.ask

(Note that the backslash usage)

Another example. Let's "cat" the Contents of Files Listed in a File, in That Order.

$ cat file_of_files

$ cat file1
This is the data in file1

$ cat file 2
This is the data in file2
So there are 3 files here "file_of_files" which contains the name of other files. In this case "file1" and "file2". And the contents of file1" and "file2" is shown above.

$ cat file_of_files | xargs cat
This is the data in file1
This is the data in file2

What if you want to find a string in all finds in the current directory and below. Well the following script will do it.

for i in $*; do
find . -name "$i" -type f -print | xargs egrep -n "$SrchStr"/dev/null
Another quite nice thing, used for updating CVS/Root files on a Zaurus:
find . -name Root | xargs cp newRoot

Just copies the contents of newRoot into every Root file. I think this works too:

find . -name Root | xargs 'echo user@machine.dom:/dir/root >'

as long as the quote are used to avoid the initial interpretation of the >.

These pieces of randomness will look for all .sh files in PWD and print the 41st line of each - don't ask me why I wanted to know. Thanks to Brian R for these.

for f in *.sh; do sed -n '41p' $f; done


ls *.sh | xargs -l sed -n '41p' Remove all the files in otherdir 
		that exist in thisdir. 
ls -1d ./* | xargs -i rm otherdir/{}

Oracle Tips UNIX find and cat

Locate Oracle files that contain certain strings - This is one of the most common shell command for finding all files that contain a specified string. For example, assume that you are trying to locate a script that queries the v$process table. You can issue the following command, and UNIX will search all subdirectories, looking in all files for the v$process table.

root> find . -print|xargs grep v\$process
./TX_RBS.sql: v$process p,
./UNIX_WHO.sql:from v$session a, v$process b
./session.sql:from v$session b, v$process a

broadband » Forums » All things UNIX » Little Known Tips and Tricks...

To follow on to Steve's xargs madness, let's say you've got some daemon process that is just running away. It's spawning more and more processes and "service blah stop" is not doing anything for you. Here's a cute way to kill all of those processes with the "big hammer":

	ps -auxwww | grep "daemonname" | awk '{print $2}' | xargs kill -9

Tips and tricks for Mandrake Linux

If you edit files on linux, chances are you'll end up with a lot of those backup files with names ending with ~, and removing them one by one is a pain.

Luckily, with a simple command you can get them all, and recursively. Simply go into the top of the directory tree you want to clean (be carefull, these commands are recursive, they will run through the subdirectories), and type

find ./ -name '*~' | xargs rm

Some explanations:

Print or Query Before Executing Commands

  1. Used with the -t option, xargs echoes each command before executing. For example, the following command moves all files in dir1 into the directory dir2.
    $ ls dir1 | xargs -i -t mv dir1/\{\} dir2/\{\}
    mv dir1/f1 dir2/f1 
    mv dir1/f2 dir2/f2 
    mv dir1/f3 dir2/f3
  2. Used with the -p option, xargs prompts the user before executing each command. For example,
    $ ls dir1 | xargs -i -p mv dir1/\{\} dir2/\{\}
    mv dir1/f1 dir2/f1 ?...y
    mv dir1/f2 dir2/f2 ?...n
    mv dir1/f3 dir2/f3 ?...y

    Files f1 and f3 were moved but file f2 was not.

  3. Use the query (-p) option, to choose which files in the current directory should be compressed.
    $ ls | xargs -n1 -p compress
    compress largef1 ?...y
    compress largef2 ?...y
    compress smallf1 ?...n
    compress smallf2 ?...n

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Old News ;-)

[Mar 27, 2011] Xargs by example - Sidvind

Multiple lines as one argument

 ls | xargs -L 4 echo
 ls | parallel -L 4 echo

Using the -L argument we can concatenate n lines into one (separated with spaces of course). In this case it will output four files/directories on each line.

Custom delimiters

 echo "foo,bar,baz" | xargs -d, -L 1 echo
 echo "foo,bar,baz" | parallel -d, echo

The -d argument is used to use a custom delimiter, c-style escaping is supported (\n is newline for instance). In this case it will output foo, bar and baz on a separate line.

Read from file instead of stdin

 xargs -a foo -d, -L 1 echo
 parallel -a foo -d, echo

The -a argument is used to read from a file instead of stdin. Otherwise this example is the same as the previous.

Showing command to be executed

 ls | xargs -t -L 4 echo
 ls | parallel -t -L 4 echo

Before running the command -t will cause xargs to print the command to run to stderr. In this case it will output "echo fred barney wilma betty" before running that same line.

As GNU Parallel runs the commands in parallel you may see the output from one of the already run commands mixed in. You can use -v instead which will print the command just before it prints the output to stdout.

 ls | parallel -v -L 4 echo

Handling paths with whitespace etc

 find . -print0 | xargs -0 echo

Each argument passed from find to xargs is separated with a null-terminator instead of space. It's hard to present a case where it is required as the above example would work anyway. But if you get problems with paths which may contain whitespace, backspaces or other special characters use null-terminated arguments instead.

GNU Parallel does the right thing for file names containing ", ' and space. Only if the file names contain newlines you need -0.


Code: Cleans current directory from all subversion directories recursively.
 find . -type d -name ".svn" -print | xargs rm -rf
 find . -type d -name ".svn" -print | parallel rm -rf

The above command will execute rm on each file found by 'find'. The above construct can be used to execute a command on multiple files. This is similar to the -exec argument find has but doesn't suffer from the "Too Many Arguments" problem. And xargs is easier to read than -exec in most cases.

[Mar 26, 2011] Applying xargs by Johan Thelin

Feb 23, 2011 | Linux Journal

Something completely different, but somewhat similar, is the xclip command. In a perfect world, I just might want to give all the TODOs to a colleague. Just replacing xargs with xclip puts all the filenames in the clipboard.

grep TODO -r . | sed 's/:.*//' | sort -u | xclip

Now I only need to add the header before I paste it all into a mail. "Hi, I expect you to complete these by tomorrow!"

xargs Problems with Spaces and Newlines - O'Reilly Media

The GNU xargs  (used on Linux) has a -0  (zero) option; this means the pathnames it reads are separated by NUL characters instead of whitespace. GNU's find  (also used by Linux) has a -print0  operator that puts a NUL between pathnames instead of a newline. Use them together like this:
find . -type f -mtime +7 -print0 | xargs -0 rm

Because UNIX pathnames won't contain NULs, this combination should never fail. (Try it!)

[Aug 29, 2008] The Joys of xargs - xargs and find


This command:

rm `find tmp -maxdepth 1 -name '*.mp3'`
is intended to remove all tmp/*.mp3  files (and ignore any subdirectories), but can fail with an "Argument list too long" message. This exact equivalent:
find tmp -maxdepth 1 -name '*.mp3' -maxdepth 1 | xargs rm
does exactly the same thing but will avoid the problem by batching arguments up. More modern kernels (since 2.6.23) shouldn't have this issue, but it's wise to make your scripts as portable as possible; and the xargs  version is also easier on the eye.

You can also manually batch arguments if needed, using the -n  option.

find tmp -maxdepth 1 -name '*.mp3' -maxdepth 1 | xargs -n1 rm
will pass one argument at a time to rm. This is also useful if you're using the -p  option as you can confirm one file at a time rather than all at once.

Filenames containing whitespace can also cause problems; xargs  and find  can deal with this, using GNU extensions to both to break on the null character rather than on whitespace:

find tmp -maxdepth 1 -name *.mp3 -print0 | xargs -0 rm
You must use these options either on both find  and xargs  or on neither, or you'll get odd results.

Another common use of xargs  with find  is to combine it with grep. For example,

find . -name '*.pl' | xargs grep -L '^use strict'
will search all the *.pl  files in the current directory and subdirectories, and print the names of any that don't have a line starting with 'use strict'. Enforce good practice in your scripting!

[Jan 08, 2008] My SysAd Blog -- UNIX Using the Common UNIX Find Command

July 07, 2007 |

Find how many directories are in a path (counts current directory)
# find . -type d -exec basename {} \; | wc -l

Find how many files are in a path
# find . -type f -exec basename {} \; | wc -l

... ... ...

Find files that were modified 7 days ago and archive
# find . -type f -mtime 7 | xargs tar -cvf `date '+%d%m%Y'_archive.tar`

Find files that were modified more than 7 days ago and archive
# find . -type f -mtime +7 | xargs tar -cvf `date '+%d%m%Y'_archive.tar`

Find files that were modified less than 7 days ago and archive
# find . -type f -mtime -7 | xargs tar -cvf `date '+%d%m%Y'_archive.tar`

Find files that were modified more than 7 days ago but less than 14 days ago and archive
# find . -type f -mtime +7 -mtime -14 | xargs tar -cvf `date '+%d%m%Y'_archive.tar`

Find files in two different directories having the "test" string and list them
# find esofthub esoft -name "*test*" -type f -ls

Find files and directories newer than CompareFile
# find . -newer CompareFile -print

Find files and directories but don't traverse a particular directory
# find . -name RAID -prune -o -print

Find all the files in the current directory
# find * -type f -print -o -type d -prune

Find files associated with an inode
# find . -inum 968746 -print
# find . -inum 968746 -exec ls -l {} \;

Find an inode and remove
# find . -inum 968746 -exec rm -i {} \;

Comment for the blog entry

ux-admin said...

Avoid using "-exec {}", as it will fork a child process for every file, wasting memory and CPU in the process. Use `xargs`, which will cleverly fit as many arguments as possible to feed to a command, and split up the number of arguments into chunks as necessary:

find . -depth -name "blabla*" -type f | xargs rm -f

Also, be as precise as possible when searching for files, as this directly affects how long one has to wait for results to come back. Most of the stuff actually only manipulates the parser rather than what is actually being searched for, but even there, we can squeeze some performance gains, for example:

- use "-depth" when looking for ordinary files and symollic links, as "-depth" will show them before directories

- use "-depth -type f" when looking for ordinary file(s), as this speeds up the parsing and the search significantly:

find . -depth -type f -print | ...

- use "-mount" as the first argument when you know that you only want to search the current filesystem, and

- use "-local" when you want to filter out the results from remote filesystems.

Note that "-local" won't actually cause `find` not to search remote file systems -- this is one of the options that affects parsing of the results, not the actual process of locating files; for not spanning remote filesystems, use "-mount" instead:

find / -mount -depth \( -type f -o -type l \) -print ...

Josh said...
From the find(1) man page:

-exec command {} +
This variant of the -exec option runs the specified command on the selected files, but the command line is
built by appending each selected file name at the end; the total number of invocations of the command will
be much less than the number of matched files. The command line is built in much the same way that xargs
builds its command lines. Only one instance of β{}β is allowed within the command. The command is exeβ
cuted in the starting directory.
Anonymous said...
the recursive finds were useful
UX-admin said...
" Josh said...

From the find(1) man page:

-exec command {} +
This variant of the -exec option runs the specified command on the selected files, but the command line is
built by appending each selected file name at the end; the total number of invocations of the command will
be much less than the number of matched files. The command line is built in much the same way that xargs
builds its command lines. Only one instance of β{}β is allowed within the command. The command is exeβ
cuted in the starting directory."

Apparently, "-exec" seems to be implementation specific, which is another good reason to avoid using it, since it means that performance factor will differ from implementation to implementation.

My point is, by using `xargs`, one assures that the script / command will remain behaving the same across different UNIX(R) and UNIX(R) like operating systems.

If you had to choose between convenience and portability+consistency, which one would you choose?
arne said...
instead of using
find ./ -name blah
I find it better to use the case-insentive form of -name, -iname:
find ./ -iname blah
Anonymous said...
You have to be careful when you remove things.
You say remove files which name is core, but lacks the "-type f" option:
find . -name "core" -exec rm -f {} \;
The same for the example with directories named "junk". Your command would delete any type of files called junk (files, directories, links, pipes...)

I did not know about "-mount", I've always used "-xdev".
Another nice feature, at least in linux find, is the "-exec {} \+", which will fork only once.

[Dec 4, 2007] xargs, find and several useful shortcuts

Re:pushd and popd (and other tricks) (Score:2)
by Ramses0 (63476) on Wednesday March 10, @07:39PM (#8527252) My favorite "Nifty" was when I spent the time to learn about "xargs" (I pronounce it zargs), and brush up on "for" syntax.

ls | xargs -n 1 echo "ZZZ> "

Basically indents (prefixes) everything with a "ZZZ" string. Not really useful, right? But since it invokes the echo command (or whatever command you specify) $n times (where $n is the number of lines passed to it) this saves me from having to write a lot of crappy little shell scripts sometimes.

A more serious example is:

find -name \*.jsp | sed 's/^/http:\/\/' | xargs -n 1 wget

...will find all your jsp's, map them to your localhost webserver, and invoke a wget (fetch) on them. Viola, precompiled JSP's.


for f in `find -name \*.jsp` ; do echo "==> $f" >> out.txt ; grep "TODO" $f >> out.txt ; done

...this searches JSP's for "TODO" lines and appends them all to a file with a header showing what file they came from (yeah, I know grep can do this, but it's an example. What if grep couldn't?) ...and finally...

( echo "These were the command line params"
echo "---------"
for f in $@ ; do
echo "Param: $f"
) | mail -s "List"

...the parenthesis let your build up lists of things (like interestingly formatted text) and it gets returned as a chunk, ready to be passed on to some other shell processing function.

Shell scripting has saved me a lot of time in my life, which I am grateful for. :^)

[Dec 12, 2006] UNIX tips Learn 10 good UNIX usage habits by Michael Stutz

Use xargs outside of find

Use the xargs  tool as a filter for making good use of output culled from the find  command. The general precept is that a find  run provides a list of files that match some criteria. This list is passed on to xargs, which then runs some other useful command with that list of files as arguments, as in the following example:

Listing 13. Example of the classic use of the xargs  tool
find some-file-criteria some-file-path | xargs some-command-that-needs-filename-arguments

However, do not think of xargs  as just a helper for find; it is one of those underutilized tools that, when you get into the habit of using it, you want to try on everything, including the following uses.

Passing a space-delimited list

In its simplest invocation, xargs  is like a filter that takes as input a list (with each member on a single line). The tool puts those members on a single space-delimited line:

Listing 14. Example of output from the xargs  tool
~ $ xargs
a b c

You can send the output of any tool that outputs file names through xargs  to get a list of arguments for some other tool that takes file names as an argument, as in the following example:

Listing 15. Example of using of the xargs  tool
~/tmp $ ls -1 | xargs
December_Report.pdf README a archive.tar
~/tmp $ ls -1 | xargs file
December_Report.pdf: PDF document, version 1.3
a: directory
archive.tar: POSIX tar archive Bourne shell script text executable
~/tmp $
The xargs  command is useful for more than passing file names. Use it any time you need to filter text into a single line:

Listing 16. Example of good habit #7: Using the xargs  tool to filter text into a single line

~/tmp $ ls -l | xargs
-rw-r--r-- 7 joe joe 12043 Jan 27 20:36 December_Report.pdf -rw-r--r-- 1 \
root root 238 Dec 03 08:19 README drwxr-xr-x 38 joe joe 354082 Nov 02 \
16:07 a -rw-r--r-- 3 joe joe 5096 Dec 14 14:26 archive.tar -rwxr-xr-x 1 \
joe joe 3239 Sep 30 12:40
~/tmp $
Be cautious using xargs 

Technically, a rare situation occurs in which you could get into trouble using xargs. By default, the end-of-file string is an underscore (_); if that character is sent as a single input argument, everything after it is ignored. As a precaution against this, use the -e  flag, which, without arguments, turns off the end-of-file string completely.

[Jul 30, 2003] Unix Review Using the xargs Command Ed Schaefer

Many UNIX professionals think the xargs command, construct and execute argument lists, is only useful for processing long lists of files generated by the find command. While xargs dutifully serves this purpose, xargs has other uses. In this article, I describe xargs and the historical "Too many arguments" problem, and present eight xargs "one-liners":

Examining the "Too Many Arguments" Problem

In the early days of UNIX/xenix, it was easy to overflow the command-line buffer, causing a "Too many arguments" failure. Finding a large number of files and piping them to another command was enough to cause the failure. Executing the following command, from Unix Power Tools, first edition (O'Reilly & Associates):

pr -n 'find . -type f -mtime -1 -print'|lpr
will potentially overflow the command line given enough files. This command provides a list of all the files edited today to pr, and pipes pr's output to the printer. We can solve this problem with xargs:
find . -type f -mtime -1 -print|xargs pr -n |lp
With no options, xargs reads standard input, but only writes enough arguments to standard output as to not overflow the command-line buffer. Thus, if needed, xargs forces multiple executions of pr -n|lp.

While xargs controls overflowing the command-line buffer, the command xargs services may overflow. I've witnessed the following mv command fail -- not the command-line buffer -- with an argument list too long error:

find ./ -type f -print | xargs -i mv -f {} ./newdir
Limit the number of files sent to mv at a time by using the xargs -l option. (The xargs -i () syntax is explained later in the article). The following command sets a limit of 56 files at time, which mv receives:
find ./ -type f -print | xargs -l56 -i mv -f {} ./newdir
The modern UNIX OS seems to have solved the problem of the find command overflowing the command-line buffer. However, using the find -exec command is still troublesome. It's better to do this:
# remove all files with a txt extension
find . -type f -name "*.txt" -print|xargs rm
than this:
find . -type f -name "*.txt" -exec rm {} \; -print
Controlling the call to rm with xargs is more efficient than having the find command execute rm for each object found.

xargs One-Liners

The find-xargs command combination is a powerful tool. The following example finds the unique owners of all the files in the /bin directory:

# all on one line
find /bin -type f -follow | xargs ls -al | awk ' NF==9 { print $3 }
'|sort -u
If /bin is a soft link, as it is with Solaris, the -follow option forces find to follow the link. The xargs command feeds the ls -al command, which pipes to awk. If the output of the ls -al command is 9 fields, print field 3 -- the file owner. Sorting the awk output and piping to the uniq command ensures unique owners.

You can use xargs options to build extremely powerful commands. Expanding the xargs/rm example, let's assume the requirement exists to echo each file to standard output as it deletes:

find . -type f -name "*.txt" | xargs -i ksh -c "echo deleting {}; rm {}"
The xargs -i option replaces instances of {} in a command (i.e., echo and rm are commands).

Conversely, instead of using the -i option with {}, the xargs -I option replaces instances of a string. The above command can be written as:

find . -type f -name "*.txt" | xargs -I {} ksh -c "echo deleting {}; rm {}"
The new, third edition of Unix Power Tools by Powers et al. provides an xargs "one-liner" that duplicates a directory tree. The following command creates in the usr/project directory, a copy of the current working directory structure:
find . -type d -print|sed 's@^@/usr/project/@'|xargs mkdir
The /usr/project directory must exist. When executing, note the error:
mkdir: Failed to make directory "/usr/project/"; File exists
which doesn't prevent the directory structure creation. Ignore it. To learn how the above command works, you can read more in Unix Power Tools, third edition, Chapter 9.17 (O'Reilly & Associates).

In addition to serving the find command, xargs can be a slave to other commands. Suppose the requirement is to group the output of UNIX commands on one line. Executing:

logname; date
displays the logname and date on two separate lines. Placing commands in parentheses and piping to xargs places the output of both commands on one line:
(logname; date)|xargs
Executing the following command places all the file names in the current directory on one line, and redirects to file "":
ls |xargs echo >
Use the xargs number of arguments option, -n, to display the contents of "" to standard output, one name per line:
cat|xargs -n1  # from Unix in a Nutshell
In the current directory, use the xargs -p option to prompt the user to remove each file individually:
ls|xargs -p -n1 rm
Without the -n option, the user is prompted to delete all the files in the current directory.

Concatenate the contents of all the files whose names are contained in file:

xargs cat < file > file.contents
into file.contents.

Move all files from directory $1 to directory $2, and use the xargs -t option to echo each move as it happens:

ls $1 | xargs -I {} -t mv $1/{} $2/{}
The xargs -I argument replaces each {} in the string with each object piped to xargs.


When should you use xargs? When the output of a command is the command-line options of another command, use xargs in conjunction with pipes. When the output of a command is the input of another command, use pipes.


Powers, Shelley, Peek, Jerry, et al. 2003. Unix Power Tools. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates.

Robbins, Arnold. 1999. Unix in a Nutshell. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates.

Ed Schaefer is a frequent contributor to Sys Admin. He is a software developer and DBA for Intel's Factory Integrated Information Systems, FIIS, in Aloha, Oregon. Ed also hosts the monthly Shell Corner column on He can be reached at:

July 2003 UPDATE from the author:

I've received very positive feedback on my xargs article. Other readers have shared constructive criticism concerning:

1. When using the duplicate directory tree "one-liner", reader Peter Ludemann suggests using the mkdir -p  option:

   find . -type d -print|sed 's@^@/usr/project/@'|xargs mkdir -p
instead of :
   find . -type d -print|sed 's@^@/usr/project/@'|xargs mkdir
mkdir's "-p" option creates parent directories as needed, and doesn't error out if one exists. Additionally, /usr/project does not have to exist.

2. Ludemann, in addition to reader Christer Jansson, commented that spaces in directory names renders the duplicate directory tree completely useless.

Although I'm unable to salvage the duplicate directory command, for those find  and xargs  versions that support -0 (probably GNU versions only), you might try experimenting with:

find ... -print0 | xargs -0 ...
Using Ludemann's email example, suppose your current directory structure contains:
   foo bar

find . -type f -print | xargs -n 1  incorrectly produces:

while find . -type f -print0 | xargs -0 -n 1  delivers the correct results:
   foo bar
According to the 7.1 Red Hat Linux man page for xargs  and find, the -0 doesn't use the null terminator for file names disabling the special meaning of white space.

3. Reader Peter Simpkin asks the question, "Does the use of xargs  only operate after the find  command has completed?

find. -type f -name "*.txt" -print | xargs rm
If not, I was under the impression that the above was a bad idea as it is modifying the current directory that find  is working from, or at least this is what people have told me, and, thus the results of find  are then undefined."

My response is "no". Any Unix command that supports command-line arguments is an xargs  candidate. The results of the find  command are as valid as the output of the ls  command:

# remove files ending with .txt in current directory
ls *.txt|xargs rm 
If a command such as this is valid:
chmod 444 1.txt 2.txt 3.txt
find . \( -name 1.txt -o -name 2.txt -o -name 3.txt \) -print|xargs chmod 444
is valid.

In closing, If I had the opportunity to rewrite "Using the Xargs Command", it would look somewhat different.

comp.unix.aix Frequently Asked Questions (Part 2 of 5)

Solution #3
   mount | grep jfs | cut -c27- | cut -d" " -f1 | \
     xargs -i backup -${LEVEL} -u -f /dev/rmt1.1 {} > ${DATE}.backup 2>&1

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