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 Find and locate

These are the real tools, used when searching other paths beside those listed in the search path. The find tool, known from UNIX, is very powerful, which may be the cause of a somewhat more difficult syntax. GNU find, however, deals with the syntax problems. This command not only allows you to search file names, it can also accept file size, date of last change and other file properties as criteria for a search. The most common use is for finding file names:

find <path> -name <searchstring>

This can be interpreted as "Look in all files and subdirectories contained in a given path, and print the names of the files containing the search string in their name" (not in their content).

Another application of find is for searching files of a certain size, as in the example below, where user peter wants to find all files in the current directory or one of its subdirectories, that are bigger than 5 MB:

peter:~> find . -size +5000k

If you dig in the man pages, you will see that find can also perform operations on the found files. A common example is removing files. It is best to first test without the -exec option that the correct files are selected, after that the command can be rerun to delete the selected files. Below, we search for files ending in .tmp:

peter:~>  find . -name "*.tmp" -exec rm {} \;


Tip Optimize!

This command will call on rm as many times as a file answering the requirements is found. In the worst case, this might be thousands or millions of times. This is quite a load on your system.

A more realistic way of working would be the use of a pipe (|) and the xargs tool with rm as an argument. This way, the rm command is only called when the command line is full, instead of for every file. See Chapter 5 for more on using I/O redirection to ease everyday tasks.

Later on (in 1999 according to the man pages, after 20 years of find), locate was developed. This program is easier to use, but more restricted than find, since its output is based on a file index database that is updated only once every day. On the other hand, a search in the locate database uses less resources than find and therefore shows the results nearly instantly.

Most Linux distributions use slocate these days, security enhanced locate, the modern version of locate that prevents users from getting output they have no right to read. The files in root's home directory are such an example, these are not normally accessible to the public. A user who wants to find someone who knows about the C shell may issue the command locate .cshrc, to display all users who have a customized configuration file for the C shell. Supposing the users root and jenny are running C shell, then only the file /home/jenny/.cshrc will be displayed, and not the one in root's home directory. On most systems, locate is a symbolic link to the slocate program:

billy:~> ls -l /usr/bin/locate
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root slocate  7 Oct 28 14:18 /usr/bin/locate -> slocate*

User tina could have used locate to find the application she wanted:

tina:~> locate acroread

Directories that don't contain the name bin can't contain the program - they don't contain executable files. There are three possibilities left. The file in /usr/local/bin is the one tina would have wanted: it is a link to the shell script that starts the actual program:

tina:~> file /usr/local/bin/acroread
/usr/local/bin/acroread: symbolic link to ../Acrobat4/bin/acroread

tina:~> file /usr/local/Acrobat4/bin/acroread
/usr/local/Acrobat4/bin/acroread: Bourne shell script text executable

tina:~> file /usr/local/Acrobat4/Reader/intellinux/bin/acroread
/usr/local/Acrobat4/Reader/intellinux/bin/acroread: ELF 32-bit LSB 
executable, Intel 80386, version 1, dynamically linked (uses 
shared libs), not stripped

In order to keep the path as short as possible, so the system doesn't have to search too long every time a user wants to execute a command, we add /usr/local/bin to the path and not the other directories, which only contain the binary files of one specific program, while /usr/local/bin contains other useful programs as well.

Again, a description of the full features of find and locate can be found in the Info pages.

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