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Don Burleson Blog 








Finding Files by Age

Linux Tips by Burleson Consulting

What if a user wants to determine if there are any really old files on their server?  There are dozens of options for the find command but the first thing find requires is the path in which to look.

In this example we will change our working directory to the / (root) directory and run the find command on the working directory by giving . as the path argument.  The following command sequence looks for any files that are more than 20 years, 7300 days, old.

Finding Files > 20 Years Old

# cd /
# cd /tmp
# ls -ld orbit-root
drwx------    2 root     root         8192 Dec 31  1969 orbit-root

By default find prints the name and path to any files which match the criteria listed.  In this case it has found a file in ./tmp/orbit-root which has not been modified in more than 7300 days.

You've probably noticed that the date on this file is a bit suspect.  While the details are unimportant it is worth understanding that anything on a Linux system with a date of December 31, 1969 or January 1, 1970 has probably lost it's date and time attributes somehow.  It may have also been created at some time when the system's clock was horribly wrong.

If we wanted to search the root directory without changing our working directory we could have specified the directory in the find command like this:

# find / -mtime +7300

The command found the same file in this case but has now described it starting with / instead of ./ because that is what was used in the find command.

The following command sequence will look for some newer files.  The process starts in the user?s home directory and looks for files less than three days old.

Finding Any Files Modified in the Past 3 Days

$ cd ~
$ find . -mtime -3

Now we start to really see the power of the find command.  It has identified files not only in the working directory but in a subdirectory as well!  Let's verify the findings with some ls commands:

$ ls ?alt
total 56
drwxrwxr-x    2 tclark   authors      4096 Feb  3 17:45 examples
-rw-------    1 tclark   tclark       8793 Feb  3 14:04 .bash_history
drwx------    4 tclark   tclark       4096 Feb  3 11:17 .
-rw-------    1 tclark   tclark       1066 Feb  3 11:17 .viminfo
-rw-rw-r--    1 tclark   tclark          0 Feb  3 09:00 example1.fil
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   authors         0 Jan 27 00:22 umask_example.fil
drwxr-xr-x    8 root     root         4096 Jan 25 22:16 ..
-rw-rw-r--    1 tclark   tclark          0 Jan 13 21:13
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   tclark        120 Aug 24 06:44 .gtkrc
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   tclark         24 Aug 18 11:23 .bash_logout
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   tclark        191 Aug 18 11:23 .bash_profile
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   tclark        124 Aug 18 11:23 .bashrc
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   tclark        237 May 22  2003 .emacs
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   tclark        220 Nov 27  2002 .zshrc
drwxr-xr-x    3 tclark   tclark       4096 Aug 12  2002 .kde
$ cd examples
$ ls -alt
total 20
drwxrwxr-x    2 tclark   authors      4096 Feb  3 17:45 .
-rw-rw-r--    1 tclark   tclark          0 Feb  3 17:45 other.txt
-rw-rw-r--    1 tclark   authors       360 Feb  3 17:44 preamble.txt
drwx------    4 tclark   tclark       4096 Feb  3 11:17 ..
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   authors      2229 Jan 13 21:35 declaration.txt
-rw-rw-r--    1 tclark   presidents     1310 Jan 13 17:48 gettysburg.txt

So we see that find has turned up what we were looking for.  Now we will refine our search even further.

Finding .txt Files Modified in the Past 3 Days

Sometimes we are only concerned specific files in the directory.  For example, say you wrote a text file sometime in the past couple days and now you can't remember what you called it or where you put it.  Here's one way you could find that text file without having to go through your entire system:

$ find . -name '*.txt' -mtime -3

Now you've got even fewer files than in the last search and you could easily identify the one you're looking for.

Find files by size

If a user is running short of disk space, they may want to find some large files and compress them to recover space.  The following will search from the current directory and find all files larger than 10,000KB.  The output has been abbreviated to save trees and ink.

Finding Files Larger than 10,000k

# find . -size +10000k


Similarly a ? could be used in this example to find all files smaller than 10,000KB.  Of course there would be quite a few of those on a Linux system.

The find command is quite flexible and accepts numerous options.  We have only covered a couple of the options here but if you want to check out more of them take a look at find's man page.

Most of find's options can be combined to find files which meet several criteria.  To do this we can just continue to list criteria like we did when finding .txt files which had been modified in the past three days.

Doing things with what we find

The ?exec option gives find the powerful ability to execute commands on the files found.  The syntax is a little tricky but an example is usually all it takes to get it right.

Before using the -exec option, especially with a powerful command like rm I recommend performing the same find without the ?exec.  By doing this you will see exactly which files you will be effecting when you run the final command.

The following is a practical example that finds files less than three days old with the .txt extension and deletes them.

Finding .txt Files < 3 Days Old and Delete Them

$ find . -name '*.txt' -mtime -3 -exec rm {} \;
$ ls ?lt
total 8
-rw-r--r--    1 tclark   authors      2229 Jan 13 21:35 declaration.txt
-rw-rw-r--    1 tclark   presidents     1310 Jan 13 17:48 gettysburg.txt

The ?exec option allows you to put any command after it.  Here we have used rm but it is often useful to use this option with cp or chmod.  Within the command to be run there must be two curly brackets {}.  find will execute the command for each file it finds substituting the file name (and path) where the curly brackets are.  Finally the end of the ?exec option is signaled by an escaped semicolon (\;).  The ?exec option should always be the last option given in a find command.

The find command is great for finding files and directories but next we'll look at some options for finding other things on the system.

Dealing with "Permission denied" in find

If you use find a lot (and you probably will) you will sometimes run into the problem where you get just pages and pages of output like this:

$ find / -name '*.txt'
find: /var/lib/dav: Permission denied
find: /var/lib/nfs/statd: Permission denied
find: /var/lib/dhcpv6: Permission denied
find: /var/lib/slocate: Permission denied
find: /var/lib/xdm/authdir: Permission denied
find: /var/lib/php/session: Permission denied
find: /var/log/samba: Permission denied
find: /var/log/ppp: Permission denied
find: /var/log/audit: Permission denied
find: /var/log/squid: Permission denied


This is find telling you there are certain directories you don't have permissions to search.  This can make it very difficult to find the useful output of the find as it can be mixed in with the permissions errors.

To ignore these (and any other) errors and just get the results of what you can find we can use a special redirect at the end of the command.  Redirecting output will be covered in more detail in the chapter on shell scripting, but suffice it to say that in this command 2>/dev/null is redirecting the error output to nowhere.

$ find / -name '*.txt' 2>/dev/null

While it would not be a good idea to redirect the error output all the time (usually you want to know when something has gone wrong) in this case of the find command it can be very useful.

Finding a String within a Text File

The grep command can be used to check a file for a specific string.  If grep finds that string it will print the line it found it on to the screen.  Here's an example:

$ cd /etc
$ grep localhost hosts       localhost.localdomain   localhost

Here we checked the hosts file in the /etc directory for the word localhost.  It was found and grep printed the line it was found on.  grep can be very useful for searching through output for errors or anything else which typically has a regular pattern.

Finding the Full Directory Path for a Command

The commands we have been executing exist as files somewhere on the system.  The which command is used to find the full path of these commands.  The following examples will show how you can look for the directory where some commonly used executables are found.

Find the Directory Path for emacs and sort

$ which emacs
$ which sort

The which command takes a single argument of any command.  We have shown above the which command for emacs and sort.  The result indicates where the binary files for those commands exist on the filesystem.

Finding the Location of Program Binary, Source, Manual Pages for emacs and sort

The whereis command can also be used to locate the binary file for commands.  Additionally, whereis locates the source file and manual page file the command.

$ whereis emacs

emacs: /usr/bin/emacs /usr/libexec/emacs /usr/share/emacs /usr/share/man/man1/emacs.1.gz

$ whereis sort

sort: /bin/sort /usr/share/man/man1/sort.1.gz /usr/share/man/man3/sort.3pm.gz


This is an excerpt from "Easy Linux Commands" by Linux guru Jon Emmons.  You can purchase it for only $19.95 (30%-off) at this link.



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