How to Find a File in Linux

Do you ever no longer remember where exactly you put a file on your Linux computer or server? You’re confident that it was saved somewhere but can’t find exactly where. For Windows users, the obvious solution is to use Explorer’s ‘Find’ function. But what if you’re unsure about how to find a file in Linux?

We’ve compiled a list of methods you can use to locate missing files in Linux. As always, we include tools for both more experienced users and beginners, and we hope that these suggestions allow you to avoid the traumatic loss of important data!

Using the grep command to find a file by its contents

Grep has been part of Unix for so long that you will often see the term used as a verb in Linux discussions online (it’s generally synonymous with “search locally”). It can be thought of as the ultimate “pattern recognition tool”. However, Grep should only be used to search for the contents of a file rather than finding items using their filename.

Now, let’s look at how grep is actually used. Let’s say you had a file in your ~/Documents directory called ‘Give.txt’. The contents of the file are as follows:

What's real can't die
You only get what you give
You're gonna get what you give
Don't give up
Just don't be afraid to leave

Of course, these are the lyrics to a famous song by New Radicals. It’s an excellent example in this case, as it highlights how useful grep is and a few of its behaviors that might appear idiosyncratic at first to new users.

From our Documents directory, we’re going to execute the following command:

grep you give.txt

Press return, and you’ll see that it returns every line with the word “you” in it:

Finding files using Grep. Query is "you" in lower case.
Looking for instances of the term “you” in give.txt

Now, let’s try another command (remember to include the escaped apostrophe):

grep don't give.txt

And here is our result:

Finding files using grep. Query is "don't" in lower case.
Looking for instances of the word “don’t” in ‘give.txt’

As you can see, the fifth line was identified; however, because grep is case-sensitive by default, the fourth line (“Don’t give up”) was not returned.

Now, we’ll use the “-i” flag to turn off case-sensitivity in our following query (I’ve also now used quotations to avoid relying on the backslash character this time):

grep -i "don't" give.txt
Finding files in Grep. Query is "don't", with case sensitivity turned off.
The ‘-i’ flag will allow us to turn off case sensitivity.

This time, we can see that every instance of the word – regardless of case – is brought back. If you use the “-i” flag when searching for “you”, you’ll also notice that it now highlights the capitalized appearances of the word as well:

Using Grep to find instances of the word "you" in any case
Using Grep to find instances of the term “you” in any case

Using the find command to find a file by its name

While grep allows users to query the contents of files on their computer, the find tool provides an efficient way to locate items based on their actual filename.

The most basic use of the find command is as follows:

find .

The period (‘.’) tells the command to return every file and subdirectory found if we search from the present working directory. Essentially, all this is is a good starting point.

Finding all files of any type within the present working directory and its subdirectories
Finding all files within the present working directory and its subdirectories

However, there are a variety of additional arguments which allow us to get a lot more specific with how we use the find tool. For example, the following command will return all subdirectories from the present location (with ‘d’ standing for “directories”):

find . -type d
Finding all files with type 'directory' (i.e. only folders)
Finding all files with type ‘directory’ (i.e., only folders)

Alternatively, we can return only files by typing:

find . -type f
Finding files which are not subdirectories (i.e. single files only)
Finding files that are not subdirectories (i.e., single files only)

The find command becomes especially useful for locating misplaced files when switching out the “-type” option with “-name”. For example, we can return all ePub files (either in the current directory or within its subdirectories) by using:

find . -name "*.epub"
Using the find command to locate files with the .ePub extension
Using the find command to locate files with the .ePub extension

Or, we can find all ePub files with the word “great” in the name by typing:

find . -name "*great*epub"
Using the find tool to locate the lowercase word "great" in filenames with a .epub extension
Using the find tool to locate the lowercase word “great” in filenames with a .epub extension

And, as with the grep tool, we can choose to make our query case-insensitive:

find . -iname "*great*epub"
Using find to locate ePub files with the word "great" (in any case) in their title
Using find to locate ePub files with the word “great” (in any case) in their title

And, if we want to narrow it down even further, we can combine options too:

find . -type f -iname "*GrEat*"
Combining the options provided by the find tool
Combining the options provided by the find tool

The above example is slightly redundant, as we only have files with the word ‘great’ in their title. However, if the ~/Downloads folder also had a subdirectory called “Great Expectations”, it would be omitted from our results as we have specifically included the ‘-type f’ option.

Find files using Catfish

For those who prefer not to use the command line, you can use a GTK3 application called Catfish. This can be installed from the software repository of your Linux distribution by typing:

sudo apt-get install catfish -y

Other popular choices for Linux users who prefer to use GUI to locate files include fsearch, Cerebro, and Terrier.

Finding all ePub files using Catfish

Catfish can provide complex searches (based on criteria like date of modification, file type, and so on). While it’s not quite as powerful as grep or find, it should suit most users fine.

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