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If I understand correctly, the database locate relies on is just for files on partitions of internal HDDs. I wonder if it is possible to use locate on external HDDs?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

The locate database is generally configured to omit files on removable disks, since they can't be assumed to be there later. It can be configured through a file such as /etc/updatedb.conf (the location depends on which of the several locate programs you use and how it is configured by your distribution).

For a removable disk, it is probably better to keep the database in a separate file. Run

updatedb --localpaths=/media/my_removable_disk --output=/var/cache/locate/my_removable_disk.locatedb 

to update the database. Add /var/cache/locate/my_removable_disk.locatedb to the environment variable LOCATE_PATH; for reasonably recent versions of GNU locate, an empty path component stands for the default path, so you can use

export LOCATE_PATH=:/var/cache/locate/my_removable_disk.locatedb

If you want to keep the locate database on the removable disk, don't add the path to LOCATE_PATH, because locate stops looking if one of the database files is missing. A wrapper script would be better:

locates () {
  locate "$@"
  for d in /media/*; do
    locate -d "$d/.locatedb" "$@"
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Just a note for future reference, the command is a tad different for mlocate users: updatedb --database-root /media/my_removable_disk --output=/var/cache/locate/my_removable_disk.locatedb --prunepaths "" --prunefs "" – Ivan Apr 2 '13 at 10:54

The config file is here: /etc/updatedb.conf, so if you didn't add anything, just mount your HDD, and do updatedb, then you would be able to search for files on external HDD partitions.

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Thanks! If I disconnect my external HDD from my computer, the config file will be updated automatically later to remove info about the external HDD? – Tim Sep 19 '12 at 5:35
@Tim, no, that's not possible at this moment, infomration won't update unless you do updatedb again. – warl0ck Sep 19 '12 at 5:56
@Tim updatedb generate a static db file – warl0ck Sep 19 '12 at 5:56
But on my Ubuntu 12.04, the database is updated automatically and periodically. – Tim Sep 19 '12 at 6:00
@Tim yes, there's a cron job that does updatedb daily – warl0ck Sep 19 '12 at 6:08

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