I want to execute a command for an each file that matches a pattern. But the command that seems to be right, doesn't work for me, I have no idea why.

$ find . -type f -name '*.c' -or -name '*.h' -or -name '*.cpp' -exec ls {} \;
$ ls
script.sh  test.c  test.h
  • Are you just using -exec ls {} \; as an example action or actually wanting to do something with it? (don't see what purpose it serves in the above command)
    – user60101
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 1:43
  • Yeah, @Bro, I wanted to execute a custom script to a source code files(btw, you may see the one in ls output above). The ls was chosen just as an example.
    – Hi-Angel
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 18:53

3 Answers 3


Try adding the expressions into parentheses as stated in the man page:

find . -type f \( -name '*.c' -or -name '*.h' -or -name '*.cpp' \) -exec ls {} \;

should work.

  • Yeah, this worked! Thank you very much! Btw, I just searched the man page of the find; I didn't find anything a brackets. What're you talking about?
    – Hi-Angel
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 13:39
  • 1
    I was talking about the BSD man page of find, which provides the following example: find / \( -newer ttt -or -user wnj \) -print Sorry I was unclear about it.
    – groxxda
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 13:45
  • That's funny though, that the GNU/Linux manual didn't mention so important thing.
    – Hi-Angel
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 13:52
  • @YagamyLight The GNU man page uses the more precise word parenthesis to refer to parentheses. So does the FreeBSD man page, for that matter. Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 20:03
  • 1
    @YagamyLight I answered a similar question on SO, which may help you understand this better. In particular, this issue here is your original syntax is treated as find . (-type f AND -name '*.c') OR (-name '*.h') OR (-name '*.cpp' AND -exec ls {} \;)
    – user60101
    Commented Jul 13, 2014 at 1:41

With GNU find, you can use -regex option:

find . -type f -regex '.*\.\(c\|h\|cpp\)' -exec ls {} \;
  • I'm not sure about the GNU syntax but on BSD this is the correct way to do it with regex: find -E . -type f -regex '.*(c|h|cpp)$' -exec ls {} \;
    – groxxda
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 13:43
  • @Groxxda GNU find supports both. It defaults to Emacs regexps, which have a \| operator, unlike FreeBSD, which defaults to BRE. Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 20:05
  • 1
    I was merely talking about the .* vs. *.. After testing the command from this answer on GNU find i have verified it's wrong, but my poor reputation won't let me fix it. I don't understand how a not-working answer is up-voted. JIC here is the working GNU find command: find . -type f -regex '.*\(c\|h\|cpp\)' -exec ls {} \;
    – groxxda
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 11:38
  • 1
    @Groxxda: Sorry, my mistypo. I will make it more accurry.
    – cuonglm
    Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 15:06

You can try to use find -D tree . [expr..] to understand what find does with your original command.

You must understand that the -type f and also the -exec ls .. expressions are and'ed to the rest of the expressions with higher precedence than the ors.
So your original command will get parsed into something like this: (-type f AND -name *.c) OR -name *.h OR (-name *.cpp AND -exec ls) (note that the or is actually binary and not ternary so a | b | c is in fact (a | b) | c, but you get the point).
Now you will notice that find does not know what to do except for files matching *.cpp as there is no valid statement in the other cases (that's why you may even see a segfault or something similar in the debug output).

I hope this makes it more clear to you why you need the parentheses.

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