I am using a script to regularly download my gmail messages that compresses the raw .eml into .gz files. The script creates a folder for each day, and then compresses every message into its own file.

I would like a way to search through this archive for a "string."

Grep alone doesn't appear to do it. I also tried SearchMonkey.

  • None of the answer have worked so far for me! Did anything work for you?
    – achhainsan
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 8:42
  • @achhainsan if they don't work for you, please ask a new question, explain exactly what you are trying to do, and exactly how they fail. You can link back to this question for reference. These are very standard approaches, so if they don't work, you are probably requiring something slightly different to what is being requested here.
    – terdon
    Commented Sep 18, 2023 at 12:34

6 Answers 6


If you want to grep recursively in all .eml.gz files in the current directory, you can use:

find . -name \*.eml.gz -print0 | xargs -0 zgrep "STRING"

You have to escape the first * so that the shell does not interpret it. -print0 tells find to print a null character after each file it finds; xargs -0 reads from standard input and runs the command after it for each file; zgrep works like grep, but uncompresses the file first.

  • 5
    '-print0' and '-0' are not mandatory. xargs uses '\n' by default.
    – Jaime M.
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 8:50
  • 5
    They're necessary if there might be space characters in the paths; there's no reason other than complexity not to use them. Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 14:38
  • 4
    zgrep actually seems faster than grep run on uncompressed files. It must be because compressed files can be read off the HD and decompressed faster than reading an uncompressed file from the HD.
    – Geremia
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 17:54
  • 6
    @JaimeM. xargs uses blanks (whitespace) by default. Sure, files almost never have newlines in them, but spaces are not unheard of (even if most UNIXy types frown on them). That said, you can simplify without worrying about whitespace even more easily: find . -name '*.eml.gz' -exec zgrep "STRING" {} + That gets the same many arguments per-launch of xargs, the safety of -print0/-0, and all without the overhead of an extra process launch and piping, and fairly concisely. -exec with + is POSIX specified, so it should be on most semi-recent UNIX-like systems to my knowledge. Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 18:38
  • @Jared Is there a way to do a wildcard search only knowing the beginning of the file pattern? For example, I have .gz files that have date/time stamps at the end of them. ABCLog04_18_18_2_21.gz Is there a way to recursively look for files beginning with ABC*. I tried replacing \*.eml.gz in your example above with ABCLog* and get an error about file format.: find: paths must precede expression: ABCLog-2018-03-12-10-16-1.log.gz Usage: find [-H] [-L] [-P] [-Olevel] [-D help|tree|search|stat|rates|opt|exec] [path...] [expression] Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 19:21

There's a lot of confusion here because there isn't just one zgrep. I have two versions on my system, zgrep from gzip and zgrep from zutils. The former is just a wrapper script that calls gzip -cdfq. It doesn't support the -r, --recursive switch.1
The latter is a c++ program and it supports the -r, --recursive option.
Running zgrep --version | head -n 1 will reveal which one (if any) of them is the default:

zgrep (gzip) 1.6

is the wrapper script,

zgrep (zutils) 1.3

is the cpp executable.
If you have the latter you could run:

zgrep 'pattern' -r --format=gz /path/to/dir

Anyway, as suggested, find + zgrep will work equally well with either version of zgrep:

find /path/to/dir -name '*.gz' -exec zgrep -- 'pattern' {} +

If zgrep is missing from your system (highly unlikely) you could try with:

find /path/to/dir -name '*.gz' -exec sh -c 'gzip -cd "$0" | grep -- "pattern"' {} \;

but there's a major downside: you won't know where the matches are as there's no file name prepended to the matching lines .

1: because it would be problematic

  • 1
    if zgrep from zutils is not available you can install it in Ubuntu with sudo apt-get install zutils. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 1:46
  • 1
    Continued from @therealmarv ... and then Ubuntu will use the zutils zgrep instead of the gzip one. Then -r works! Commented Mar 8, 2017 at 22:08
  • Is there a way to print the line number of the file the pattern is matched on?
    – DogEatDog
    Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 18:48
  • @DogEatDog - just like grep -n, zgrep -n will print line no.s. It's in the manual... Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 22:55

ag is a variant of grep, with some nice extra features.

  • has -z option for compressed files,
  • has many of ack features.
  • it is fast


ag -r -z your-pattern-goes-here   folder

If not installed,

apt-get install silversearcher-ag   (debian and friends)
yum install the_silver_searcher     (fedora)
brew install the_silver_searcher    (mac)

(edit in Sep 2021 \thanks(x-yuri))

Also consider rg (recursive grep) that has -z option

rg -z your-pattern-goes-here   folder

rg has also a large set of useful options. If necessary:

apt install ripgrep 
  • 1
    I get ag: truncated file: Success as a result. Any other flag should I add?
    – Yar
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 21:10
  • 2
    Great tool but still has some issues 1280 1348. Now it needs flags ag --search-binary -z "quick"
    – hrvoj3e
    Commented Apr 15, 2020 at 7:22
  • 1
    rg also supports the -z switch.
    – x-yuri
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 23:20
  • @x-yuri, thank you -- rg seems a very powerful tool!
    – JJoao
    Commented Sep 17, 2021 at 8:56

If your system has zgrep, you can simply

zgrep -irs your-pattern-goes-here the-folder-to-search-goes-here/

If your system does not have zgrep, you can use the find command to run zcat and grep against each file like so:

find the-folder-to-search-goes-here/ -name '*.gz' \ -exec sh -c 'echo "Searching {}" ; zcat "{}" | grep your-pattern-goes-here ' \;

  • Forgive me greeness on this... the files to be searched through are a couple of layers deep. ~/gmvault-db/db/2015-02 contains a folder for each month archived, and then underneath that the .gz files for that month are stored. If I'm search for .mil within that whole tree, is that what I would do? find ~/gmvault-db/db/ -name '*.gz' \ -exec sh -c 'echo "Searching {}" ; zcat "{}" | grep .mil ' \;
    – Kendor
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 16:28
  • 1
    That's fine - the "r" in -irs will cause zgrep to search recursively. The find command operates recursively by default, so any file which ends in .gz will be zcatted and passed into grep. (and the {} will be expanded to the relative path of the file which is about to be searched). So when you get a hit, it will be preceded by Searching ~/gmvault-db/db/2015-02/03/whatever.gz Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 16:29
  • Here's what I get back: find: "paths must precede expression: -exec" Here's the command I used: find ~/gmvault-db/db/ -name '*.gz' \ -exec sh -c 'echo "Searching {}" ; zcat "{}" | grep .mil ' \;
    – Kendor
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 16:36
  • take out the backslash between the '*.gz' and the -exec. Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 16:37
  • 4
    zgrep won't take the -r flag for some reason. That's mention in man zgrep (also see my answer).
    – terdon
    Commented Mar 2, 2015 at 17:12

Recursion alone is easy:

   -r, --recursive
          Read all files  under  each  directory,  recursively,  following
          symbolic  links  only  if they are on the command line.  This is
          equivalent to the -d recurse option.

   -R, --dereference-recursive
          Read all files under each directory,  recursively.   Follow  all
          symbolic links, unlike -r.

However, for compressed files you need something like:

shopt globstar 
for file in /path/to/directory/**/*gz; do zcat ""$file" | grep pattern; done

path/to/directory should be the parent directory that contains the subdirectories for each day.

zgrep is the obvious answer but, unfortunately, it does not support the -r flag. From man zgrep:

These grep options will cause zgrep to terminate with an error code: (-[drRzZ]|--di*|--exc*|--inc*|--rec*|--nu*).


xzgrep -l "string" ./*/*.eml.gz

xzgrep is a derivative of the zgrep utils (less /bin/xzgrep)

From the Man page:

xzgrep invokes grep(1) on files which may be either uncompressed or compressed with xz(1), lzma(1), gzip(1), bzip2(1), or lzop(1). All options specified are passed directly to grep(1).

-l print the matching file name

-R for recursion will not work as it's specifically prohibited in the script, however simple shell globbing should get us there


from a relative path where ./today/sample.eml.gz, match on all instances of that are one level below our relative position in the shell, that ends with ".eml.gz"


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