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.

  • 19
    use zgrep: zgrep - search possibly compressed files for a regular expression – Arkadiusz Drabczyk Mar 2 '15 at 16:10

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.

  • 3
    '-print0' and '-0' are not mandatory. xargs uses '\n' by default. – Jaime M. Jul 7 '15 at 8:50
  • 2
    They're necessary if there might be space characters in the paths; there's no reason other than complexity not to use them. – Daniel Griscom Sep 23 '15 at 14:38
  • 3
    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 Aug 19 '16 at 17:54
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    @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. – ShadowRanger Dec 9 '16 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] – DevelopingDeveloper Apr 18 '18 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. – therealmarv Jul 27 '15 at 1:46
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    Continued from @therealmarv ... and then Ubuntu will use the zutils zgrep instead of the gzip one. Then -r works! – Elijah Lynn Mar 8 '17 at 22:08
  • Is there a way to print the line number of the file the pattern is matched on? – DogEatDog Nov 8 '17 at 18:48
  • @DogEatDog - just like grep -n, zgrep -n will print line no.s. It's in the manual... – don_crissti Nov 9 '17 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)
  • 1
    I get ag: truncated file: Success as a result. Any other flag should I add? – Yar Sep 11 '17 at 21:10
  • Great tool but still has some issues 1280 1348. Now it needs flags ag --search-binary -z "quick" – hrvoj3e Apr 15 '20 at 7:22

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 Mar 2 '15 at 16:28
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    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 – Nate from Kalamazoo Mar 2 '15 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 Mar 2 '15 at 16:36
  • take out the backslash between the '*.gz' and the -exec. – Nate from Kalamazoo Mar 2 '15 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 Mar 2 '15 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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