To search a file in a directory, I found two commands as below:

  • ls -ltr initialfilename*
  • find ./ -name initialfilename*

Sometime, first command gives me the search result but sometime I used to execute second command. What is the difference between these two set of Linux command? Please specify your answer around the major difference only.

marked as duplicate by Anthon, Archemar, slm Apr 21 '15 at 12:14

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • ls -ltr file*: This command just list the contents of the current directory in the long listing format (-l), sorted by modification time (-t) in reverse order (-r) of all files and directories beginning with file*.

  • find ./ -name file*: That command searches trough the whole directory structure under the current working directory and all its subdirectories for files and directories beginning with file* in their names. The output format is very simple; only the file/dir paths are printed line by line.

Major difference (conclusion): ls only applies to the current working directory, while find applies to all files and subdirectories starting from the current working directory.

  • Your answer is better than all but not what I was looking for. – ursitesion Apr 21 '15 at 7:50
  • 3
    ursitesion: The answer from @chaos exactly describes what the two commands to and how their outputs differ. If this is not what you had in mind, please give a better explanation of what you are looking for. And how about running these commands and seeing the differences for yourself? – ph0t0nix Apr 21 '15 at 8:07

The find version will also find files matching that name in subdirectories.

Note you should quote or escape the * in the filename pattern; if the pattern matches a file in the local directory it will expand to that name and find will only find exactly that name. If it matches more than one filename then you will get an error because those multiple filenames will replace the pattern in the find invocation and that doesn't match find syntax. E.g.:

$ cd /etc
$ find . -name pass*
find: paths must precede expression: passwd-
Usage: find [-H] [-L] [-P] [-Olevel] [-D help|tree|search|stat|rates|opt|exec] [path...] [expression]
$ find . -name 'pass*'
  • If I quote the filename pattern, I didn't get any result. Also, find list all the files which match the pattern in command. – ursitesion Apr 21 '15 at 7:48
  • If you quote the filename pattern with ls then that's expected, there ls does no expansion of filenames but depends on the shell in such cases. In the case of find I find it hard to believe that you didn't get any result.. – wurtel Apr 21 '15 at 9:14

The shell will do filename expansion before either command is executed, so the results depends on what is in your current directory.

To get what you want, I think you wouldwant to quote the * in the find command. check this example.

$# First show all the files $# ~/tmp/stack$ find . . ./dir1 ./dir1/FileA ./dir1/FileB ./dir1/FileC ./dir1/filec ./dir2 ./dir2/filea ./dir2/fileb $# $# Following will list nothing because there is no file named File* in the current directory $# ~/tmp/stack$ ls -lR File* ls: cannot access File*: No such file or directory # # Now using find will work because no file named File* exists, file name # expansion fails, so find sees the * on the command line. ~/tmp/stack$ find . -name File* ./dir1/FileA ./dir1/FileB ./dir1/FileC # # I'll create a file named Filexxx # ~/tmp/stack$ touch Filexxx # # ls will work but only list details for Filexxx # ~/tmp/stack$ ls -lR File* -rw-rw-r-- 1 christian christian 0 Apr 21 09:08 Filexxx # # and so will find but probably not as expected because filename expansion works, so actual command executed is find . -name Filexxx # ~/tmp/stack$ find . -name File* ./Filexxx # # now escape the wild card properly, then find will work as expected # ~/tmp/stack$ find . -name File\* ./dir1/FileA ./dir1/FileB ./dir1/FileC ./Filexxx ~/tmp/stack$

  • +1 for "the results depends on what is in your current directory". – Janis Apr 21 '15 at 8:58

ls -ltr will list the file if it exists in the current directory. find will search for the file recursively (will look for the file in the subdirectories)


The findcommand will fail if the initialfilename* expands to more than one files:

$ touch initiala initialb
$ dir -lrt initial*
-rw-rw-rw-  1 user 0 0 2015-04-21 10:17 initialb
-rw-rw-rw-  1 user 0 0 2015-04-21 10:17 initiala
$ find . -name initial*
find: paths must precede expression: initialb
Usage: find [-H] [-L] [-P] [-Olevel] [-D help|tree|search|stat|rates|opt|exec] [path...] [expression]

That's why you should escape the asterisk:

$ find . -name "initial*"

$ find . -name initial\*

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.