I've got a directory with about 100,000 files in it. ls -f hangs for over a minute. I ran strace, and immediately started seeing getdents, so ls is clearly reading the directory. I also see a lot of calls to brk, so ls is clearly buffering things in memory. I wrote a simple program that calls readdir and outputs filenames, and it responds immediately. But ls -f does not provide output. What gives? I thought the whole point of -f is that it causes ls to do nothing more than readdir. Is there a portable, reliable way to list the contents of a directory? (Note, this is ls from gnu's coreutils on Linux.)


There was an alias in place, but "/bin/ls -1f > /dev/null" takes 8 to 15 seconds, "/bin/ls -1fx > /dev/null" takes 4 to 11 seconds, but a simple program that just does readdir takes .011 seconds. What do I need to do to make gnu ls not suck?

2 Answers 2


The point of -f is to try and avoid the need to stat every file entry, and to avoid the need to read them all before any are displayed. It is a "meta" option that just disables other options.

So, yes, it should do what you expect. I can't answer why it isn't, but I would guess that you might have a shell alias or something else that inserts additional options to the command. That might reenable a feature than -f disables, and be considered "more specific", so take precedence.

  • 3
    Argghh. ls() { /bin/ls -FB $@; } Stupid startup scripts. Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 18:19
  • 1
    hmm. I unset the function and I still see the same behavior even when I run /bin/ls. Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 18:21
  • Do /bin/ls -f -1 (that's minus-one, not minus-ell). The /bin/ls on a RHEL box I'm using formats file names in columns for some reason.
    – user732
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 18:39

An optimization was added in coreutils 7.0 (commit 8d974b00fbbc2025de63e1e6d54827648fefa1c4):

2008-08-01  Kamil Dudka  <[email protected]>
    ls -U1 now uses constant memory
    When printing one name per line and not sorting, ls now uses
    constant memory per directory, no matter how many files are in
    the directory.
    * ls.c (print_dir): Print each file name immediately, when possible.
    * NEWS: Mention the improvement.

The first explanation that comes to mind is that you're running an older version of coreutils. You need to upgrade.

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