I'm looking for a pattern in files using find, then I only want the first ten I find and tar those.

find /var/log/file | xargs grep "pattern" | head -n10​ | tar -czvf tarfile.tgz

I have also tried to xargs the tar. This too results in errors. What am I doing wrong?

Here is what I see from the first command:

tar: Cowardly refusing to create an empty archive
Try `tar --help' or `tar --usage' for more information.

2 Answers 2


You can use

tar cvzf files.tar.gz $(find /var/log/file -type f -exec grep -l "pattern" {} + | \
head -n10)

here, grep -l will print only files which matches pattern.

You would have to use -P option of tar if you are getting error like

error tar: Removing leading `/' from member names

see man tar

-P, --absolute-names
     don't strip leading '/'s from file names

Or you may specify -C to change the directory, instead of specifying full path of the archive file.

  • This works. Just tested it and it created the tar. Although I did get the error tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
    – user53029
    Sep 2, 2016 at 6:36
  • Removing leading `/' from member names
    – user53029
    Sep 2, 2016 at 6:37
  • What if I wanted to get all files found that matched pattern not just the first 10. How would I then terminate the end of the command properly? use only -exec grep -l pattern {} + or {} \;
    – user53029
    Sep 2, 2016 at 6:51
  • 1
    you would have to use -exec grep -l pattern {} \;
    – Rahul
    Sep 2, 2016 at 7:01
  • And the closing brace? Place it right next to the {} \; or leave a space or does it matter?
    – user53029
    Sep 2, 2016 at 7:03


tar cvzf tarfile.tgz $(find /var/log/file | grep "pattern" | head -n10 )


  • code inside $( ) build a list of 10 files.

unlike cpio, tar will not accept a list of file in stdin.

  • Would there be a problem if the path included wildcards? I am still getting the same error. my actual path looks more like this -- find /var/log/*/*/file. Thats the only thing I can think of that would cause this problem
    – user53029
    Sep 2, 2016 at 6:29
  • Actually I just used the exact path to rule out a wilcard issue and still getting the same error.
    – user53029
    Sep 2, 2016 at 6:32
  • you shouldn't mix * and find, try find /var/log -type f -name file
    – Archemar
    Sep 2, 2016 at 6:35

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