I am trying to write a script that will apply a bash function for each file in a directory recursively. For example if the directory tests had all my files and sub-directories in it, the script

find tests -type f -print0 | xargs -0 echo

Works perfectly. Now I want to be able to apply a bash function rather than just echo, so I came up with something like this:

function fun() {
    echo $1

export -f fun

find tests -type f -print0 | xargs -0 bash -c 'fun "$@"'

However this only outputs a single file in tests, where before it output all the files. I would expect these two to run the same no?

  • 1
    You can try the exec option of find, i think will do the job. stackoverflow.com/questions/5119946/… Nov 22, 2016 at 0:44
  • Is your function even defined in that bash process?  If you say bash -c, you get a non-interactive shell, which doesn't look at .bashrc.  Secondly, does your function look at multiple arguments?  Thirdly, you should say bash -c 'fun "$@"' sh, because the first word after the command string after bash -c is assigned to $0, and therefore isn't included in "$@". … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … OK, ignore the first point; I hadn't noticed that you had exported the function. Nov 22, 2016 at 0:50
  • 1
    And I hadn't noticed that you showed us the function!  (D'oh! facepalm!)  My second point is that, (as you might have noticed from your experiment with echo) xargs executes the command with all the files at once (or, at least, as many as can be passed on one command line — this is in the thousands) and not once per command.  Since your function prints only $1 (and not all the arguments), you get only one. Nov 22, 2016 at 1:04

3 Answers 3


Use a shell script.

To quote from this excellent answer:

Do other programs besides your shell need to be able to use it? If so, it has to be a script.

As already noted in other answers, it may be possible to work around this by exporting the function, but it's certainly a lot simpler to just use a script.

# I'm a script named "fun"!  :)
printf '%s\n' "$@"

Then you just put the fun script somewhere in your PATH (perhaps in ~/bin), make sure it's executable, and you can run:

find tests -type f -exec fun {} +
  • Nice, I guess this is how I check all ruby files syntax: find . -name "*.rb" -exec ruby -c {} \;
    – Nakilon
    Aug 29, 2018 at 9:29

There two ways to solve this issue: you could either tell xargs to run command with only one argument at a time using -n1 or loop for all arguments inside your function fun:

function fun() { echo $1 }
export -f fun
find tests -type f -print0 | xargs -n1 -0 bash -c 'fun "$@"' --


function fun() { while [ -n "$1" ]; do echo $1; shift; done }
export -f fun
find tests -type f -print0 | xargs -0 bash -c 'fun "$@"' --
  • 1
    Maybe a clearer way to loop through arguments is with a for: function fun() { for a; do echo "$a"; done }
    – trosos
    Nov 22, 2016 at 3:12
  • 1
    @trosos, or just printf '%s\n' "$@", since printf is better than echo.
    – Wildcard
    Nov 22, 2016 at 23:44

If you use GNU Parallel it looks like this:

function fun() {
    echo "$@"
export -f fun

find tests -type f -print0 | parallel -0 -Xj1 fun

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .