my command looks something like this

find $PATH -name '$FILE.log' > /tmp/file-list.txt

and I keep getting an error message that says

find: illegal option -- n

What am I doing wrong here?

  • 6
    $PATH is a special variable that is meant to contain a colon separated list of directories where to find executables. – Stéphane Chazelas Jun 7 '17 at 16:02
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    What flavour of linux is that? GNU and busybox find, the most commonly found implementations on systems that have Linux as a kernel don't give that wording for unknown options. – Stéphane Chazelas Jun 7 '17 at 16:03
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    You'd get that error if you ran find -name with Solaris find (so on Linux, you could get that with the find from the heirloom toolchest (a port of OpenSolaris tools)) – Stéphane Chazelas Jun 7 '17 at 16:06
  • use find $(pwd) if you want current PATH, not $PATH itself – Kiwy Jun 8 '17 at 11:55

From that error message, I'd bet that

  • despite your "linux" tag, you're probably not on a Linux-based system as find implementations typically found on Linux-based systems don't use that wording for the errors about unknown options
  • the $PATH variable is unset (which indicates the shell you run that in is probably the Bourne or Korn shell (AT&T implementation)).

That illegal option is the wording typically found on traditional Unix find implementations.

Those traditional implementations also require at least one file argument before you can use a predicate like -name.

Otherwise, -name would be taken as options (as opposed to predicates) if it was the next argument after find.

And -n (the first option in -name which is short for -n -a -m -e) is not a valid find option.

So most likely, the expansion of $PATH results in no argument at all.

That would happen in cases where:

  1. $PATH is unset
  2. $PATH is set to the empty string
  3. $PATH contains only space, tab or newline characters (the default value of $IFS).

Since $PATH is the special variable containing a colon-separated list of directories to look up executables including that find command, we can rule out 3 and most probably 2 (unless there's a find command in the current directory), or otherwise you'd get a find: command not found error.

When $PATH is unset (1 above), in execvp() (as typically used by env or find's -exec predicate for instance) and in some shells (including the Korn and Bourne shell typically found on those traditional OSes), find would be found through a search in a default search path (shells like bash don't do that but set (though not export) $PATH to a default value when it was unset on start-up).

Here, I think you want to:

  • use a different variable name than $PATH to store the directory name (like $dir)
  • be sure to quote your variables
  • use ${dir:-.} if you want to default to the current directory if $dir is empty or unset.
  • (maybe also investigate why the $PATH variable is unset which is highly unusual)


find "${dir:-.}" -name "$FILE.log"

Note that it assumes that $dir doesn't start with - and is not otherwise a find operator (like !, (, )) and that $FILE doesn't contain wildcards (*, ?, [...]) (note the use of double quotes instead of single quotes around $FILE.log as I assume you want to find files named something.log where something is the content of $FILE as opposed to files named $FILE.log literally).

  • On Linux, in Bash, when PATH is unset, it does not appear that I can execute any non-builtin commands. Is this different for other shells or for Unix? Also, oddly enough, my version of find (find (GNU findutils) 4.4.2) prints no error when I try find -name foo. – Kyle Strand Jun 7 '17 at 21:35
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    @KyleStrand about the default search path, see edit. the OP is probably not using bash. As an extension, GNU find treats find -name foo as find . -name foo. If you want to path a file called -name (but that's also the case for find that don't have that extension), you need to use find ./-name -name ... though some implementations support find -f -name -f -type -predicates... (which makes them the only one which can take arbitrary file names as in find -f "$file" -mtime ...). – Stéphane Chazelas Jun 8 '17 at 8:08
  • Wacky! Whatever systems I was using a few years ago must not have had GNU find, because I remember being tripped up by needing to include . when I first started learning to use find. Thanks for the explanation! – Kyle Strand Jun 8 '17 at 16:03

$PATH is (usually - unless you have redefined it, but that would break a bunch of things) a colon separated list of directories. find takes a list of directories separated by spaces on the command line:

find /path/to/dir1 /path/to/dir2 -name "$FILE.log"

Note also that single quotes inhibit evaluation of variables by the shell, so you probably need double quotes around $FILE.log as indicated above.

You can convert $PATH to a space-separated list in a number of ways, e.g.:

 echo $PATH | sed 's/:/ /g'

and use command substitution to get the list into your find command:

find $(echo $PATH | sed 's/:/ /g') -name "$FILE.log"
  • 2
    Or just: IFS=:; set -o noglob; find $PATH -name... – Stéphane Chazelas Jun 7 '17 at 16:07

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