I tried doing ls [a-z][a-z], but it doesn't seem to be working.

  • Names of regular files or any filename (symbolic links, names of directories, or otherwise)?
    – Kusalananda
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 20:27

4 Answers 4


With bash, set the glob settings so that missing matches don't trigger an error:

shopt -u failglob  # avoid failure report (and discarding the whole line).
shopt -s nullglob  # remove (erase) non-matching globs.
ls ?c c?

Question-mark is a glob character representing a single character. Since you want two-character filenames, one of them has to be a c, and so it's either the first character or the last character.

With shopt -s dotglob this would also surface a file named .c.

If there are no matching files, setting these shell options causes all of the arguments to be removed, resulting in a bare ls -- listing anything/everything by default.

Use this, instead:

shopt -s nullglob  ## drop any missing globs
set -- ?c c?       ## populate the $@ array with (any) matches
if [ $# -gt 0 ]    ## if there are some, list them
  ls -d "$@"
  • You may also want to use nullglob?
    – Kusalananda
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 17:24
  • erm, not quite -- failglob removes the error but also removes everything (thus listing everything) if there are no matches
    – Jeff Schaller
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 17:29
  • a file named cc is print 2 times
    – ctac_
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 19:21
  • 2
    We'll need clarification on whether a file named cc consists of "one" c :)
    – Jeff Schaller
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 19:24

I think the better way is to use find :

find . -type f -name '*c*' -name '??'

That will search recursively. To list only files in the current directory:

find . ! -name . -prune  -type f -name '*c*' -name '??'
  • 2
    with the caveat about discovering subdirectories (-maxdepth 1 would help for GNU find)
    – Jeff Schaller
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 19:29
  • @ Jeff Schaller here too We'll need clarification on whether we search the file in the courrant directory or anywhere :)
    – ctac_
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 19:43
  • gnu ls have a option --hide=PATTERN so I try ls *c* --hide='?' --hide='???*' but it's buggy or I don't know how to use it
    – ctac_
    Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 19:59
  • 1
    It works just like -I ... it's not buggy, it only works if you don't specify a pattern for ls (that's what they mean by implied entries - whatever ls would print by default... if you run ls *c* ... that's no longer implicit, it's explicit...) Commented Oct 5, 2018 at 20:07
  • 1
    With hide, this works: ls --hide='?' --hide='???*' --hide='[^c][^c]'.
    – user232326
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 2:45

If the files exist (and have no escaped characters like \c), you can use a glob:

echo ?c c?

that will match files that have one character (?) followed by a c or that have a c followed by one character (?).

But will fail with file names that start with a dash like -n or -e or with backslash characters like \c or \n with echo as both -e and -n are special to (some shells) echo and \c or \n would be interpreted as an escape sequence (\c ends output and \n prints a new line, not the verbatim characters \n in some shell implementation of echo and with bash when the option shopt -s xpg_echo is set). Other applications or utilities (like ls) will have some other options and may fail with many other dash-started or interpret other escape characters in file names.

Will also list a file named cc twice.

  • If a file may start with a dash (like -n), use:

    $ ls -d -- ?n 

    Or, better:

    $ ls -d ./?n


  • Glob match no file.

    1. If the files do not exist, the glob will not be expanded and the glob will be printed in their original form.

      $ echo ?m m?
      ?m m?
    2. Except in zsh.

      $ zsh -c 'echo ?m m?'
      zsh:1: no matches found: ./m?

      The shell will exit with an error.
      This behavior is controlled by Zsh's nomatch option.

      $ zsh -c 'setopt +o nomatch; echo ?m m?'
      ?m m?


      $ zsh -c 'echo ?m(N) m?(N)'
      ?m m?

      But that will print mm twice.

    3. In bash you could get a similar result to zsh if the shell option failglob is set:

      $ bash -c 'shopt -s failglob; echo ?m m?'
      bash: no match: ?m

      But the script will not stop, the shell will not exit. Well, technically, the line where the glob is used is not executed further but execution resumes on next script line.

    4. In bash you could set the option nullglob to remove globs that don't match:

      $ bash -c 'shopt -s nullglob; echo ?m m? done'
  • Using ls (similar with other programs)

    1. With matching files there will be no problem, but will also match (and list) directories:

      $ ls ?c c?
      bc  cz  sc

      Beter use -d with ls (directories will be included but not expanded).

      $ ls -d ?c c?
      ac bc cz sc
    2. Globs failing to match a file (or a directory)

      Then ls will report a failure

      $ ls ?m m?
      ls: cannot access '?m': No such file or directory

      Other programs might (probably) do not do similar checks.

    3. Using nullglob with bash will give an empty list to ls, so, it will list the contents or the pwd as if only ls was executed:

      $ ls ?m m?
      ac a.out cz 3 b sc ab bc

      That could be avoided using ./

      $ ls -d ./?m ./m?
      ls: cannot access './?m': No such file or directory
      ls: cannot access './m?': No such file or directory

Or you can use a find regex (but it will traverse subdirectories with prune missing) (Note that this will not repeat a file called cc):

    $ find . ! -name . -prune -regex '.*/\(.c\|c.\)'
  • bash exits in bash -c 'shopt -s failglob; echo ?m m?; echo not reached'. Note that the nomatch zsh option name comes from csh/tcsh. The behaviour is slightly different though between csh and tcsh. See the cshnullglob option in zsh to emulate csh's (or pre-Bourne shells using /etc/glob) behaviour. fish now also behaves like zsh/bash -o failglob except that failing matches don't exit the shell. Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:35
  • Exit? Only if both commands are in one line, try bash -c $'shopt -s failglob; echo ?m m?\n echo not reached'. Or (I don't recomend this) bash -c eval\ $'shopt -s failglob; echo ?m m?\n echo not reached'. I tested it inside an script, one command per line. @StéphaneChazelas
    – user232326
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:02
  • Hmmm, the rest seems to be too much information for one answer IMhO. As the answer is tagged bash, I believe that I will pass adding that. @StéphaneChazelas
    – user232326
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:04
  • Technically, failglob in an interactive shell will bring you back to the prompt (unless the failed glob happened in a subshell). And it's the same in scripts, it resumes execution at the next line the shell would read. So for instance, if the failing glob happens in a function and not in a subshell there, that aborts the function and whatever other commands that were connected. It's a bit messed up. (bash also doesn't have any exception catching like zsh's always {...}). Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:16
  • Technically, don't you think that it is useful to other users to say that bash will not (in all cases) stop executing an script. zsh stops in all cases. @StéphaneChazelas
    – user232326
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:51

In bash:

  • Either c followed by a character (?c) or a character (including . with dotglob) followed by c (?c).

    shopt -s extglob failglob dotglob
    printf '%s\n' @(?c|c?)
  • All files but those that either don't contain c (!(*c*)) or are not two characters (!(??)). Here using a double-negation to achieve conjunction.

    shopt -s extglob failglob dotglob
    printf '%s\n' !(!(*c*)|!(??))

In zsh:

  • printf '%s\n' (?c|c?)(D)

    (where D enables dotglob; failglob (called nomatch in zsh) is on by default there).

  • double negation using the ~ except operator and ^ negation extended operators:

    set -o extendedglob
    printf '%s\n' *c*~^??(D)

In ksh93:

  • there's no nomatch/failglob option in ksh93, but you can do it by hand there:

    FIGNORE='@(.|..)' # only ignore . and .. and not the other dotfiles
    if ((${#files[@]})); then
      printf '%s\n' "${files[@]}"
      echo >&2 No match
      exit 1

    (where ~(N) enables nullglob for that glob).

  • ksh93 does have a conjunction operator. So here, you can also change the files=(...) line to:

  • Maybe add a note for Nullglob as this: zsh -c 'printf "%s\n" ?m(N) m?(N) yes'
    – user232326
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:07
  • Nitpicking: What the original poster (OP) posted: ls * prints results in one line. Your `printf %s\n`` (in all your options) prints one line per result.
    – user232326
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:12
  • @Isaac, ++Nitpicking, ls * prints one file per line unless stdout is a tty device in which case the format is "implementation-defined" per POSIX and in practice in most implementations, printed in columns. Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:20
  • @isaac, zsh -c 'printf "%s\n" ?m(N) m?(N) yes' would print mm twice (and may also not give a sorted list). zsh -c 'printf "%s\n" (?c|c?)(N)' would print an empty line if there was no matching file. To print no output when there's no matching file: (){ (($#)) && printf "%s\n" $@; } (m?|?m)(N) or () { printf %s $^@$'\n'; } (m?|?m)(N). It's actually annoying that there's no simpler command just to print a list of lines given as argument (you'd expect print -rl to do that but it doesn't). Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:27
  • It would be useful both for ls and print (and probably many other utilities) to have an option of -e (for empty) to be used in scripts that will avoid doing anything on an empty list of arguments.
    – user232326
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:42

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