ls - list directory contents

empty_dir# ls -al
total 0
drwxr-xr-x. 2 root root   6 Dec 31 09:49 .
dr-xr-x---. 6 root root 284 Dec 31 09:49 ..

find - search for files in a directory hierarchy

empty_dir# find
  • @A.B Perhaps I should change the Title - it seems incorrect. They are not name-inode maps are they? Would be good to know what they are really called. Your first point is a good one as find is intended to navigate the tree in forward order only? Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 10:27
  • @A.B The crux of the question is that ls lists directory contents - so . and .. are contained within a directory but I don"t think they really are else find would list them too. Find only lists . but this is not really contained in the directory its just a notation for the current directory. A satisfactory answer would point to some formal specification which describes this. Commented Dec 31, 2019 at 10:34

1 Answer 1


find has to deliberately exclude . and ..

It has to avoid descending into them, as it would do for other directories returned by readdir().

Rather than show the directories . and .. but not show any of their contents, it excludes them entirely.

This is the desired behaviour, for example if you used find -exec touch \{\} \;. Users would not wish this command to affect .. (the parent directory).

A satisfactory answer would point to some formal specification which describes this.

Arguably, POSIX is trying to document this. I don't understand well enough to rely on it as a formal spec. But the bolded sentence below suggests that it does not "encounter" . and ...

The find utility shall recursively descend the directory hierarchy from each file specified by path, evaluating a Boolean expression composed of the primaries described in the OPERANDS section for each file encountered. Each path operand shall be evaluated unaltered as it was provided, including all trailing characters; all pathnames for other files encountered in the hierarchy shall consist of the concatenation of the current path operand, a if the current path operand did not end in one, and the filename relative to the path operand. The relative portion shall contain no dot or dot-dot components, no trailing characters, and only single characters between pathname components.


  • Well, find shows . like shown in the question.
    – jarno
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 10:41

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