I am able to locate files in a folder containing a specific text string using this command:

grep -lir 'string' ~/directory/*

How do I move the files that appear in the above result to another location?

  • Here it is. grep -i -Z -r -l 'string' . | xargs -I{} mv {} ./folder_name – Alan Dong Apr 28 '15 at 22:20

As always, beware of grep -r. -r is not a standard option, and in some implementations like all but very recent versions of GNU grep, it follows symbolic links when descending the directory tree, which is generally not what you want and can have severe implications if for instance there's a symlink to "/" somewhere in the directory tree.

In the Unix philosophy, you use a command to search directories for files, and another one to look at its content.

Using GNU tools, I'd do:

xargs -r0 --arg-file <(find . -type f -exec grep -lZi string {} +
  ) mv -i --target-directory /dest/dir

But even then, beware of race conditions and possible security issues if you run it as one user on a directory writeable by some other user.

  • this gives me error find: `grep' terminated by signal 13. any idea whats going wrong ? – Reena Parekh Apr 20 '16 at 10:37
  • @ReenaParekh, that would be a SIGPIPE. That would only happen if xargs exited before reading to the end of its arg-file which should not happen unless xargs is killed itself or fails for any reason in which case I'd expect you see an error about that as well. – Stéphane Chazelas Apr 20 '16 at 11:01

Use xargs in concert with mv's third syntax: mv [OPTION]... -t DIRECTORY SOURCE...

grep -lir 'string' ~/directory/* | xargs mv -t DEST

Be careful about files containing special characters (spaces, quotes). If this is your case, filtering the list with sed (adding quotes around filenames with s/^/'/;s/$/'/) might help, but you'd have to be sure, these quotes won't appear in the filenames. GNU grep has the -Z/--null option to NUL-terminate filenames.

An alternative to the third syntax for mv is using xargs with the placeholder string (-I).

Another option is command substitution - $( ) or backticks `` (in bash) as mentioned in ire_and_curses' answer.

  • 3
    gnu grep supports a -Z flag to separate file names by the zero byte character, which when used in conjunction with the -0 flag to xargs, can get around the special characters issue you mention – iruvar Nov 27 '12 at 17:32
  • @ChandraRavoori thanks, I've updated the answer. – peterph Nov 27 '12 at 18:20

If your file names don't contain any special characters (whitespace or \[*?), use command substitution:

mv `grep -lir 'string' ~/directory/*` destination/

Using only POSIX specified features, and making no assumptions about filenames:

find ~/directory -type f -exec grep -qiF 'string' {} \; -exec mv {} /path/to/dest \;


You said "string" not "pattern," so the -F (fixed string search) option of grep seems appropriate.

If your destination directory is anywhere inside of your search directory, you may have some unpleasant race conditions.

POSIX specs for grep

POSIX specs for find

  • This might be the best solution on Macos / BSD – Ali Nov 1 '18 at 12:53

Using GNU parallel:

grep -i -Z -r -l 'string' . | parallel 'mv {} destination/{}'

ht/ @lin-dong for his original answer with xargs.

  • Would have been nice if you'd credited @lindong's answer in the comments from over a year ago. – roaima Aug 1 '16 at 19:30

-Assume that you have destination directory as 'external' and need to move all XLS files, you can try below command

sudo mv find /var/log/ -type f -name "*.xls" /external/

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