I got a command foo that output a list of files separated by \n line.

I am using the below command to filter the results by regex content of the files.

foo | xargs grep -l regex

The problem is that some files are very large and the content that I am searching can be found only at the first 10 lines. How can I tell grep to only process the first 10 lines in order to speed this execution?

  • I'd suggest using the other answer to your earlier question, which can be straightforwardly modified to include a head command Jul 10, 2020 at 17:01
  • 2
    You can use grep option -m 1 which stops reading the file after the first match. Doesn't help with big files if the pattern is not found. Jul 10, 2020 at 17:40
  • 2
    @glennjackman doesn't the -l option stop after the first match anyhow? Jul 10, 2020 at 18:04
  • @steeldriver yes, but I didn't want to assume the OP only wanted a list of matching filenames. Jul 10, 2020 at 19:30
  • @glennjackman yeah, I agree. -m 1 is a good solution, but it only solves half of the problem. Jul 10, 2020 at 19:51

3 Answers 3


As commented, to solve half the problem:

foo | xargs grep -m 1 regex

To solve the rest requires a bit more scripting:

foo | xargs sh -c 'for file; do head "$file"; done | grep regex' sh

But that doesn't give you the filenames because grep is reading a stream.

If you have GNU awk:

foo | xargs gawk -v pattern='regex' -v lines=10 -v OFS=':' '
  $0 ~ pattern {print FILENAME, FNR, $0}
  FNR == lines {nextfile}

To just get the filename

  $0 ~ pattern {print FILENAME; nextfile}
  • I see you've tagged macos: you can get GNU awk with brew install gawk Jul 10, 2020 at 20:14
  • You should probably add a nextfile after the print too in case the "pattern" appears multiple times in the first 10 lines since the OP seems to just want the file names and even if not then that'd mimic what grep -m 1 does.
    – Ed Morton
    Jul 12, 2020 at 21:53
for i in $(foo); do echo -e "$i \c"; head -n10 $i | grep -c regex; done

will print the filenames from the foo script followed by a number. If the number is zero, then no regex match, and these zero entries in the result can easily be filtered out if not needed.


A modified version of glenn jackman's answer that outputs the filenames:

foo | xargs sh -c 'for file; do head "$file" | grep -l --label="$file" regex; done' sh

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.