I am executing the below command for 1000 files:

ebook-convert <name-of-first-file>.epub <name-of-first-file>.mobi
ebook-convert <name-of-second-file>.epub <name-of-second-file>.mobi

Apparently, instead of manually doing this for 1000 files, one could write a bash script for the job.

I was wondering if there is an easier way to do something like this in Linux though, a small command that would look something like

ebook-convert *.epub *.mobi

Can you use wildcards in a similar way, that works for a scenario like the above?

  • 3
    Please edit your question and i) clarify your operating system; do you mean Linux or Unix (Linux is not Unix)? If Unix, what flavor? ii) change the example to show actual file names. Are the two commands you show somehow linked? Will you always need to run them in pairs? Or are they two independent commands (in which case Stephen's answer is what you need)?
    – terdon
    Sep 17, 2021 at 13:00
  • 2
    In general, no, because the shell expands the quotes, so if you run blah *.foo *.bar, the shell just sees blah a.foo b.foo x.bar y.bar, it doesn't know they came from distinct wildcard entries on the original command line. And if nothing matching *.bar exists, well, depending on the settings, that pattern is left as-is, removed, or causes an error.
    – ilkkachu
    Sep 17, 2021 at 13:17
  • That's not using it "elegantly", that's using it like copy in MsDOS, ignoring the way glob patterns and the command line interface work in Unix. That's like insisting to use "gift" in English with its meaning from German.
    – user313992
    Sep 19, 2021 at 0:43
  • "mobi" may be the Mobipocket format. Sep 20, 2021 at 11:15
  • Why would you prefer mobi over opensource epub files? Sep 22, 2021 at 19:10

5 Answers 5


You can’t do it directly with wildcards, but a for loop can get you there:

for epub in ./*.epub; do ebook-convert "${epub}" "${epub%.epub}.mobi"; done

Zsh supports a more elegant form of this loop.

Instead of a shell script, if your file names don’t contain whitespace characters, and more generally can be safely handled by Make and the shell, you can use GNU Make; put this in a Makefile:

all: $(patsubst %.epub,%.mobi,$(wildcard *.epub))

%.mobi : %.epub
        ebook-convert ./$< ./$@

and then run make, which will ensure that all .epub files are converted to a .mobi file. You can run this repeatedly to update files as necessary — it will only build files which are missing or older than their source file. (Make sure that the ebook-convert line starts with a tab, not spaces.)

  • make doesn't get filenames with spaces right -- also your make example assumes GNU make syntax without mentioning it (pointlessly, as all that could be done with standard make inferrence rules like .foo.bar:; whatever-convert $< $@)
    – user313992
    Sep 19, 2021 at 0:21
  • @ktzap thanks, I’ve added the caveats. I don’t think it’s possible to derive the all prerequisites in non-GNU Make, is it? Sep 19, 2021 at 7:02
  • 1
    @ktzap, problems are not limited to whitespace, it's at least all the characters special in the sh (and likely also make) syntax. It's even a command injection vulnerability. Try with a $(reboot).epub file for instance (and of course, there's the usual problem with filenames starting with -). Sep 19, 2021 at 7:22
  • @StephenKitt I vaguely remember there was a trick for that, but anyway, I think that a recursive make invocation would do: all: *.epub; $(MAKE) $(?:.epub=.mobi) -- .SUFFIXES: .epub .mobi -- .epub.mobi:; ebook-convert $< $@. (that's 3 separate lines; the POSIX standard makes no mention of globs in targets and prerequisites, but they used to work since the very first make)
    – user313992
    Sep 20, 2021 at 1:43
  • @StéphaneChazelas I wonder if ninja or whatever trendy make replacement has fixed that.
    – user313992
    Sep 20, 2021 at 2:19

With the zsh shell:

for f (./*.epub) ebook-convert $f $f:r.mobi

With $f:r expanding to the rootname (the part without the extension) of $f like in csh/vim...


autoload -Uz zmv # best in ~/.zshrc
zmv -P ebook-convert './(*).epub' './$1.mobi`

(as ebook-convert doesn't seem to recognise the -- option delimiter, we have to use a ./ prefix and use -P instead of -p to be able to cope with file names that start with -)

zmv is primarily intended for batch renaming, but also for batch copying/linking with -C/-L or can be extended to any form of change/conversion... by specifying the program to do it with -p/-P.


autoload -Uz zmv
alias ebc='noglob zmv -WP ebook-convert'
ebc ./*.epub ./*.mobi

With -W, zmv captures all wildcards on the source pattern, and converts all wildcard with incrementing ${1}, ${2}, etc in the replacement. So zmv -W './*.epub' './*.mobi' is the same as zmv -W './(*).epub' './${1}.mobi'. noglob disables globbing in the arguments to the command which avoids having to quote.


autoload -Uz zargs # best in ~/.zshrc
zargs -I@ ./*.epub(:r) -- ebook-convert @.epub @.mobi

zargs being zsh's xargs-like command to batch-process lists of arguments. ./*.epub(:r) gets you the rootnames of the .epub files, and with -I@, zargs runs the ebook-convert command line with each @ replaced with each of those rootnames in turn.

If your ebook-convert command accepted being called as ebook-convert file1.epub file1.mobi file2.epub file2.mobi ..., you could also do:

ebook-convert ./*.epub(e['reply=($REPLY $REPLY:r.mobi)'])

With that glob expanding to ./file1.epub ./file1.mobi ./file2.epub ./file2.mobi... thanks to the eval glob qualifier that runs the provided code for each matching file, where setting $reply defines the list of arguments the glob should expand to.


(){epub-convert $^@.{epub,mobi};} ./*.epub(:r)

Where we pass the list of rootnames of .epub files to an anonymous functions that uses brace expansion to pass arguments with both .epub and .mobi appended.

In all of those, to restrict the *.epub glob expansion to those which do not already have a newer corresponding .mobi file, you can add that e['[[ ! $REPLY:r.mobi -nt $REPLY ]]'] glob qualifier, or add the check as part of the loop:

for epub (./*.epub) {
  [[ $mobi -nt $epub ]] || ebook-convert $epub $mobi

Can you use wildcards in a similar way, that works for a scenario like the above?

Not like ebook-convert *epub *mobi, because of how wildcards - really "shell globbing" - works. But, you can get started with a wildcard.

Shell globbing is, conceptually, very straightforward: find all of the files that match the glob and replace the glob with that file list, handling whitespace and other "special" characters so that the invoked action (often a program; here, ebook-convert) gets each file as a single, separate parameter.

So, given a folder with a.epub, b.epub, and file with spaces.epub, the shell will expand *.epub to a.epub, b.epub, and file with spaces.epub as 3 separate arguments to whatever is being invoked (here, ebook-convert).

Given that same folder, *.mobi won't match anything, so ebook-convert will receive an argument that is literally *.mobi. From ebook-convert's perspective, it's being given a list of three epub files and one mobi file that doesn't exist; how it handles that list of parameters is up to it (at a guess, it'll either complain about too many parameters or will sequentially try to convert each of the epubs into a mobi file literally named "*.mobi").

Note that there's no global guarantee about how a program (or shell built-in or function or script, etc.) will handle a parameter that it expects to be a file name but that contains a glob. Typically, that parameter will be treated as a string literal, and will react to *.mobi not existing just like it would to anything_else.mobi not existing, but there's no law that states that that has to happen.

The same thing happens for other globs; eg., ?.epub would include a.epub and b.epub, but not file with spaces.epub.

As others have noted, you can use globs to power loops - for file in *.epub ; do .... Note that references to "file" need to be quoted to handle spaces: the globbing in for file in *.epub only ensures that file with spaces.epub is a single parameter to the for loop itself, but doesn't extend into the body of the loop (that is, for file in *.epub ; do ebook-convert $file will send three separate parameters for file with spaces.epub: file, with, and spaces.epub).

All of this is also why you often need to quote arguments to programs that expect glob characters: doing so prevents the shell from expanding the glob and actually lets the invoked program see the argument as you wrote it. For example, find . -type f -name '*.epub' will find (and print the names of) all epub files in this directory and any child directories; find . -type f -name *.epub will error out since it'll see b.epub and file with spaces.epub as arguments with which it doesn't know what to do.

  • 1
    Note that the splitting of file with spaces.epub into file, with, spaces.epub upon unquoted $file doesn't apply to zsh. And in other Bourne-like shells, that's assuming $IFS contains the space character (and none of the other characters in$file). In those shells, globbing is also performed upon parameter expansion, not just IFS-splitting. rc/zsh/es/fish shells don't have that misfeature. Sep 17, 2021 at 22:18

using bash...

find . -name '*.epub' | xargs  basename -s .epub | xargs -I {} ebook-convert {}.epub {}.mobi ;

or, for filenames with spaces...

find . -name '*.epub' -print0 | xargs -0 basename -s .epub | xargs -I {} ebook-convert "{}.epub" "{}.mobi" ;

breaking it down...

find . -name '*.epub'

find . -name '*.epub' | xargs  basename -s .epub 

CMD='echo ebook-convert' && find . -name '*.epub' | xargs basename -s .epub | xargs -I {} $CMD "{}.epub" "{}.mobi" ;

the -print0 and -0 options cause those commands to use nulls instead of spaces to separate filenames.

-I creates a placeholder {} that works by substitution.

Ps: although this is a useful technique, I also think a Makefile (see above) is a great solution for this kind of task.

  • 1
    find -print0 will output NUL-delimited records, but xargs -0 basename still outputs newline-delimited records, so you'll still have problems with filenames containing quotes or backslashes. While you're at using GNUisms, you could use LC_ALL=C find . -name '*.epub' -exec basename -zs .epub {} + | xargs -r0I@ ebook-convert @.epub @.mobi. Sep 19, 2021 at 16:43
  • This is good. I wondered if LC_ALL=C would be a problem with unicode characters, but it passed my test. (thing❦.epub) Presumably the wide characters are processed as ASCII bytes and appear in the output unmodified. Is that right? Also, I think LC_ALL=C find . -name '*.epub' -execdir basename -zs .epub '{}' + | xargs -r0I@ ebook-convert @.epub @.mobi is more secure.
    – bitrat
    Sep 19, 2021 at 21:44
  • You need LC_ALL=C to handle file names that are encoded in the locale's charmap. Like a $'Answer by St\xe9phane.epub' (latin1 encoded) in a UTF-8 locale. In the C locale, every byte is a character so the * will match on any array of bytes, regardless of their representation as text. Sep 20, 2021 at 6:24
  • -execdir won't help. basename doesn't try and access the files, so it makes no difference what its current working directory is. Using -execdir means at least one basename invocation for each dir with epubs. In any case, the approach only works for files in the current working directory, not subdirectories as basename strips the dirname part. You'd need to use something like LC_ALL=C sed -z 's/\.epub$//' to strip the extension without stripping the dirname. Sep 20, 2021 at 6:28

I think that you can do as cute as the %.mobi: %.epub from the GNU make part of the accepted answer --without GNU make and its filenames limitations-- with a little wrapper:

    sp=${1%%%*}; ss=${1#*%}; shift
    dp=${1%%%*}; ds=${1#*%}; shift
    for s in "$sp"*"$ss"; do
        d=${s#"$sp"}; d=$dp${d%"$ss"}$ds
        "$@" "$s" "$d" || exit 1

Which you could use as

from_to %.epub %.mobi ebook-convert
from_to dir1/book_%.epub dir2/%.mobi ebook-convert

Mock test example:

% touch {1,2,3}.foo
% from_to ./%.foo bar/%.baz echo translate --
translate -- ./1.foo bar/1.baz
translate -- ./2.foo bar/2.baz
translate -- ./3.foo bar/3.baz

Anyways, you have to use something else that *, as that has a very established meaning in the Unix shell.

  • The point in using make is that it would not call ebook-convert on file.epub if a file.mobi existed and was newer than file.epub. See the part with -nt (also found in most [/test implementations even if not POSIX yet) in my answer. Sep 20, 2021 at 7:12
  • Note that calibre's ebook-convert seems not to support -- as end-of-option marker. Sep 20, 2021 at 7:12
  • @StéphaneChazelas I've omitted test -nt because it's non-standard, and it's trivial to add if needed. Also, timestamps are not always reliable with this kind of stuff downloaded from the internet. But feel to add all that -- it's "community wiki"
    – user313992
    Sep 20, 2021 at 7:22

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