How to find a file in Linux system

Occasionally, you find yourself scouring through your system in search of a particular file(s). It can be a truly daunting task sifting through hundreds of directories and even files. Sometimes,  it may feel like finding a needle in a haystack. In this guide, we will show valuable ways that you can leverage to find a file in Linux in a simple and seamless manner. These cut across all Linux distributions.

Let’s begin.

1) Find a file in Linux using the locate command

The locate command is a fast command-line tool that you can leverage to find a file in Linux. As its name suggests, the command finds a file using its file name by searching through a database. Inside the database are bits of the file and its corresponding path on the Local Linux system. Let’s delve into some of the command examples.

The locate command takes the following syntax:

$ locate OPTION pattern

Searching a file with a specific file name

In its basic syntax, the locate command is used to search for a particular file in a given directory path. The syntax is shown below:

$ locate filename

For example, to search for a file called


, which is a WordPress installation file that I downloaded from the Offical WordPress download site, run the command:

$ locate latest.tar.gz

find a file in Linux using locate

The command searches for all the possible locations of the file starting from the root partition.

Ignore case sensitivity when searching a file

By default, locate command is case sensitive. For example,


is different from


If you are unsure about whether the filename is in uppercase or lowercase characters, you can ignore case sensitivity using the


flag as shown below.

$ locate -i file1.txt

The above command will display all instances of the filename, whether in uppercase or lowercase characters.

Display the number of matching entries

To display the number of matching file entries use the


option with locate command. In the example below, the locate command narrows down to all instances of files with a



$ locate -c [.pdf]*

The above command will count for all instances of files with a


file extension.

display number of matching files

Limit the number of search queries

In most cases, you are likely to get massive output on your terminal. Thankfully, you can limit your search result and determine the number of queries to be printed on the terminal. To achieve this, simply use the


flag  followed by the number of search queries.

For example, the command below limits the search queries for up to 30 queries.

$ locate *.pdf*  -n 30

Refresh the database

The locate command is reliant on the

<a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mlocate</a>

database. This needs to be regularly updated for the command-line utility to work as expected. To update the database use the


utility as shown with sudo privileges as shown.

$ sudo updatedb


2) Find a file in Linux using find command

The Linux find command is yet another command-line utility that you can use to find files on your system. In fact, it’s one of the basic commands that beginners must learn on their journey to become Linux experts. Unlike the locate command, it’s quite slow and usually takes time to populate the results. The find command takes the following syntax:

$ find location comparison-criteria search term

List all files in your present current working  directory

To begin with, you can have an overview of all the files in your current directory by invoking the command below. Be sure to note the period at the end of the command.

$ find .

Search for all files in a given directory

Alternatively, you may decide to search or display all the files contained in a given directory. For example, in this example, we are searching for all the files in the ‘Documents’ directory located in the home directory.

$ find /home/winnie/Documents

search for all files in a specific directory

Search for a specific file name within a folder

To narrow down to a specific file within a specified directory use the syntax below:

$ find directory_name -name "file_name"

For example, to search for file unixmen.txt in the home directory, run the command below

$ find /home/winnie -name unixmen.txt

find a file in Linux in a specific directory

Search for files only or directories only

The find command gives you the flexibility to decide whether you want to search either a file or a directory only. To specify a file search use the


flag and to search for a directory, use the


option. Let’s take a few examples:

To search for files only in the /etc directory, run the command:

$ sudo find /etc -type f

This is going to print all files in the /etc directory. Here’s just a snippet of the output

find a file in Linux

To search for a  file called ‘hosts’  in the /etc directory, add the


flag as shown in  the command:

$ sudo find /etc -type f -name hosts

find a file in Linux

Also, you can search for directories only and omit files. For example, to search for directories only in the /etc directory, run the command shown

$ sudo find /etc -type d

search for directories only

To be more specific, you can search for a specific directory, for instance, to search for SSL directory in the /etc path, run

$ sudo find /etc -type d -name ssl

search for a specific directory

Find a file in Linux owned by a particular user

Using the


flag, you can search for a file owned by a specific user. For example, in the following command, we are searching for files owned by user ‘James’ in the /home/winnie/ location.

Find a file in Linux owned by a specific user


3) Find a file in Linux using catfish tool

Catfish is a lightweight GUI  tool based on GTK+ that helps you find various file types. The tool leverages the find and locate commands under the hood to perform a file search. It’s easy to install and in most cases, you can easily download it from the Software centre of your favourite distro. For Ubuntu/Debian and mint simply run:

$ sudo apt install catfish

Install catfish GUI tool

Once installed, simply use the application manager to launch catfish as shown.

launch catfish

Once launched, you can then begin to search for your files based on your preferred location. In the example below, we are searching for the WordPress installation file in the home directory. As you can see it searches for all the possible locations of the file path. Additionally, you can sort the results based on the size, location and date modified.

Find a file in Linux using catfish


We have come to the end of this guide. We have demonstrated how you can search for files on Linux using two command-line tools- locate and find command – as well as find files using a graphical front-end tool called Catfish. It’s our hope that going forward, you will have a much easier time searching for your files.