What is the meaning of following ls command?

ls -l *\:2,*T
  • ls = list
  • -l = long (list)
  • *T probably means T at the end

But what about that *\:2 and the comma?

migrated from serverfault.com Aug 18 '17 at 6:54

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*\:2,*T is the glob pattern of files to list. To understand it, we need to remember a few things:

  • : has to be escaped in the shell, becoming \:
  • File names can easily contain commas

So *\:2,*T would e.g. match a file called TranscationNumber:2,EventType:XYT


From the comments, the necessity (or not) of escaping the : needs a few words: It is not strictly necessary to escape the : sign, but bash itself suggests it when autocompleting.

  • 3
    Thank you, both Eugen and HBruijn. I suspected some complicated globbing pattern, but actually it should just match the colon and the comma, which I did not think of when working with files. Now, the command totally makes sense: list all email files in the Maildir directories, which are marked as "Deleted" (T). Btw. The number 2 means Maildir in version 2 (cf wiki2.dovecot.org/MailboxFormat/Maildir). – jugmac00 Aug 18 '17 at 11:20
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    Since when does : have to be escaped? – Barmar Aug 18 '17 at 17:48
  • 7
    : doesn't need to be escaped. It is only special in specific circumstances (when used as a command), not in glob patterns. The \: is equivalent to :, escaping makes no difference. – terdon Aug 18 '17 at 18:11
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    @Aaron, it's not exactly no-op: the shell will still process variable substitutions, particularly the assignment variety (i.e. to set default values): unset var; : ${var:=x}; echo $var – glenn jackman Aug 19 '17 at 13:23
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    @terdon & @Aaron The colon : is part of the default values for the COMP_WORDBREAKS environment variable. In Bash autocompletion those characters are used as word separators by the read line library and a file-name containing a colon should of course be a single word. Hence the reason that bash autocompletion requires the colon to be escaped, although otherwise it is "mostly" not a special character... – HBruijn Aug 23 '17 at 7:49

List all files that match the wildcard pattern *:2,*T

There the wildcard * matches anything (any number of all possible characters)
:2, are characters that need to be present in the file/directory names.
The colon : is a special character that needs to be escaped, hence the form of \:2,.
The file/directory names need to end with a T.

File names that would match would be

  • 1
    There's nothing special about :, it doesn't need to be escaped. – Kevin Aug 18 '17 at 19:05
  • @Kevin bash auto-completion automatically escapes the colon in file/directory name patterns, because is included in the list of COMP_WORDBREAK environment values that get set by default. - So it is indeed not an actual special character, but when you use autocompletion on the commandline and want/need to match filenames with a colon , it does need to be escaped. – HBruijn Aug 23 '17 at 7:39

As others have noted, this will list in long format, files containing :2, and ending in T

This looks like a search in a Maildir folder for files that were deleted (trashed). However, for robustness it should have had another * at the end, though. New flags with a later alphabetical position could be added, and Dovecot for instance adds another field with the file size at the end.

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