On a UNIX system, "locate" searches the database for files with chosen name or files within the folder with the chosen name. How can I use locate to output only folders, not files?


10 Answers 10


Actually, locate has what it takes if you use the --regexp option and you don't mind it spitting out files that have the same name as the directories you seek. The "end of line" position marker gets the job done:

locate -r '/dirname$'

locate also supports --ignore-case if that's what you want.

  • To search for all directories, locate -r '/[^\.]*$'. – Mateen Ulhaq Feb 17 '18 at 23:26
  • Mateen's approach doesn't filter for directories. It returns everything in the database. The OP was looking for a specific directory and seems to know the name of the directory he wants. – Frank M Apr 3 '18 at 21:33
  • Doesn't work if dirname is in the middle of the dir name. – CodyChan Feb 9 at 18:56
  • @CodyChan: I was assuming "dirname" is the entire directory name. Can you show an example where this doesn't work? – Frank M Feb 10 at 22:38
  • string is part of the directory name such as I need to search directory whose name contains def such as directory "abc_def_ghi" since most of the time I need to locate a directory containing a string, just like locating a file containing a word but it is a directory. – CodyChan Feb 12 at 17:54

Why not use the find command ?

find . -name YOUR_SEARCH_NAME -type d
  • 7
    locate is faster and I don't need it to be up to date all the time for my purpose. – shrx Apr 3 '12 at 20:30

locate itself can't do it for you. So the UNIX way to do it is to filter the output of locate:

locate --null something | xargs -r0 sh -c 'for i do [ -d "$i" ] && printf "%s\n" "$i"; done' sh {} +
  • 5
    That command just rebooted my machine (I had a /tmp/something$(reboot) file). – sch Apr 1 '15 at 13:09
  • 2
    @sch Wow, that sucks – Der Hochstapler Apr 2 '15 at 8:39
  • The proper way is with something like locate --null something | xargs -r0 sh -c 'for i do [ -d "$i" ] && printf "%s\n" "$i"; done' sh {} +. {} should never be embedded in the shell code, that's as bad as using eval with arbitrary data (hence the downvote). – sch Apr 2 '15 at 9:05
  • Note that [ -d also returns true for symlinks to directories. Not necessarily bad, just worth noting as it's different for instance from find -type d. – sch Apr 2 '15 at 9:12
  • 1
    @sch: Well, if you don't understand the consequences and if you're in the habit of having files named $(reboot) on your computer, maybe you shouldn't run commands you find on the internet with sudo ;D But, thanks for providing a better version, feel free to edit or post it as an answer, so it doesn't get lost in comments. – Der Hochstapler Apr 2 '15 at 9:56

find as suggested in Scott Wilson's answer is what I would have used. However, if you really need to use the locate DB, a hackish solution could be

sudo strings /var/lib/mlocate/mlocate.db | grep -E '^/.*dirname'
  • sudo since the database is not directly readable by regular users.
  • strings to strip metadata (this makes you also find directories to which you don't have read permission, which locate usually hinders).
  • /var/lib/mlocate/mlocate.db is the DB path on Ubuntu, apparently (as an example. Other distributions might have it in other places, e.g. /var/lib/slocate/slocate.db).
  • grep -E to enable regular expressions.
  • ^/.*dirname will match all lines that start with a /, which all directories in the DB happen to do, followed by any character a number of times, followed by your search word.

Positive sides of this solution:

  • it is faster than find,
  • you can use all the bells and whistles of grep (or other favourite text processing tools).

Negative sides:

  • the same as locate in general (DB must be updated),
  • you need root access.
  • Yeah root access for a task like this should really be avoided. – shrx Apr 3 '12 at 20:32
  • Does this list matching files as well as matching directories? – joeytwiddle Dec 22 '20 at 6:07

Putting Oliver Salzburg's neat line into your .bashrc:

# locate directories:
# -------------------
locd () {
    locate -0 -b -A "$@" | xargs -0 -I {} bash -c '[ -d "{}" ] && echo "{}"'

then you can type locd something everytime you want to locate just directories.

Some breakdown:

  • -0 provides better support for filenames containing spaces or newlines.

  • -b or --basename matches only the last part of the path.

  • -A matches all inputs, so if you provide multiple arguments, all must be present.

  • For me, to handle spaces in directories better, I use the following: locate -i --all $1 | xargs -I {} bash -c 'if [ -d "'"{}"'" ]; then echo "'"{}"'"; fi' – user128063 Nov 9 '18 at 20:30
  • Use locate -0 and xargs -0 flags if you get the xargs unterminated quote error. – usr122212 Dec 25 '19 at 1:53

I went with this solution:

locate -i "$foldername" | while read line
            if [[ -d "$line" && `echo ${line##*/} | tr [:upper:] [:lower:]` = *`echo $foldername | tr [:upper:] [:lower:]`* ]]; then
                echo "$line"
  • Can you explain what the echo ${line##*/} is doing? – user128063 Nov 9 '18 at 20:24

Place these as last lines or where ever it fits best for you.
gedit ~/.bashrc

#system only
slocate() { locate $@ | egrep -v ˆ/home ; }

#system directories only
dslocate() { for directory in `locate $@ | egrep -v ˆ/home`; do if [ -d "$directory" ]; then echo $directory; fi; done ; }

#whole system directories only
dlocate() { for directory in `locate $@`; do if [ -d "$directory" ]; then echo $directory; fi; done ; }

#local user's only
llocate() { locate $@ | egrep ˆ/home ; }

#local user's directories only
ldlocate() { for directory in `locate $@ | egrep ˆ/home`; do if [ -d "$directory" ]; then echo $directory; fi; done ; }

hope this helps, cheers


I know this thread is a little old but mlocate's limitations always bothered me too. I finally created my own version of slocate/mlocate called blocate that uses sqlite for indexing and lets you index anything you want using a find command. Performs really well and manages parallel indexing+searching with sqlite in just about 30 lines of bash. GPL - feedback welcome.


Hope this helps someone. I built a personal archive website for my backups indexing with mlocate but I got tired of searches taking forever and I didn't want to build a full database solution around it. My searches have gone from ~10s or so down to about 300ms.


This answer is the inverse of this other. Use

file $(locate -r 'xfce4-keyboard-overlay$') | grep directory$ | awk -F: '{ $(NF--)=""; print }'


  1. locate ... finds all files and directories
  2. file $(...) appends a message at the end of each line with the type of file
  3. grep ... filters lines containing directory$
  4. awk ... removes what file ... appended

A small variation on others

for f in $(locate /dirname | grep /dirname$ ) ; do if [ -f $f ] ; then ls -1 $f ; fi ; done

If you want to match a pattern instead of providing the full name, there are also variations with grep.

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