I'm trying to do a text search in some files that share a similar directory structure, but are not in the same directory tree, in GNU/Linux.

I have a web server with many sites that share the same tree structure (Code Igniter MVC PHP framework), so I want to search in a specific directory down the tree for each site, example:


Where * is the site name. And from those application directories, I want to search all the tree down to its leaves, for an *.php file that has some text pattern inside, let's say "debug(", no regular expression needed.

I know how to use find and grep but I'm not good at combining them.

How would I do this?
Thanks in advance!



find /srv/www/*/htdocs/system/application/ -name "*.php" -exec grep "debug (" {} \; -print

This should recursively search the folders under application for files with .php extension and pass them to grep.

An optimization on this would be to execute:

find /srv/www/*/htdocs/system/application/ -name "*.php" -print0 | xargs -0 grep -H "debug ("

This uses xargs to pass all the .php files output by find as arguments to a single grep command; e.g., grep "debug (" file1 file2 file3. The -print0 option of find and -0 option of xargs ensure the spaces in file and directory names are correctly handled. The -H option passed to grep ensures that the filename is printed in all situations. (By default, grep prints the filename only when multiple arguments are passed in.)

From man xargs:


      Input items are terminated by a null character instead of by whitespace, and the quotes and backslash are not special (every character is taken literally).  Disables the end of file string, which is treated like any other argument.  Useful when input items might contain white space, quote marks, or backslashes.  The GNU find -print0 option produces input suitable for this mode.

  • 1
    +1. That will execute grep for each php file, though. If there are lots of files, you can optimize further by find /srv/www/*/htdocs/system/application/ -name "*.php" -print0 | xargs -0 grep "debug (" – Jukka Matilainen Sep 24 '09 at 13:45
  • @jackem Agreed. I'll update my answer accordingly. – user4358 Sep 24 '09 at 14:38
  • 2
    Another small improvement: xargs may just pass one filename to grep, in which case grep won't show the filename if there's a match. You may want to add -H to the grep command to force it to show the filename. – Randy Orrison Sep 24 '09 at 14:54
  • @Randy That's a very valid point. – user4358 Sep 24 '09 at 15:13
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    This is true necromancy, but GNU find can take the + operator instead of \; to perform the same sort of single process execution that xargs do. Thus, find /srv/www/*/htdocs/system/application/ -name "*.php" -exec grep -H "debug (" {} + does the same thing as the xargs example in this answer, but with one less process fork (and still 0 risk for file name troubles). – Daniel Andersson May 10 '12 at 13:22

find is not even needed for this example, one can use grep directly (at least GNU grep):

grep -RH --include='*.php' "debug (" /srv/www/*/htdocs/system/application/

and we are down to a single process fork.


  • -R, --dereference-recursive Read all files under each directory, recursively. Follow all symbolic links, unlike -r.
  • -H, --with-filename Print the file name for each match. This is the default when there is more than one file to search.
  • --include=GLOB Search only files whose base name matches GLOB (using wildcard matching as described under --exclude).
  • --exclude=GLOB Skip any command-line file with a name suffix that matches the pattern GLOB, using wildcard matching; a name suffix is either the whole name, or any suffix starting after a / and before a +non-/. When searching recursively, skip any subfile whose base name matches GLOB; the base name is the part after the last /. A pattern can use *, ?, and [...] as wildcards, and \ to quote a wildcard or backslash character literally.
  • Just for curiosity, what do the -RH options mean? – Gus Apr 20 '17 at 17:53
  • @Gus: Added man grep excerpt of option descriptions to the post. – Daniel Andersson May 1 '17 at 16:27

Your shell can find the php files and give them to grep. In bash:

shopt -s nullglob globstar
grep searchterm /srv/www/*/htdocs/system/application/**/*.php

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