I have a bunch of zipped up log files and I want to search them all for a string. I tried this but it's not working:

find ./ -name "*.log.zip" -exec gzip -dc {} | grep ERROR \;

It's giving me:

find: incomplete statement
grep: can't open ;

What I want is, for each .log.zip file, unzip it and grep the output for "ERROR". Doing this on AIX, for what it's worth.

  • btw, I've managed to get the result I wanted by putting the -exec commands in a separate script and then using -exec script {} \; But I'd still like to know why the above doesn't work and if it's possible to do what I want without creating an intermediate script. – mluisbrown Apr 8 '13 at 10:45

There is an error in your syntax. Find is looking for \; or \+, but reads |. Grep is trying to open a file called ";". The difference between terminating -exec with a semicolon or a plus is running the command once for all files (+) and running the command once for every file (;).

Try this:

find ./ -name "*.log.zip" -exec zcat {} \+ | grep ERROR
# or
find ./ -name "*.log.zip" -exec sh -c 'zcat {} | grep ERROR' \;
  • The semicolon must be escaped with \ because it means something to the shell (end statement). The plus does not have to be escaped with bash. – Ярослав Рахматуллин Apr 8 '13 at 11:12
  • The first option works if I use gzip -dc but not with zcat, which gives a foo.log.zip.Z: No such file or directory error. The second option I'd already tried, and doesn't work as the {} substitution doesn't work. If I use gzip it gives a {}.gz: No such file or directory for each file. For zcat: {}.Z: No such file or directory. – mluisbrown Apr 8 '13 at 14:11
  • Then use the first version with gzip -dc. It's not entirely misguided to assume that most command line questions here are about GNU tools, specify the platform you are on and the version of the tools if that in not your case. – Ярослав Рахматуллин Apr 8 '13 at 14:51
  • I specified that I was running on AIX in the original post. However, the question of gzip or zcat is not that relevant. I'm more curious as to why in your 2nd solution the {} substitution does not happen, especially as the \+ find syntax cannot be applied to all such similar situations. – mluisbrown Apr 8 '13 at 15:02
  • Sorry for being inattentive, clearly I didn't recognize the OS tag. My guess is that the find on AIX reads the option to the -c argument of sh as a literal string and does no substitution. You could try something like -exec sh -c 'zcat '{}'| grep ERROR', but it's probably more effective to read the notes about -exec option in the manual than trying to "fool" the command. You could also use xargs, which has the -I flag (GNU find, but maybe AIX too) that specifies what {} should be. Such as: find /dir | xargs -I% gzip -dc % | grep ERROR. – Ярослав Рахматуллин Apr 8 '13 at 16:20

If you don't need to know which zipped log files contain the string:

find ./ -name "*.log.zip" -type f -exec gzip -dc {} + | grep ERROR

If you do want to know which files contain the string:

find ./ -name "*.log.zip" -type f -exec sh -c 'gzip -dc -- "$1" | grep -q ERROR' findsh {} \; -print

The first command finds the files and passes those filenames to the -exec option. I added the -type f restriction to the command to be sure that we're only matching files -- imagine someone running "mkdir foo.log.zip". gzip will decompress each one to stdout; we drop any find or gzip errors with the 2>/dev/null; the stdout of that entire command is then piped through grep. The + syntax at the end of -exec will pass as many filenames as will fit, which minimizes the number of calls to gzip. Because gzip is sending all the file contents to stdout, grep now just has an incoming stream of bytes -- without filenames -- and will print any matching lines.

On the other hand, if you need to know the matching filenames, you have to capture that sooner in the pipeline.

On a GNU/Linux system (which has zgrep), you could do it directly:

find . -name "*.log.zip" -type f -exec zgrep -l ERROR {} +

This will pass (as many as will fit) filenames to zgrep which we then ask to print matching filenames (`-l option).

On an AIX system, you can recreate that functionality with a small shell script. The syntax can be a little intimidating, but let's break it down from the outside-in:

find ... -exec sh -c ' ... ' findsh {} \; -print

The above statement gathers one matching file at a time (\;) and sends it as an argument to the given sh script; if the script returns success, the filename is printed, otherwise it is not. The findsh portion is arbitrary text; it becomes the $0 argument to sh, giving the inline shell script a name.


The {} syntax needs to be outside of the shell script; otherwise, it could lead to arbitrary command execution. On AIX, the braces are not substituted inside the -exec parameter, so you would see "gzip: {}.gz: No such file or directory" errors if you tried it. On GNU/Linux, find does substitute the filename inside the shell script, which means if someone created a file named $(touch foo).log.zip, you would end up with a file named "foo" because the shell script initiates another layer of parsing on the filenames. See more at this UNIX & Linux question: Is it possible to use find -exec sh -c safely?

Once the filenames have been passed in one-by-one, the shell script is:

gzip -dc -- "$1" | grep -q ERROR

The filename is in $1, so we call gzip -dc on it. Out of habit, I try to mark the end of options before an arbitrary filename, just in case that filename begins with a hyphen -- or any other character -- that could be misinterpreted by the command as an option. Since our find command specifically starts the search with ./, all the matching filenames will begin with that string, so they'll never look like options to gzip, but it's better to have safe habits. Once gzip has piped the contents, grep searches quietly for the string. If grep finds the string, the shell will exit successfully, allowing the subsequent printing; otherwise, it will cause the -exec to return a false/failure exit code, so the filename would not print.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.