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10 Xargs Command Examples in Linux / UNIX

The xargs command is extremely useful when we combine it with other commands.

This tutorials explains the usage of xargs command using few simple examples.

These example will help you understand the basics of how xargs command works. But, once you understand these concepts, you can come-up with your own clever examples of xargs to solve various command line problems.

Syntax of xargs (from the man page):

xargs [-0prtx] [-E eof-str] [-e[eof-str]] [–eof[=eof-str]] [–null] [-d delimiter] [–delimiter delimiter] [-I replace-str] [-i[replace-str]] [–replace[=replace-str]] [-l[max-lines]] [-L max-lines] [–max-lines[=max-lines]] [-n max-args] [–max-args=max-args] [-s max-chars] [–max-chars=max-chars] [-P max-procs] [–max-procs=max-procs] [–interactive] [–verbose] [–exit] [–no-run-if-empty] [–arg-file=file] [–show-limits] [–version] [–help] [command [initial-arguments]]

1. Xargs Basic Example

The xargs command (by default) expects the input from stdin, and executes /bin/echo command over the input. The following is what happens when you execute xargs without any argument, or when you execute it without combining with any other commands.

When you type xargs without any argument, it will prompt you to enter the input through stdin:

$ xargs
Welcome to TGS.

After you type something, press ctrl+d, which will echo the string back to you on stdout as shown below.

$ xargs
Welcome to TGS.Hi, Welcome to TGS.

2. Specify Delimiter Using -d option

Delimiters can be applied so that each character in the input is taken literally using -d option in xargs.

In the previous example, even though the input contained a \n (newline) after ‘Hi,’ but the echoed output did not contain the newline ‘\n’ . So, the output in the previous example was combined into a single line.

In the following example, when you use the -d\n, it will preserve newline delimiter in the output, and display the output exactly as it was typed.

$ xargs -d\n
Welcome to TGS.

After you type the above, press ctrl+d, which will echo the string back to you on stdout as shown below. But, this time it will preserve the newline.

$ xargs -d\n
Welcome to TGS.Hi, 
Welcome to TGS.

3. Limit Output Per Line Using -n Option

By default as explained earlier, xargs displays whatever comes to its stdin as shown below.

$ echo a b c d e f| xargs
a b c d e f

But, the output of the xargs command can be split into multiple lines using -n option.

In the following example, we used -n 3, which will display only 3 items per line in the xargs output.

$ echo a b c d e f| xargs -n 3
a b c
d e f

In the same way, you can also split the output with 2 items per line as shown below using -n 2.

$ echo a b c d e f| xargs -n 2
a b
c d
e f

4. Prompt User Before Execution using -p option

Using option -p, you can confirm the execution of the xargs command from the user.

Considering the previous example, if we want to confirm each execution of the /bin/echo command by the user, use the -p option along with -n option as shown below.

$ echo a b c d e f| xargs -p -n 3
/bin/echo a b c ?...y
/bin/echo d e f ?...a b c
d e f

In the following output, I said “n” to all the echo output. So, xargs did not execute anything.

$ echo a b c d e f| xargs -p -n 3
/bin/echo a b c ?...n
/bin/echo d e f ?...n
/bin/echo ?...n

Note: This is helpful when you are combining xargs with commands that are disruptive like rm. In those cases, you may want to see what xargs does.

5. Avoid Default /bin/echo for Blank Input Using -r Option

When there is a blank input (i.e no input was given to xargs command), it will execute a /bin/echo command which will display a new line as shown below.

$ xargs -p

Press ctrl-d after typing “xargs -p”, which will indicate that it executed a /bin/echo as shown below.

$ xargs -p
                      /bin/echo ?...y


6. Print the Command Along with Output Using -t Option

In the following example, type “abcd” as the input for the xargs -t command.

$ xargs -t

Press ctrl-d to complete the above xargs -t command, which will display the command that xargs really executes before displaying the output. In this case, the command that xargs executes is “/bin/echo abcd”, which is displayed here.

$ xargs -t
/bin/echo abcd

7. Combine Xargs with Find Command

It is one of the most important usage of xargs command. When you need to find certain type of files and perform certain actions on them (most popular being the delete action).

The xargs command is very effective when we combine with other commands.

In the following example, we took the output of the find command, and passed it as input to the xargs command. But, instead of executing the default /bin/echo command, we are instructing xargs command to execute the rm -rm command on the input.

So, in this example, the output of the find command is all the files with *.c extension, which is given as input to the xargs command, which in-turn execute “rm -rf” command on all the *.c files.

$ ls
one.c  one.h  two.c  two.h

$ find . -name "*.c" | xargs rm -rf

$ ls
one.h  two.h

8. Delete Files that has White-space in the Filename

So we see that despite of running the rm command on the .c files in this directory, the file ‘The Geek Stuff.c’ was not deleted. This is because this file contains white space characters in its name.

As shown in the following example, it deleted all the files with the *.c extension except one. i.e the file that has white space in the filename (i.e “The Geek Stuff.c”) was not deleted by the rm command.

$ touch "The Geek Stuff.c"

$ ls
one.c  one.h  two.c  two.h The Geek Stuff.c

$ find . -name "*.c" | xargs rm -rf

$ ls
one.h  two.h  The Geek Stuff.c

In this situation, use the -print0 option with find command and -0 option with xargs command to delete files including those that has space in the filenames as shown below.

$ ls
one.c  one.h  two.c  two.h The Geek Stuff.c

$ find . -name "*.c" -print0 | xargs -0 rm -rf

$ ls
one.h  two.h

9. Display System Limits on xargs using –show-limits option

See the example below:
The following example displays all the limits set by the OS that will have an impact on the way how xargs command works.

$ xargs --show-limits
Your environment variables take up 1203 bytes
POSIX upper limit on argument length (this system): 2093901
POSIX smallest allowable upper limit on argument length (all systems): 4096
Maximum length of command we could actually use: 2092698
Size of command buffer we are actually using: 131072

Execution of xargs will continue now, and it will try to read its input and 
run commands; if this is not what you wanted to happen, please type the 
end-of-file keystroke.

Warning: /bin/echo will be run at least once.  If you do not want that to happen, 
then press the interrupt keystroke

10. Combine Xargs with Grep command

The xargs command can be combined with grep command to filter particular files from the search results of the find command.

In the following example, find command provided all the .c files as input to xargs.

The xargs command executes the grep command to find all the files (among the files provided by find command) that contained a string ‘stdlib.h’.

$ find . -name '*.c' | xargs grep 'stdlib.h'

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{ 19 comments… add one }

  • Jalal Hajigholamali December 27, 2013, 9:36 am

    Very useful article
    Thanks a lot..

  • Irudayaraj December 27, 2013, 1:29 pm

    $ find . -name ‘*.c’ | xargs grep ‘stdlib.h’

    in a simple form.
    $ grep -r ‘stdlib.h’ *.c

  • Vladimir Laskov December 28, 2013, 4:59 am

    Please add the killer function a flag ‘-i’

  • Mustapha Oldache December 28, 2013, 7:06 am

    We want more like this. Thanks.

  • Sayeed December 30, 2013, 4:00 am

    I think, grep should have option “l” to list the searched files.
    grep -lr ‘stdlib.h’ *.c


  • meow January 2, 2014, 9:44 am

    the “-I” and “-J” options are the ones need to be introduced in detail.

  • Sridhar Sarnobat January 6, 2014, 5:38 pm

    The print0 option for filenames with spaces is cumbersome and counter-intuitive in my opinion. Many years after using xargs I started using -dn and never had to think about spaces again. If only xargs could make this behavior default, perhaps through a shell variable, it would be even better.

    Good article BTW.

  • Andy January 20, 2014, 12:08 pm

    Thx a lot..very helpful..

  • Joey July 4, 2014, 7:25 pm

    Check this out. In example 2, when I changed the sample text to include the letter ‘n’, as in:

    and Welcome
    to TGS
    and Associates.

    The \n delimiter stripped out all the “n’s” in the text.

    The resulting output was:

    a d Welcome
    to TGS
    a d Associates.

    Putting \n in single or double quotes caused it to be ignored and the text outputs on a single line.

    In case it was gnome-terminal, I hit CTRL-ALT-F1 to get a console and again the same behavior repeated. Hmmm………

  • Steve Bennett August 26, 2014, 9:02 am

    It’s dangerous to use “rm -rf” all over the place when you don’t need it. You’re passing individual file names to rm, so you don’t need to add the recursive flag. Just use “rm -f” and breathe easier.

  • Ole Tange November 4, 2014, 6:35 am

    Using `find` with `xargs` without `-print0` can lead to disaster. See here.

  • Will April 29, 2015, 10:35 am

    how come -d doesn’t work? (I’m using Mac OS X’s terminal rather than Linux)

  • Nagaraj May 25, 2015, 3:39 am

    Very gud Site



  • Stephen July 2, 2015, 3:14 pm

    I had the same problem as Will. ctrl+d doesn’t seem to work with Mac OS X’s terminal.

  • Nitin October 2, 2015, 9:51 pm

    # echo a b c d e f| xargs -p -n 3
    echo a b c ?…y
    a b c
    echo d e f ?…y
    d e f

  • jimmy December 5, 2015, 11:30 pm

    find . -name ‘*.c’ | xargs grep ‘stdlib.h’

    another simple form:

    find . -name ‘*.c’ | xargs egrep stdlib.h

  • gaurav December 7, 2015, 12:26 am


    How do we implement the given scenario using xargs?
    I do a listing of all the namespaces using “ip netns show”
    Then i grep for all those namespaces that begin with dhcp
    and then i need to execute the command
    ip netns exec ip a.
    Can it be done using xargs? If yes, please tell on how to add the previous o/p at a special place in the command??
    If no, what would be the best alternative?

  • ganesh March 3, 2016, 10:38 am

    Nice commands at one place. Thanks

  • Jeff March 18, 2016, 9:08 pm

    On the Mac, use option-D instead of control-D.

    ‘rm -rf’ scared me. I use find’s -delete operator all the time. If you really want to use xargs, then ‘rm’ is all you need.

    Thanks for the hints about xargs!

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