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The Locate Program in Linux: An In-Depth Guide

The locate command is a powerful tool in Linux that helps users find files by name quickly. It uses a database that contains a snapshot of the file system and can return results much faster than find, another search command that searches in real-time. The database used by locate is updated periodically (typically once a day) by another program called updatedb.


The basic syntax of the locate command is as follows:

locate [OPTION]... PATTERN...

Here, OPTION refers to the different options that can modify the behavior of locate, and PATTERN represents the name of the file or files you are looking for.

Options Table

Here is a table of common options used with the locate command:

--basename-bMatch only the base name against the specified patterns
--count-cDisplay the number of found entries instead of the entries themselves
--database-dSpecify an alternative database to use other than the default
--existing-ePrint only entries that refer to files existing at the time locate is run
--ignore-case-iIgnore case distinctions when matching patterns
--limit-lLimit the number of entries output to the specified number
--no-summary-SSuppress the normal summary of entries in the output
--regex-rInterpret the pattern as a regular expression
--help-hDisplay help and exit
--version-VDisplay version information and exit

Examples of Using the Locate Command

Here are some examples of how to use the locate command:

locate .bashrc

This will search for instances of .bashrc in the database, including both the global /etc/skel/.bashrc and any user-specific ~/.bashrc files.

Limiting Results

locate -l 10 .bashrc

This command limits the search results to the first 10 matches of .bashrc.

locate -i bashrc

This search ignores case distinctions, which in the case of .bashrc might not be necessary as filenames in Linux are typically case sensitive. But this option can be helpful when the exact case of the filename is unknown.

Using Regex

locate -r '/home/.*/\.bashrc$'

This regular expression matches any .bashrc file located in any user's home directory, denoted by /home/.

Searching with a Specific Database

locate -d /path/to/custom/database.db .bashrc

Searches for .bashrc using a specific database file rather than the default database.

Searching for Files with a Specific Extension

locate '.bash*'

This will search for all files that start with .bash, which may return files like .bash_logout, .bash_profile, as well as .bashrc.

Combining Locate with Other Commands

Search and then Filter with Grep

locate .bashrc | grep '/home/'

This finds all .bashrc files and then filters the results to only include those within /home/ directories.

Counting Files with a Certain Pattern

locate -i .bashrc | grep -i '/home/user/' | wc -l

This counts how many .bashrc files exist under the /home/user/ directory.

Updating the Locate Database

Since locate depends on a database that may not have the most current view of the filesystem, it's important to know how to update it. You need to do this if the most recent files do not show up in your results or you recently installed Linux and the cron job responsible for updating the database has not been run by the system yet. The updatedb command is typically run automatically once a day, but can be run manually:

sudo updatedb

This updates the database to include all current files and directories, ensuring that locate returns up-to-date results.


The locate command is an efficient and fast way to search for files by name on Linux systems. It is particularly useful for locating files on large filesystems where a command like find may take too long to perform the same operation. By understanding and using the various options available, as well as combining locate

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