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Grep Command in UNIX vs. Find Command in UNIX: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on June 30, 2024
Grep searches inside files for text patterns, while Find locates files in directories based on attributes like name, size, or modification time.

Key Differences

The grep command in Unix is a powerful tool used for searching text within files. It allows users to find lines that match a specified pattern and is an indispensable utility for text processing and analysis. On the other hand, the find command in Unix is designed to search the file system hierarchy. It enables users to locate files and directories based on various criteria such as name, type, size, modification date, and more.
Grep is most commonly used in conjunction with other Unix commands through piping, where the output of one command serves as the input to grep. This chaining of commands allows for complex search operations, like filtering the results of a command for specific patterns. In contrast, find can execute actions on the files that match the search criteria, such as deleting, moving, or modifying them. This capability makes find not just a search tool but also a powerful command for batch file processing.
Grep excels in text searching and pattern recognition within files, find is unparalleled in its ability to traverse the directory tree, locating files that meet specific criteria. Both commands are essential in Unix and Linux environments, serving complementary roles in text and file system management.

Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Searches for patterns within files
Locates files in directories

Search Basis

Text content and patterns
File attributes (name, size, date, etc.)

Usage Scenario

Text processing and analysis
File management and system administration


Can use regular expressions for pattern matching
Can execute actions on found files


Lines of text matching the pattern
Paths to files matching the search criteria

Grep Command in UNIX and Find Command in UNIX Definitions

Grep Command in UNIX

Grep can invert match to exclude specific patterns.
Grep -v 'pass' excluded lines containing 'pass'.

Find Command in UNIX

Find can search for files by size.
Find . -size +1M listed files larger than 1MB.

Grep Command in UNIX

Grep searches for text patterns within files.
I used grep to find all occurrences of 'error' in the log files.

Find Command in UNIX

Find supports executing commands on found files.
Find . -type f -exec chmod 644 {} ; changed permissions of all files to 644.

Grep Command in UNIX

Grep supports regular expressions for advanced pattern matching.
Grep '^[0-9]' filtered lines starting with numbers.

Find Command in UNIX

Find can locate directories as well as files.
Find . -type d located all directories under the current directory.

Grep Command in UNIX

Grep can count occurrences of a pattern.
Grep -c 'todo' listed how many times 'todo' appeared in each file.

Find Command in UNIX

Find can search based on file modification time.
Find /home -mtime -1 found files modified in the last 24 hours in /home.

Grep Command in UNIX

Grep can recursively search directories.
Grep -r 'function' searched for 'function' in all files under the current directory.

Find Command in UNIX

Find locates files by attributes in directories.
Find . -name 'test.txt' searched for 'test.txt' starting from the current directory.


How can grep be used to search multiple files?

Grep can be used with wildcards or file lists to search multiple files.

What does grep stand for?

Grep stands for "Global Regular Expression Print."

How can find command exclude directories from its search?

Using the -prune option allows find to exclude certain directories.

Can find command search within files like grep?

No, find searches for files based on attributes, not content.

Can find modify files it locates?

Yes, using the -exec option, find can execute commands on the files it locates.

Does grep work on binary files?

Grep can search binary files, but it may not produce readable output.

How can grep's output be limited to filenames only?

Using the -l option with grep will list only the names of files with matching lines.

Is it possible to use regular expressions with find?

Find does not use regular expressions in the same way as grep; it uses patterns for file names.

Can grep search for more than one pattern at a time?

Yes, using the '| ' operator in a regular expression allows grep to search for multiple patterns.

Can find search based on file permissions?

Yes, find can search for files with specific permissions using the -perm option.

How does grep handle special characters in patterns?

Special characters must be escaped with a backslash or enclosed in square brackets.

Is it possible to combine grep and find for more powerful searches?

Yes, combining find with grep through piping can search for files and then search within those files.

Can grep count the number of matches found?

Yes, the -c option with grep counts the occurrences of the matched pattern.

Can find handle symbolic links?

Yes, find can follow symbolic links with the -L option.

Can find search for empty files or directories?

Yes, find can locate empty files with the -empty option.

How can grep highlight matching text?

Using grep --color will highlight matching patterns in the output.

How can find search for files by user ownership?

Using the -user option, find can locate files owned by a specific user.

What is the difference between grep -v and grep -l?

Grep -v inverts the match, while grep -l lists file names with matches.

What is the difference between grep -i and grep -r?

Grep -i performs a case-insensitive search, while grep -r recursively searches directories.

What is the use of grep -w?

Grep -w matches whole words, ensuring that the pattern is not part of a larger word.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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