How to loop through file names returned by find?


TL;DR: If you're just here for the most correct answer, you probably want my personal preference, find . -name '*.txt' -exec process {} \; (see the bottom of this post). If you have time, read through the rest to see several different ways and the problems with most of them.

The full answer:

The best way depends on what you want to do, but here are a few options. As long as no file or folder in the subtree has whitespace in its name, you can just loop over the files:

for i in $x; do # Not recommended, will break on whitespace
    process "$i"

Marginally better, cut out the temporary variable x:

for i in $(find -name \*.txt); do # Not recommended, will break on whitespace
    process "$i"

It is much better to glob when you can. White-space safe, for files in the current directory:

for i in *.txt; do # Whitespace-safe but not recursive.
    process "$i"

By enabling the globstar option, you can glob all matching files in this directory and all subdirectories:

# Make sure globstar is enabled
shopt -s globstar
for i in **/*.txt; do # Whitespace-safe and recursive
    process "$i"

In some cases, e.g. if the file names are already in a file, you may need to use read:

# IFS= makes sure it doesn't trim leading and trailing whitespace
# -r prevents interpretation of \ escapes.
while IFS= read -r line; do # Whitespace-safe EXCEPT newlines
    process "$line"
done < filename

read can be used safely in combination with find by setting the delimiter appropriately:

find . -name '*.txt' -print0 | 
    while IFS= read -r -d $'\0' line; do 
        process $line

For more complex searches, you will probably want to use find, either with its -exec option or with -print0 | xargs -0:

# execute `process` once for each file
find . -name \*.txt -exec process {} \;

# execute `process` once with all the files as arguments*:
find . -name \*.txt -exec process {} +

# using xargs*
find . -name \*.txt -print0 | xargs -0 process

# using xargs with arguments after each filename (implies one run per filename)
find . -name \*.txt -print0 | xargs -0 -I{} process {} argument

find can also cd into each file's directory before running a command by using -execdir instead of -exec, and can be made interactive (prompt before running the command for each file) using -ok instead of -exec (or -okdir instead of -execdir).

*: Technically, both find and xargs (by default) will run the command with as many arguments as they can fit on the command line, as many times as it takes to get through all the files. In practice, unless you have a very large number of files it won't matter, and if you exceed the length but need them all on the same command line, you're SOL find a different way.