Even when /tmp has no file called something, searching for it with find will return 0:

  $ find /tmp -name something 
  $ echo $?

How can I get a non-zero exit status when find does not find anything?

find /tmp -name something | grep .

The return status will be 0 when something is found, and non-zero otherwise.

EDIT: Changed from egrep '.*' to the much simpler grep ., since the result is the same.

  • 14
    The trailing * on the egrep regex is completely redundant. Since you are not using egrep regular expression syntax, plain old grep might be a few microseconds faster.
    – tripleee
    Oct 30 '15 at 13:03
  • 2
    i learned to use find ... | read
    – Sam
    Sep 6 '19 at 19:53
  • read returns the appropriate exit code, but note that it swallows the result if any
    – xeruf
    Jun 19 '20 at 21:01

Exit 0 is easy with find, exit >0 is harder because that usually only happens with an error. However we can make it happen:

if find -type f -exec false {} +
  echo 'nothing found'
  echo 'something found'
  • 6
    As far as I can tell, this doesn't work. The exit code of find doesn't seem to depend on the exit codes of any -execs it ran.
    – Chris
    Dec 14 '17 at 14:51
  • 2
    Works like a clock. A big advantage of this solution is that it doesn't use pipes of subshells - nice for some scripting needs.
    – Timur
    Sep 18 '19 at 9:38
  • 1
    @shrewmouse I dont think you understand what the snippet is doing. Notice carefully the if ... else is inverted to handle your concern May 26 '20 at 22:37
  • 1
    This should be suffixed with -quit to immediately exit after a file is found. Jan 2 at 23:36
  • 2
    To answer whether find depends on the exit code of -exec, the following blurb from the manual is useful: "If any invocation with the + form returns a non-zero value as exit status, then find returns a non-zero exit status."
    – tianon
    Jul 13 at 21:56

Simplest solution that doesn't print, but exits 0 when results found

find /tmp -name something | grep -q "."
  • 5
    Double-quotes serve no purpose here.
    – haridsv
    Apr 10 '19 at 15:16
  • 4
    While the double quotes serve no code function, they do make it clearer to a reader that the period character is a regex and not a directory. Oct 6 '19 at 16:30
  • 2
    And if you want the opposite (exit non-zero when the file is found), you can add a negation operator in front ! find /tmp -name badfile | grep -q .
    – wisbucky
    Feb 13 '20 at 21:23
  • And if you want the script to halt on badfile, use … || exit 1 or parens with -e, stackoverflow.com/q/39581150/450917 Nov 1 at 18:15

Having just found this question whilst trying to find my way to solve a problem with Puppet (change permissions on folders under a directory but not on the directory itself), this seems to work:

test -n "$(find /tmp -name something)"

My specific use case is this:

test -n "$(find /home -mindepth 1 -maxdepth 1 -perm -711)"

Which will exit code 1 if the find command finds no files with the required permissions.

  • A few solutions (didn't try them all) here didn't work on a Mac; this did.
    – Alex Hall
    Feb 8 '19 at 7:24
  • Just to note, this can also be written as [[ -n "$(...)" ]] if people find that more readable than using test.
    – dimo414
    Feb 22 '20 at 3:19
  • I like this solution because it avoids the pipe and bumping of the PID counter. [ "$(find ...)" ] && echo Found || echo Not found with single bracket and no -n also works and is portable (POSIX).
    – amdn
    Aug 27 at 17:38

It's not possible. Find returns 0 if it exits successfully, even if it didn't find a file (which is a correct result not indicating an error when the file indeed doesn't exist).

To quote the find manpage


find exits with status 0 if all files are processed successfully, greater than 0 if errors occur. This is deliberately a very broad description, but if the return value is non-zero, you should not rely on the correctness of the results of find.

Depending on what you want to achieve you could try to let find -print the filename and test against it's output:

MYVAR=`find . -name "something" -print`
if [ -z "$MYVAR" ]; then
    echo "Notfound"
   echo $MYVAR
  • 1
    It's certainly possible, although not as robust as one might want.
    – Ruslan
    Feb 19 '18 at 7:27
  • The manual page is poorly organized; what Ruslan said is documentated under the exec/execdir option (used with +): If any invocation returns a non-zero value as exit status, then find returns a non-zero exit status.
    – Tgr
    Apr 20 '19 at 2:12

I feel that this is the most concise and direct method:

test `find /tmp/ -name something -print -quit 2>/dev/null`
  • 2
    In this case, if find had an error it would print the result to /dev/null, return a non-zero exit, and then have that fixed to 0 by the test command. Feb 6 '13 at 19:24
  • I don't believe that's true. Please describe your example. If there is an error and find exits, then the string will be empty and test will return non-zero.
    – danorton
    Feb 7 '13 at 18:10
  • I'm not sure what your example might be, but I accidentally omitted -print -quit, which might address your concern.
    – danorton
    Feb 7 '13 at 18:19
  • 1
    Okay, you just don't like my style. For my use cases, any errors that find might report are either noise or so serious that they'll show up elsewhere. In any case, this method correctly answers the ultimate question: "Is there an accessible file in the path by the given name." An error will return a correct answer of "No". If I want to find out why not, I can add more complex code that answers questions not originally posed here.
    – danorton
    Feb 7 '13 at 22:31
  • 1
    One small problem is where the path beneath /tmp has a space in it; then test fails because it's a unary operator. This can easily be fixed, though, by surrounding the backtick expression with double quotes.
    – IpsRich
    Aug 7 '19 at 12:21

Here's a little script I called test.py. It improves upon other methods posted in that it will return an error code if one is set, and it additionally set one if find didn't list any files:

from subprocess import Popen
import sys

p = Popen(['find'] + sys.argv)
out, err = p.communicate()
if p.returncode:
if not out:

Here's the command-line output:

$ python test.py . -maxdepth 1 -name notthere
$ echo $?
$ find . -maxdepth 1 -name notthere
$ echo $?
$ find . -failedarg
find: unknown predicate `-failedarg'
$ echo $?

Then, for a result where find had errors but found files:

$ ls -lh
$ d---------  2 jeff users   6 Feb  6 11:49 noentry
$ find .
find: `./noentry': Permission denied
$ echo $?
$ find . | egrep '.*'
find: `./noentry': Permission denied
$ echo $?
python ../test.py 
$ echo $?

Then, if you want the list of files you can make use of -print 0 passed to find and split the out variable on nulls, or you can just add a print statement for it.


It is not only find that returns the exit status codes as zero when it successful. In unix what ever the command you execute, if its succeeds then it returns the exit status as zero.

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