Almost 10 years ago, I asked this question

use SED recursively in linux?

and got this useful command find . -type f -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i 's/regex_search_term/replace_term/g'

I decided to learn more about the find, xargs and sed statement. On Ubuntu 18.04 in bash version 4.4.20(1)-release, I can simplify the statement to this:

find . -type f -print | xargs sed -i 's/regex_search_term/replace_term/g'

Which can then be simplified again to this:

find . -type f | xargs sed -i 's/regex_search_term/replace_term/g'

So my question is, are there any drawbacks to not using the -print0 flag with the -0 flag of find and xargs respectively? And are there any drawbacks to dropping the -print flag altogether? Are they explicitly used for compatibility with different unix like systems?

  • 4
    What happens with a file having spaces in its name? or newlines?
    – A.B
    Dec 7, 2019 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


The versions that don't use -print0 and xargs -0 will get confused by a number of rare-but-legal characters in filenames, including spaces, tabs, newlines, quotes, and backslashes. A zero byte (the ASCII NUL character) is the only thing that cannot occur in a file path, so using it as a delimiter avoids these potential problems.

But there's actually a simpler way. Modern versions of find have a -exec ... + primary that does essentially the same thing as xargs, directly in the find command:

find . -type f -exec sed -i 's/regex_search_term/replace_term/g' {} +

This doesn't have all of the options that xargs has, so if you need something other than the usual collect-names-and-run-it you should still use -print0 | xargs -0.

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