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xargs command in Linux with examples

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  • Difficulty Level : Medium
  • Last Updated : 24 May, 2019
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xargs is a Unix command which can be used to build and execute commands from standard input.

Importance :
Some commands like grep can accept input as parameters, but some commands accepts arguments, this is place where xargs came into picture.

Syntax :

xargs [options] [command]

xargs options :
-0 : input items are terminated by null character instead of white spaces
-a file : read items from file instead of standard input
–delimiter = delim : input items are terminated by a special character
-E eof-str : set the end of file string to eof-str
-I replace-str : replace occurrences of replace-str in the initial arguments with names read from standard input
-L max-lines : use at-most max-lines non-blank input lines per command line.
-p : prompt the user about whether to run each command line and read a line from terminal.
-r : If the standard input does not contain any nonblanks, do not run the command
-x : exit if the size is exceeded.
–help : print the summary of options to xargs and exit
–version : print the version no. of xargs and exit

Example :

xargs example

Example :
Below is the C program, which reads a text file “test.txt” and then use output of this program as input to touch command.

contents of text file “test.txt”


// C program to read contents of file
#include <stdio.h>
// Driver Code
int main(){
    int c;
    FILE *file;
    // open file test.txt
    file = fopen("test.txt", "r");
    if (file) {
        // read file line-by-line until
        // end of file
        while ((c = getc(file)) != EOF)
    return 0;

Output :


Now, use output of ./a.out as input to touch command

xargs example with touch

Command usage with options :

xargs --version

Prints the version number of xargs command and then exit.

Output :

xargs (GNU findutils) 4.7.0-git
Copyright (C) 2016 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
License GPLv3+: GNU GPL version 3 or later .
This is free software: you are free to change and redistribute it.
There is NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by law.
xargs -a test.txt

It will show contents of file

xargs -p  -a test.txt

-p option prompts for confirmation before running each command line. It only runs the command line if the response starts with ‘y’ or ‘Y’

Output :

# xargs -p  -a test.txt
echo file1 file2 file3 file4 ?...y
file1 file2 file3 file4

# xargs -p  -a test.txt                                                                                                                 
echo file1 file2 file3 file4 ?...n
 xargs -r -a test.txt

Now, let’s suppose the file “test.txt” is empty, and above command is executed, -r option ensures if standard input is empty, then command is not executed, so above command will not produce any output,
But, if above command is executed without -r option, it will produce a blank line as output.
See below image as instance :

xargs with -r option

Mandeep Singh

References :
1) xargs wikipedia
2) need of xargs
3) xargs man page

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