limit to number of files seen by ls?

Matthew Seaman m.seaman at
Thu Jul 23 07:21:37 UTC 2009

John Almberg wrote:
> I seem to have run into an odd problem...
> A client has a directory with a big-ish number of jpgs... maybe 4000. 
> Problem is, I can only see 2329 of them with ls, and I'm running into 
> other problems, I think.
> Question: Is there some limit to the number of files that a directory 
> can contain? Or rather, is there some number where things like ls start 
> working incorrectly?

There's a limit to the number of arguments the shell will deal with
for one command.  So if you type:

    % ls -lh *

(meaning the shell expands '*' to a list of filenames), you'll run into
that limitation.  However, if you type

    % ls -lh

and let ls(1) read the directory contents itself, it should cope
with 4000 items easily.  [It might slow down because of sorting the
results, but for only 4000 items that's probably not significant]

Now, if your problem is that these 4000 jpegs are mixed up with other
files and you only want to list the jpeg files, then you could do
something like this:

    % find . -name '*.jpeg' -print0 | xargs -0 ls -lh

or even just:

    % find . -name '*.jpg' -ls



Dr Matthew J Seaman MA, D.Phil.                   7 Priory Courtyard
                                                  Flat 3
PGP:     Ramsgate
                                                  Kent, CT11 9PW

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