file - Linux


The file command in Linux is used to determine the type of a given file by examining its contents and, in some cases, its structure. It helps in identifying file types such as binary, text, executable, and more. This utility is especially useful in scripts and during forensic analysis when handling unknown files.


The basic syntax of the file command is:

file [OPTIONS] [FILE...]
  • [OPTIONS]: These are the command options that control its behavior, such as -b for brief output.
  • [FILE…]: This is the path to one or more files for which the file type will be determined.


  • -b, --brief: Display just the file type description without the filename.
  • -i, --mime: Output mime type strings instead of the usual human-readable descriptions.
  • -k, --keep-going: Continue checking subsequent files even if an error occurs.
  • -z, --uncompress: Attempt to look inside compressed files.
  • --help: Display a brief help message and exit.
  • --version: Output version information and exit.

Some common options include:

  • -f, --files-from FILE: Read the filenames to be examined from FILE.
  • -L, --dereference: Follow symbolic links to determine the file type of the link’s target.


  1. Basic Usage:
    Determine the type of a single file:

    file example.txt
  2. Multiple Files:
    Determine the type of multiple files:

    file image.jpg video.mp4
  3. Brief Output:
    Get only the type of the file without the filename:

    file -b image.jpg
  4. Check Compressed Files:
    Check the type inside a compressed file:

    file -z archive.tar.gz
  5. Using MIME Type Output:
    Output the MIME type of the file:

    file --mime script.php

Common Issues

  • Permission Issues: If file cannot access a file due to permission restrictions, it will fail to report its type. Ensure proper permissions are set or run with elevated privileges using sudo.
  • Incorrect Outputs on Binary Files: Sometimes, especially with proprietary formats, file might not accurately identify a binary file. Updating the file’s magic database (/usr/share/file/magic) might help if new formats have been added.


The file command can be integrated with other tools like find for powerful combinations:

find /path/to/search -type f -exec file {} \;

This command finds all files in a specified directory and uses file to display their types.

  • stat: Provides detailed information about the file system status of files.
  • strings: Useful for extracting printable character strings from binary files.

For further reading and advanced uses, refer to the official documentation available via man pages (man file) or online resources.