file - macOS


The file command in macOS identifies file types. It examines a file’s contents and metadata to determine its format. It is widely used in scripts and during forensic analyses to ensure files match expected formats.


The basic syntax of the file command is:

file [options] [--] [file...]
  • [options] are the flags that modify the behavior of the command.
  • [file...] is one or more files or directories to analyze. If no file is specified, file reads from standard input.


  • -b, --brief: Do not precede output with file names. Useful for scripts or when only interested in file types.
  • -i, --mime: Output MIME type strings rather than the more traditional human-readable ones. It is suitable for software processing the output.
  • -L, --dereference: Follow symbolic links to determine the type of the linked file, not the link itself.
  • -f <listfile>, --files-from <listfile>: Read the list of file names from <listfile>.
  • -r, --raw: Output metadata without translating it to human-readable format. It provides more detailed information.
  • -v, --version: Display version information for the file command and then exit.


  1. Basic usage to identify file type:
    file image.jpg
  2. Output MIME types for multiple files:
    file -i example.pdf video.mp4
  3. Using file in a script with brief mode to check a file type:
    if file -b | grep -q shell; then
        echo "This is a shell script."
        echo "This is not a shell script."

Common Issues

  • Misidentification: Sometimes file may misidentify files with limited or ambiguous data. Always cross-verify critical results.
  • Large Files: Identifying very large files can be resource-intensive. Use tools like nice to adjust process priority or manage performance implications.
  • Binary Files: Output for binary files might seem cryptic without proper flags (-i or -r).


Combine file with other commands like find for powerful file management scripts:

find /path/to/dir -type f -exec file {} \; | grep 'ASCII text'

This command finds all files in /path/to/dir and identifies those that are ASCII text files.

  • stat: Provides detailed file statistics.
  • grep: Search for patterns within files; useful in conjunction with file output.
  • awk: Useful for processing file command output in scripts.

For further reading and more advanced options, consult the manual using the command man file on your macOS terminal.