locate - macOS


locate is a powerful command-line utility in macOS designed to quickly search for files within the system’s indexed database. It uses an efficient and continually updated index to locate files, making it much faster than the traditional find command.


locate [-a] [-d] [-i] [-l] [-n NUM] [-R] [-S] pattern


  • -a: Match only files that are accessible to the current user.
  • -d: Print the date and time when the index was last updated.
  • -i: Ignore letter casing in the search.
  • -l: Limit the maximum number of matches.
  • -n NUM: Specify the maximum number of matches to print.
  • -R: Recursively search subdirectories.
  • -S: Print the size of each matching file.


Simple search:

locate myfile.txt

Case-insensitive search:

locate -i MyFile.TXT

Limit number of matches:

locate -n 10 ~/Documents/*.pdf

Recursively search subdirectories:

locate -R important_email.eml

Print file sizes:

locate -S large_file.mp4

Common Issues

  • No matches found: Ensure that the index is up-to-date by running sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.locate.plist.
  • Slow performance: If the index is large, searching may take some time.
  • Permission denied: locate requires read permissions to the indexed files, so ensure that the user has the necessary access rights.


locate can be combined with other commands to enhance its functionality:

  • Pipe output to xargs: locate -l 100 | xargs ls -l.
  • Use as a filter in grep: locate -i string | grep -v .DS_Store.
  • Create custom scripts: Automate search tasks by writing shell scripts that utilize locate.
  • find: A more versatile file search tool that allows for more advanced search criteria.
  • mlocate: An alternative file search tool that uses a database updated in near real time.