Let's say that in my folder ~/list I have a large amount of folders each with their own sub-folders and sub-sub-folders etc, and there are lots of files almost on each level. However some of these files and folders are empty, so how can I recursively search through them all to find the empty files and folders? And then have them displayed in a list of file locations so that I know where each one is (it should also be clear which is a file and which is a folder because not all files have file extensions). I am running Ubuntu GNOME 15.10 with GNOME 3.18.

Please note that it would also be very useful if it would also tell me if a file looked empty but wasn't (for instance if it had spaces or linebreaks in it or something). And would differentiate between a real empty file and one that just looks empty in the output.

  • 1
    An empty file, is a file with no characters? (could be spaces, linebreaks and tabs)? Jan 11, 2016 at 19:08
  • @JacobVlijm: Well, previously I was thinking just files which are 0 bytes, but now that you mention it, someone might have been crazy enough to give me a file with spaces or linebreaks or something, so I would like to detect those too, but I would like for the output to differentiate between an actual empty file, and one that just looks empty.
    – user364819
    Jan 11, 2016 at 19:24

2 Answers 2


From man find

    -empty File is empty and is either a regular file or a directory.

So to find both empty files and directories it is sufficient to do

find ~/lists -empty

To indicate the type, you could use the %y output format specifier

          %y     File's type (like in ls -l), U=unknown type (shouldn't happen)


find ~/lists -empty -printf '%y %p\n'

or make use of an external program like ls, which includes a --classify option

    -F, --classify
          append indicator (one of */=>@|) to entries


find ~/lists -empty -exec ls -Fd {} \;

If your definition of 'empty' is expanded to include files containing only whitespace characters, then it becomes more complicated - and more computationally intensive, since now you need to actually open at least any non-empty files and examine their contents. The most efficient way I can think of off the top of my head would be something like

find ~/list \( -empty -o \( -type f -a ! -exec grep -qm1 '[^[:blank:]]' {} \; \) \) -exec ls -Fd {} \;

(either empty, OR a file AND grep does not detect at least one non-blank character). Likely there is a better way though.

  • Sorry, I missed something out, please look at the edited version of my question. It shouldn't be too much to add.
    – user364819
    Jan 11, 2016 at 19:27
  • Too bad it doesn't work with softlinks. It probably uses the size of the softlink instead of the size of the destination and a softlink itself is never empty since it must have a path to another file (it's at least 1 character). Apr 1, 2020 at 22:41

From ~/list folder:

find . -empty -type d

for listing empty directories and

find . -empty -type f

for listing empty files.

find . -type f -exec bash -c 'if [ `cat "{}" |wc -w` -eq 0 ]; then echo "file - {}";fi' \; -or -empty -exec bash -c "echo dir - {}" \; 

for listing empty folders and files including whitespaces and empty lines

  • And will this recursively list sub-folders and their contents as well?
    – user364819
    Jan 11, 2016 at 18:56
  • this will recursively show empty files and folders
    – EdiD
    Jan 11, 2016 at 18:57
  • Sorry, I missed something out, please look at the edited version of my question. It shouldn't be too much to add.
    – user364819
    Jan 11, 2016 at 19:27
  • [ `grep -c [[:alnum:]] "{}"` -eq 0 ] will let through files containing only characters not in the [A-Za-z0-9] set.
    – kos
    Jan 13, 2016 at 18:25
  • @kos - probably graph instead alnum will do the job
    – EdiD
    Jan 13, 2016 at 18:48

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