What is the difference between 'locate' and 'find' in Linux?

find searches in the real system. Is slower but always up-to-date and has more options (size, modification time,...)

locate uses a previously built database (command updatedb). Is much faster, but uses an 'older' database and searches only names or parts of them.

In any case, man find and man locate will help you further.

Both the locate and find commands will find a file, but they work in quite different ways.

locate will work in an offline mode:

  • For a simple explanation, the file indexing database in Unix system called slocate will list the locations of all files which ship with the Unix system. When you execute locate, it'll use that database to search for a particular file. The problem with locate is if you just created a file which you now want to search for, locate will not work because the slocate database is not up-to-date. To overcome this problem, you can use updatedb to update the slocate database. Executing locate again will now find the newly created file. Thus, many Linux system administrators use a cron job to regularly update the slocate database.

find will work in an online/"in real time" mode.

  • It will actually go and search all the directories to find the particular file specified and it examine each file one-by-one. Therefore, it requires a lot of I/O calls.

So based on the nature, it is clear that locate is faster than find but find is real time.

Hope this will help to clear the idea. All the best. :)