Home » The ls command is not working for a directory with a huge number of files

The ls command is not working for a directory with a huge number of files


Avoid sorting by using:

ls --sort=none # "do not sort; list entries in directory order"

Or, equivalently:

ls -U

ls actually sorts the files and tries to list them which becomes a huge overhead if we are trying to list more than a million files inside a directory. As mentioned in this link, we can use strace or find to list the files. However, those options also seemed unfeasible to my problem since I had 5 million files. After some bit of googling, I found that if we list the directories using getdents(), it is supposed to be faster, because ls, find and Python libraries use readdir() which is slower but uses getdents() underneath.

We can find the C code to list the files using getdents() from here:

 * List directories using getdents() because ls, find and Python libraries
 * use readdir() which is slower (but uses getdents() underneath.
 * Compile with 
 * ]$ gcc  getdents.c -o getdents
#define _GNU_SOURCE
#include <dirent.h>     /* Defines DT_* constants */
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <stdlib.h>
#include <sys/stat.h>
#include <sys/syscall.h>

#define handle_error(msg) 
       do { perror(msg); exit(EXIT_FAILURE); } while (0)

struct linux_dirent {
   long           d_ino;
   off_t          d_off;
   unsigned short d_reclen;
   char           d_name[];

#define BUF_SIZE 1024*1024*5

main(int argc, char *argv[])
   int fd, nread;
   char buf[BUF_SIZE];
   struct linux_dirent *d;
   int bpos;
   char d_type;

   fd = open(argc > 1 ? argv[1] : ".", O_RDONLY | O_DIRECTORY);
   if (fd == -1)

   for ( ; ; ) {
       nread = syscall(SYS_getdents, fd, buf, BUF_SIZE);
       if (nread == -1)

       if (nread == 0)

       for (bpos = 0; bpos < nread;) {
           d = (struct linux_dirent *) (buf + bpos);
           d_type = *(buf + bpos + d->d_reclen - 1);
           if( d->d_ino != 0 && d_type == DT_REG ) {
              printf("%sn", (char *)d->d_name );
           bpos += d->d_reclen;


Copy the C program above into directory in which the files need to be listed. Then execute the below commands.

gcc  getdents.c -o getdents

Timings example: getdents can be much faster than ls -f, depending on the system configuration. Here are some timings demonstrating a 40x speed increase for listing a directory containing about 500k files over an NFS mount in a compute cluster. Each command was run 10 times in immediate succession, first getdents, then ls -f. The first run is significantly slower than all others, probably due to NFS caching page faults. (Aside: over this mount, the d_type field is unreliable, in the sense that many files appear as “unknown” type.)

command: getdents $bigdir
usr:0.08 sys:0.96  wall:280.79 CPU:0%
usr:0.06 sys:0.18  wall:0.25   CPU:97%
usr:0.05 sys:0.16  wall:0.21   CPU:99%
usr:0.04 sys:0.18  wall:0.23   CPU:98%
usr:0.05 sys:0.20  wall:0.26   CPU:99%
usr:0.04 sys:0.18  wall:0.22   CPU:99%
usr:0.04 sys:0.17  wall:0.22   CPU:99%
usr:0.04 sys:0.20  wall:0.25   CPU:99%
usr:0.06 sys:0.18  wall:0.25   CPU:98%
usr:0.06 sys:0.18  wall:0.25   CPU:98%
command: /bin/ls -f $bigdir
usr:0.53 sys:8.39  wall:8.97   CPU:99%
usr:0.53 sys:7.65  wall:8.20   CPU:99%
usr:0.44 sys:7.91  wall:8.36   CPU:99%
usr:0.50 sys:8.00  wall:8.51   CPU:100%
usr:0.41 sys:7.73  wall:8.15   CPU:99%
usr:0.47 sys:8.84  wall:9.32   CPU:99%
usr:0.57 sys:9.78  wall:10.36  CPU:99%
usr:0.53 sys:10.75 wall:11.29  CPU:99%
usr:0.46 sys:8.76  wall:9.25   CPU:99%
usr:0.50 sys:8.58  wall:9.13   CPU:99%

The most likely reason why it is slow is file type colouring, you can avoid this with ls or /bin/ls turning off the colour options.

If you really have so many files in a dir, using find instead is also a good option.

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