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File Name Databases

The file name databases used by locate contain lists of files that were in particular directory trees when the databases were last updated. The file name of the default database is determined when locate and updatedb are configured and installed. The frequency with which the databases are updated and the directories for which they contain entries depend on how often updatedb is run, and with which arguments.

Database Locations

There can be multiple file name databases. Users can select which databases locate searches using an environment variable or a command line option. The system administrator can choose the file name of the default database, the frequency with which the databases are updated, and the directories for which they contain entries. File name databases are updated by running the updatedb program, typically nightly.

In networked environments, it often makes sense to build a database at the root of each filesystem, containing the entries for that filesystem. updatedb is then run for each filesystem on the fileserver where that filesystem is on a local disk, to prevent thrashing the network. Here are the options to updatedb to select which directories each database contains entries for:

--localpaths='path...' Non-network directories to put in the database. Default is /.
--netpaths='path...' Network (NFS, AFS, RFS, etc.) directories to put in the database. Default is none.

--prunepaths='path...' Directories to not put in the database, which would otherwise be. Default is /tmp /usr/tmp /var/tmp /afs.

--output=dbfile The database file to build. Default is system-dependent, but typically /usr/local/var/locatedb.

--netuser=user The user to search network directories as, using su. Default is daemon.

Database Formats

The file name databases contain lists of files that were in particular directory trees when the databases were last updated. The file name database format changed starting with GNU locate version 4.0 to allow machines with different byte orderings to share the databases. The new GNU locate can read both the old and new database formats. However, old versions of locate and find produce incorrect results if given a new-format database.

New Database Format

updatedb runs a program called frcode to front-compress the list of file names, which reduces the database size by a factor of 4 to 5. Front-compression (also known as incremental encoding) works as follows.

The database entries are a sorted list (case-insensitively, for users' convenience). Since the list is sorted, each entry is likely to share a prefix (initial string) with the previous entry. Each database entry begins with an offset-differential count byte, which is the additional number of characters of prefix of the preceding entry to use beyond the number that the preceding entry is using of its predecessor. (The counts can be negative.) Following the count is a null-terminated ASCII remainder---the part of the name that follows the shared prefix.

If the offset-differential count is larger than can be stored in a byte (+/-127), the byte has the value 0x80 and the count follows in a 2-byte word, with the high byte first (network byte order).

Every database begins with a dummy entry for a file called LOCATE02, which locate checks for to ensure that the database file has the correct format; it ignores the entry in doing the search.

Databases can not be concatenated together, even if the first (dummy) entry is trimmed from all but the first database. This is because the offset-differential count in the first entry of the second and following databases will be wrong.

Sample Database

Sample input to frcode:


Length of the longest prefix of the preceding entry to share:

0 /usr/src
8 /cmd/aardvark.c
14 rmadillo.c
5 tmp/zoo

Output from frcode, with trailing nulls changed to newlines and count bytes made printable:

0 /usr/src
8 /cmd/aardvark.c
6 rmadillo.c
-9 tmp/zoo

(6 = 14 - 8, and -9 = 5 - 14)

Old Database Format

The old database format is used by Unix locate and find programs and earlier releases of the GNU ones. updatedb produces this format if given the --old-format option.

updatedb runs programs called bigram and code to produce old-format databases. The old format differs from the new one in the following ways. Instead of each entry starting with an offset-differential count byte and ending with a null, byte values from 0 through 28 indicate offset-differential counts from -14 through 14. The byte value indicating that a long offset-differential count follows is 0x1e (30), not 0x80. The long counts are stored in host byte order, which is not necessarily network byte order, and host integer word size, which is usually 4 bytes. They also represent a count 14 less than their value. The database lines have no termination byte; the start of the next line is indicated by its first byte having a value In addition, instead of starting with a dummy entry, the old database format starts with a 256 byte table containing the 128 most common bigrams in the file list. A bigram is a pair of adjacent bytes. Bytes in the database that have the high bit set are indexes (with the high bit cleared) into the bigram table. The bigram and offset-differential count coding makes these databases 20-25% smaller than the new format, but makes them not 8-bit clean. Any byte in a file name that is in the ranges used for the special codes is replaced in the database by a question mark, which not coincidentally is the shell wildcard to match a single character.



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