Navigating a filesystem quickly with fzf and fd

fzf is a command line tool that allows you to interactively filter its input using fuzzy searching. fd sends the paths of files in a directory tree to standard output. Together, you can use fzf and fd to quickly find files and change directories.


Install fzf and fd according to the instructions for your OS.

Set these environment variables

export FZF_ALT_C_COMMAND="fd -t d . $HOME"

Done. You can now press

Read on for the details.

Basic fzf use

On macOS with homebrew you can install fzf with

brew install fzf

Now is a good time to run it’s post-install script, which sets up some keyboard shortcuts we’ll be using later. If you installed with homebrew, you can do this by running /usr/local/opt/fzf/install. See the documentation for other operating systems.

Once it’s installed, run this command

cat /usr/share/dict/words | fzf

This pipes the contents of /usr/share/dict/words into into fzf. You can then use the fuzzy matching of fzf to filter the file (which is a list of lots of English words).

Type a few characters to see what happens. You can use the arrow keys (or Ctrl-N/P) to navigate the list if the particular item you’re looking for is hard to filter. Then hit return and the selection is sent to standard output.

fzf has lots of options that come in handy when using it in pipelines (e.g. -1, -m, -q) or that affect it’s appearance (e.g --height 40%, or even fzf-tmux). See man fzf for more.

Basic fd use

fd is a faster, more user-friendly alternative to the venerable unix find command. It doesn’t do everything find does, but it’s faster (both to type the command, and to run it) for most interactive use cases.

On macOS with homebrew you can install fd with

brew install fd

Then you can list all files whose names match a pattern below a path with

fd [pattern] [path]

Omit the pattern and path to list all files below your current location. Or do

fd . ~

to list all files in your home directory.

Note that these commands ignore hidden files and .gitignored files by default. “Hidden” files are those whose name start with a dot.

Using fd with fzf

fzf’s keyboard shortcuts make it a powerful command line file navigation tool.

Make sure you followed the fzf installation instructions to configure these shortcuts in your shell, e.g. if you installed with homebrew, run /usr/local/opt/fzf/install.

Then set these environment variables in your shell startup:

export FZF_ALT_C_COMMAND="fd -t d . $HOME"

FZF_DEFAULT_COMMAND is piped into fzf if you run fzf without any input. So, with this setup, fd . $HOME | fzf and fzf do the same thing.

They send a listing of all non-hidden, non-ignored files and directories in your home directory to fzf, and then send the file you select to standard output.

Just sending the file to standard output is not very useful on its own though. The keyboard shortcuts are where it gets useful.

CTRL-T to add paths to a command

If you hit CTRL-T the thing you select in fzf (which again is a line from the output of fd) is added to your command line at the cursor. So you can type

cp foo.txt <CTRL-T>

You can then use fzf to select the destination directory (as long as it’s somewhere in your home directory). Once you’ve selected it you can hit return to add it to the command line you’re working on, and then hit return again to execute the command.

ALT-C to change directory

If you hit ALT-C then you can use fzf to change to any directory in your home directory.

That’s because FZF_ALT_C_COMMAND="fd -t d . $HOME" generates a list of directories below home.

CTRL-R to search the history

CTRL-R pipes your history to fzf, allowing you to find and rerun complicated commands with fzf.

Searching outside home and excluding directories

Change $HOME in FZF_DEFAULT_COMMAND and FZF_ALT_C_COMMAND to start the search for files or directories from a root directory other than ~.

If you choose to start the search somewhere high up the directory tree (e.g. /), or if your home directory contains a lot of files, then you may find things slow down a little simply because there are more directories to search.

The solution is to add directories you’re not interested in to a .gitignore file in the root directory from which you’re starting fd. The .gitignore file doesn’t need to be used by git. So, for example, my ~/.gitignore consists of


The first line tells fd (and git, if I were to make my home directory a repo) to ignore ~/Library/ (which is where macOS and it’s GUI application put a bunch of configuration and cache stuff a command line user is not usually interested in).

The second line explicitly tells fd to include ~/.dotfiles, which is a directory in my home folder that it would otherwise ignore.

A note on ripgrep

fd shares some code with ripgrep. fd is designed to search for files by name, while ripgrep is an alternative to grep, ag, and ack, i.e. it’s designed to search the contents of files.

But ripgrep can be used to search for files by name rather than contents. So if for some reason you don’t want to use fd with fzf it is possible to do much of what fd does above with ripgrep.

One note: ripgrep doesn’t handle producing a list of directories well, so you’ll end up using a different tool for FZF_ALT_C_COMMAND, or with something like FZF_ALT_C_COMMAND="rg --sort-files --files --null 2> /dev/null | xargs -0 dirname | uniq".