From the man page of xargs:

The xargs utility reads space, tab, newline and end-of-file delimited strings from the standard input and executes utility with the strings as arguments.

Useful whdn used with tools that can’t read piped content by themselves, eg. ls.

Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$ echo /opt | ls
Applications		System			cfg			dev			lost+found		private			tmp
Benutzerinformationen	Users			collectionCache.bnk	docs			mach_kernel		sbin			usr
Library			Volumes			cores			etc			net			share			var
Network			bin			data			home			opt			tests			www
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$ echo /opt | xargs ls
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$


xargs is capable of invoking the provided utility not once with all the arguments provided, but also invoking the utility e.g. once per argument.

Example utility invoked once with all arguments

Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$ echo /opt /dev /Volumes | xargs echo
/opt /dev /Volumes
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$

Example utility invoked once per argument

Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$ echo /opt /dev /Volumes | xargs -n1 echo
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:/ robin$


I used it to created a lot of copies of the same file at once.

Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:cpfoo robin$ ls
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:cpfoo robin$ echo destination-{1..5} | xargs -n1 cp source
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:cpfoo robin$ ls
destination-1	destination-2	destination-3	destination-4	destination-5	source
Robins-MacBook-Pro-2:cpfoo robin$

This snippet also makes use of a feature called brace expansion, which I’ll probably also cover sometimes.