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Practice utilizing the Linux grep command

One of the basic Unix instructions, developed manner again in 1974 by Ken Thompson, is the Global Regular Expression Print (grep) command. It’s so ubiquitous in computing that it is continuously used as a verb (“grepping through a file”) and, relying on how geeky your viewers, it suits properly into real-world eventualities, too. (For instance, “I’ll have to grep my memory banks to recall that information.”) In brief, grep is a approach to search by way of a file for a particular sample of characters. If that seems like the fashionable Find perform out there in any phrase processor or textual content editor, you then’ve already skilled grep’s results on the computing business.

Far from simply being a quaint previous command that is been supplanted by trendy know-how, grep’s true energy lies in two facets:

  • Grep works within the terminal and operates on streams of knowledge, so you may incorporate it into complicated processes. You can’t solely discover a phrase in a textual content file; you may extract the phrase, ship it to a different command, and so forth.
  • Grep makes use of common expression to supply a versatile search functionality.

Learning the grep command is straightforward, though it does take some apply. This article introduces you to a few of its options I discover most helpful.

[Download our free grep cheat sheet]

Installing grep

If you are utilizing Linux, you have already got grep put in.

On macOS, you might have the BSD model of grep. This differs barely from the GNU model, so if you wish to comply with alongside precisely with this text, then set up GNU grep from a mission like Homebrew or MacPorts.

Basic grep

The fundamental grep syntax is at all times the identical. You present the grep command a sample and a file you need it to go looking. In return, it prints every line to your terminal with a match.

$ grep gnu
    together with this program.  If not, see <>.

By default, the grep command is case-sensitive, so “gnu” is totally different from “GNU” or “Gnu.” You could make it ignore capitalization with the --ignore-case choice.

$ grep --ignore-case gnu
                    GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE
  The GNU General Public License is a free, copyleft license for
the GNU General Public License is meant to ensure your freedom to
GNU General Public License for most of our software program; it applies additionally to
[...16 extra outcomes...]

You can even make the grep command return all strains with out a match through the use of the --invert-match choice:

$ grep --invert-match
--ignore-case gnu
                      Version three, 29 June 2007

 Copyright (C) 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc. <>
[...648 strains...]
Public License as a substitute of this License.  But first, please learn


It’s helpful to have the ability to discover textual content in a file, however the true energy of POSIX is its means to chain instructions collectively by way of “pipes.” I discover that my greatest use of grep is when it is mixed with different instruments, like minimize, tr, or curl.

For occasion, assume I’ve a file that lists some technical papers I need to obtain. I may open the file and manually click on on every hyperlink, after which click on by way of Firefox choices to save lots of every file to my exhausting drive, however that is lots of time and clicking. Instead, I may grep for the hyperlinks within the file, printing solely the matching string through the use of the --only-matching choice:

$ grep --only-matching http://.*pdf instance.html

The output is a listing of URLs, every on one line. This is a pure match for a way Bash processes information, so as a substitute of getting the URLs printed to my terminal, I can simply pipe them into curl:

$ grep --only-matching http://.*pdf
instance.html | curl --remote-name

This downloads every file, saving it in line with its distant filename onto my exhausting drive.

My search sample on this instance could seem cryptic. That’s as a result of it makes use of common expression, a type of “wildcard” language that is significantly helpful when looking broadly by way of a lot of textual content.

Regular expression

Nobody is below the phantasm that common expression (“regex” for brief) is straightforward. However, I discover it usually has a worse repute than it deserves. Admittedly, there’s the potential for folks to get a bit of too intelligent with regex till it is so unreadable and so broad that it folds in on itself, however you do not have to overdo your regex. Here’s a quick introduction to regex the way in which I take advantage of it.

First, create a file referred to as instance.txt and enter this textual content into it:


The most simple ingredient of regex is the standard . character. It represents a single character.

$ grep Can.da instance.txt

The sample Can.da efficiently returned Canada as a result of the . character represented any one character.

The . wildcard may be modified to signify multiple character with these notations:

  • ? matches the previous merchandise zero or one time
  • * matches the previous merchandise zero or extra instances
  • + matches the previous merchandise a number of instances
  • four matches the previous merchandise as much as 4 (or any quantity you enter within the braces) instances

Armed with this data, you may apply regex on instance.txt all afternoon, seeing what fascinating mixtures you give you. Some will not work; others will. The vital factor is to investigate the outcomes, so that you perceive why.

For occasion, this fails to return any nation:

$ grep A.a instance.txt

It fails as a result of the . character can solely ever match a single character until you stage it up. Using the * character, you may inform grep to match a single character zero or as many instances as vital till it reaches the top of the phrase. Because you already know the listing you are coping with, you already know that zero instances is ineffective on this occasion. There are positively no three-letter nation names on this listing. So as a substitute, you should use + to match a single character at the very least as soon as after which once more as many instances as vital till the top of the phrase:

$ grep A.+a instance.txt

You can use sq. brackets to supply a listing of letters:

$ grep [A,C].+a instance.txt

This works for numbers, too. The outcomes might shock you:

$ grep [1-9] instance.txt

Are you stunned to see 11 in a seek for digits 1 to 9?

What occurs if you happen to add 13 to your listing?

These numbers are returned as a result of they embody 1, which is among the many listing of digits to match.

As you may see, regex is one thing of a puzzle, however by way of experimentation and apply, you will get comfy with it and use it to enhance the way in which you grep by way of your information.

Download the cheatsheet

The grep command has way more choices than I demonstrated on this article. There are choices to higher format outcomes, listing information and line numbers containing matches, present context for outcomes by printing the strains surrounding a match, and rather more. If you are studying grep, otherwise you simply end up utilizing it usually and resorting to looking by way of its data pages, you may do your self a favor by downloading our cheat sheet for it. The cheat sheet makes use of brief choices (-v as a substitute of --invert-matching, for example) as a approach to get you aware of frequent grep shorthand. It additionally accommodates a regex part that will help you keep in mind the commonest regex codes. Download the grep cheat sheet today! 

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