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“grep” is a unix command line tool to search a file (or files) for lines containing a match to the given pattern (often a regular expression). Its name comes from the ed command g/re/p for globally search a regular expression and print (1). See the grep manual.

The basic syntax is:

grep [option(s)] pattern [file(s)]

Options can be omitted and ‘file’ will default to standard input if omitted.


First, let’s start with the pattern, the only non-optional part of the command.

The pattern can simply be a plain old string. For example:

grep the

searches standard input for lines containing the.

Frequently, you grep for patterns using regex (regular expressions). Some examples:

  • grep ‘^the’ //only find lines starting with the
  • grep ‘the$’ //only find lines ending with the


More commonly, grep is used with files. Given this file called example.txt:

the quick brown
brown fox jumped
jumped over these lazy
lazy dog

running this command:

grep the example.txt

would return:

the quick brown
jumped over these lazy

Multiple files

I personally use grep most for searching multiple files.

To search all files in the current directory:

grep “txtToSearchFor” *

To search for all files in the current directory and all sub directories:

grep -r “txtToSearchFor” .

The –include=and –exclude options limit the files searched. For example, the following command will list all java files (in the current and all sub directories) that contain MyClassName:

grep -rl –include=*.java “MyClassName” .

And this command does something similar, but ignores .class and .jar files:

grep -rl –exclude=*.{jar,class} “MyClassName” .

Finally, this example uses regex, and would for example return all java and txt files that contain both MyClassName and MyFileName:

grep -rl –include=*.{java,txt} “My.*Name” .

For more examples of finding all files containing a text string, see this stackoverflow posting.

Multiple strings in multiple files

You can also search for files that contain several strings in a file. For example

grep -rl –include=* Str1 . | xargs grep -l Str2

This will find all java files that contain both Str1 and Str2.

See more at


Some useful options:

  • -n    show line number
  • -w    match the whole word only
  • -i    ignore case
  • -r    recursively search a directory
  • -l    show the file name, not the individual matching line

So again using the above example file, running this command:

grep -inw THE example.txt

(i.e. ignore case, show lines numbers and match whole words only) would return:

1: the quick brown


There are a couple of alternatives to grep, that I know of: ack and ag (aka the silver searcher). Both seem to be significantly faster than grep, and more focussed on searching source code.

For me personally, I will try to get more familiar with the basics of grep first. Grep has the advantage of being available on almost every installation, and widely documented and understood. I have also found that by using the –include flag and avoiding the -i (ignore case) flag, performance increases drastically.


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