grep (print lines matching a pattern)

This neat little program searches files for a regular expression pattern. It's called like this:


If you don't know how to use regular expressions (“regexes” for short), you may want to have a look at the mini tutorial in Appendix A [see the printed book]. The following command will search the file /var/log/messages for the string “usb”, followed by any number of characters (.*), followed by the string “id”:

grep `usb.*id' /var/log/messages

The command will output any lines that match the search pattern. I enclosed the pattern in inverted commas to make sure that the shell doesn't evaluate * as a file wildcard. It's a good habit to put inverted commas around regular expressions to ensure that they “get through” to grep without being interpreted by the shell.

Let me show you the most important grep options by way of example.

grep -i --color `\.jpe\?g' index

This will output any lines from index that contain the string jpg or jpeg. The -i option stands for “case-insensitive”, which means that lines containing JPG or JPEG will be included in the output. The option --color highlights the expressions matched, making it easy to identify them in long output lines.

You'll often want to use grep to search through multiple files that are distributed across a directory tree. This can be done like so:

grep -l -R PATTERN .

This will search the current directory (.) for files containing PATTERN, recursing into any subdirectories (-R). The -l option suppresses grep's normal output, giving you only a list of files where matches have been found. If you want to see the matched lines, leave out the option.