Easy Search and Replace in Multiple Files on Linux Command Line

I recently came across a typo that existed in a bunch of html files on my web server. I thought it should be easy enough to change, but since it was in a number of files, editing it by hand would be time consuming. Fortunately, there is an easy, one liner command to replace the text in multiple files in a sub directory using recursion.

grep -lr -e '<oldword>' * | xargs sed -i 's/<oldword>/<newword>/g'

This command broken down:

  • grep for the word in a files, use recursion (to find files in sub directories), and list only file matches
  • | xargs passes the results from the grep command to sed
  • sed -i uses a regular expression (regex) to evaluate the change: s (search) / search word / target word / g (global replace)

For more information, see man pages for grep, sed, and xarg. Also it is very handy to learn about regular expressions as they are a valuable tool to any command line programmer!

Update 2009/7/19:

Thanks to reader btr we have a great one-line perl command that will perform the same task:

Perl provides a really nice one-line for this kind of thing:

perl -p -i -e ’s///g’ *

It also provides the option of creating a backup of each file changed:

perl -p -i.bak -e ’s///g’ *

mnemonic: PIE (”easy as pie”, etc.)
google “perl pie” and you’ll get lots of info for other uses of this technique.

http://www.linux.org/lessons/short/perlpie/perl_pie.html

15 replies
  1. btr
    btr says:

    Perl provides a really nice one-line for this kind of thing:

    perl -p -i -e ‘s///g’ *

    It also provides the option of creating a backup of each file changed:

    perl -p -i.bak -e ‘s///g’ *

    mnemonic: PIE (“easy as pie”, etc.)
    google “perl pie” and you’ll get lots of info for other uses of this technique.

    http://www.linux.org/lessons/short/perlpie/perl_pie.html

  2. btr
    btr says:

    Perl provides a really nice one-line for this kind of thing:

    perl -p -i -e ‘s///g’ *

    It also provides the option of creating a backup of each file changed:

    perl -p -i.bak -e ‘s///g’ *

    mnemonic: PIE (“easy as pie”, etc.)
    google “perl pie” and you’ll get lots of info for other uses of this technique.

    http://www.linux.org/lessons/short/perlpie/perl_pie.html

  3. Christian Dannie Storgaard
    Christian Dannie Storgaard says:

    Thanks for the tip!
    One thing though, it doesn’t work with filenames containing spaces; here’s an updated version:

    grep -lZr -e ” * | xargs -0 sed -i ‘s///g’

    Also, it might be worth noting that the first search string (the first ”) can be written without any escaping, but that the next two strings (/) have to be escaped for use in a regular expression, that is, having . ( ) [ ] ? * and / being prefixed by a (e.g. “/home/user/” becomes “/home/user/”)

  4. Christian Dannie Storgaard
    Christian Dannie Storgaard says:

    Thanks for the tip!
    One thing though, it doesn’t work with filenames containing spaces; here’s an updated version:

    grep -lZr -e ” * | xargs -0 sed -i ‘s///g’

    Also, it might be worth noting that the first search string (the first ”) can be written without any escaping, but that the next two strings (/) have to be escaped for use in a regular expression, that is, having . ( ) [ ] ? * and / being prefixed by a \ (e.g. “/home/user/” becomes “\/home\/user\/”)

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Useful command line info for find & replace http://bit.ly/ddzeQo

  2. Dave Drager says:

    Post Update: Single line search/replace in multiple files, 100% more perl! http://su.pr/1S9lWS

  3. tom howard says:

    RT @ddrager New blog post: Easy Search and Replace in Multiple Files on Linux Command Line http://bit.ly/AR8vZ

  4. Dave Drager says:

    New blog post: Easy Search and Replace in Multiple Files on Linux Command Line http://bit.ly/AR8vZ

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