|Original author(s)||Ken Thompson|
|Initial release||November 1974|
grep is a command-line utility for searching plain-text data sets for lines that match a regular expression. Its name comes from the ed command g/re/p (globally search a regular expression and print), which has the same effect: doing a global search with the regular expression and printing all matching lines. Grep was originally developed for the Unix operating system, but later available for all Unix-like systems.
First appearing in Version 4 Unix, grep was created by Ken Thompson as a standalone application adapted from the regular expression parser he had written for ed (which he also created). In ed, the command g/re/p would print all lines matching a previously defined pattern. Stating that it is "generally cited as the prototypical software tool", Doug McIlroy credited grep with "irrevocably ingraining" Thompson's tools philosophy in Unix.
grep searches files specified as arguments, or, if missing, the program's standard input. By default, it reports matching lines on standard output, but specific modes of operation may be chosen with command line options.
A simple example of a common usage of grep is the following, which searches the file fruitlist.txt for lines containing the text string apple:
$ grep "apple" fruitlist.txt
Matches occur when the specific sequence of characters is recognized, for example, lines containing pineapple or apples are printed regardless of word boundaries. However, the search pattern specified as an argument is case sensitive by default, so this example's output does not include lines containing Apple (with a capital A) unless they also contain apple. Case-insensitive matching occurs when the argument option -i (ignore case) is given.
Multiple file names may be specified in the argument list. For example, all files having the extension .txt in a given directory may be searched if the shell supports globbing by using an asterisk as part of the filename:
$ grep "apple" *.txt
Regular expressions can be used to match more complicated text patterns. The following prints all lines in the file that begin with the letter a, followed by any one character, followed by the letter sequence ple.
$ grep ^a.ple fruitlist.txt
The name of grep derives from a usage in the Unix text editor ed and related programs. Before grep existed as a separate command, the same effect might have been achieved in an editor:
$ ed fruitlist.txt g/^a.ple/p q
where the second line is the command given to ed to print the relevant lines, and the third line is the command to exit from the editor.
Like most Unix commands, grep accepts options in the form of command-line arguments to change its behavior. For example, the option flag l (lower case L) provides a list of the files which have matching lines, rather than listing the lines explicitly.
Selecting all lines containing the self-standing word apple, i.e. surrounded by white space, punctuation or hyphens, may be accomplished with the option flag w.
Exact line match is performed with the option flag x. Lines only containing exactly and solely apple are selected with a line-regexp instead of word-regexp:
$ cat fruitlist.txt apple apples pineapple apple- apple-fruit fruit-apple banana pear peach orange $ grep -x "apple" fruitlist.txt apple
The v option reverses the sense of the match and prints all lines that do not contain apple, as in this example.
$ grep -v "apple" fruitlist.txt banana pear peach orange
The i option in grep helps to match words that are case insensitive, as shown in below example.
$ cat fruitlist.txt apple Pineapple apple- apple-FRUIT fruit-apple banana pear PEACH orange $ grep -i "fruit" fruitlist.txt apple-FRUIT fruit-apple
A variety of grep implementations are available in many operating systems and software development environments. Early variants included
fgrep, introduced in Version 7 Unix. The "
egrep" variant applies an extended regular expression syntax that was added to Unix after Ken Thompson's original regular expression implementation by Alfred Aho. The "
fgrep" variant searches for any of a list of fixed strings using the Aho–Corasick string matching algorithm. Binaries of these variants persist in most modern systems, however their explicit usage has depreciated and the functionalities of these variants are included in
grep as the command-line switches
-F; the use of the switches is therefore the recommended method of use.
Other commands contain the word "grep" to indicate that they search (usually for regular expression matches). The pgrep utility, for instance, displays the processes whose names match a given regular expression.
In the Perl programming language, grep is the name of the built-in function that finds elements in a list that satisfy a certain property. This higher-order function is typically named filter in functional programming languages.
Usage as a verb
In December 2003, the Oxford English Dictionary Online added draft entries for "grep" as both a noun and a verb.
A common verb usage is the phrase "You can't grep dead trees"—meaning one can more easily search through digital media, using tools such as grep, than one could with a hard copy (i.e., one made from dead trees, paper). Compare with google.
- Boyer–Moore string search algorithm
- List of Unix utilities
- vgrep, or "visual grep"
- FGREP (DOS command), an external command in some versions of MS-DOS 2.xx
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QGREP.EXE[:] A similar tool to grep in UNIX, this tool can be used to search for a text string
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- Michael Hauben; et al. (April 1997). Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet (Perspectives). Wiley-IEEE Computer Society Press. ISBN 978-0-8186-7706-9.
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