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Original author(s) Ken Thompson[1][2]
Initial release November 1974 (1974-11)[1]

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.[3][4] 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).[1] In ed, the command g/re/p would print all lines matching a previously defined pattern.[5][6] Stating that it is "generally cited as the prototypical software tool", Doug McIlroy credited grep with "irrevocably ingraining" Thompson's tools philosophy in Unix.[7]


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

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

$ grep -x "apple" fruitlist.txt

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

The i option in grep helps to match words that are case insensitive, as shown in below example.

$ cat fruitlist.txt

$ grep -i "fruit" fruitlist.txt


A variety of grep implementations are available in many operating systems and software development environments.[8] Early variants included egrep and fgrep, introduced in Version 7 Unix.[7] 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.[9] The "fgrep" variant searches for any of a list of fixed strings using the Aho–Corasick string matching algorithm.[10] 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 -E and -F; the use of the switches is therefore the recommended method of use.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] This higher-order function is typically named filter in functional programming languages.

The pcregrep command is an implementation of grep that uses Perl regular expression syntax.[14] Similar functionality can be invoked in the GNU version of grep with the -P flag.[15]

Ports of grep (within Cygwin and GnuWin32, for example) also run under Microsoft Windows. Some versions of Windows feature the similar qgrep or Findstr command.[16]

The software Adobe InDesign has functions GREP (since 2007 with CS3 version), in the search/change dialog box[17] "GREP" tab, and in paragraph styles[18] "GREP styles".

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).[19] Compare with google.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Kernighan, Brian (1984). The Unix Programming Environment. Prentice Hall. p. 102. ISBN 0-13-937681-X. 
  2. ^ “grep was a private command of mine for quite a while before i made it public.” -Ken Thompson, By Benjamin Rualthanzauva, Published on Feb 5, 2014, Medium
  3. ^ Hauben et al. 1997, Ch. 9
  4. ^ Raymond, Eric. "grep". Jargon File. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b McIlroy, M. D. (1987). A Research Unix reader: annotated excerpts from the Programmer's Manual, 1971–1986 (PDF) (Technical report). CSTR. Bell Labs. 139. 
  8. ^ Abou-Assaleh, Tony; Wei Ai (March 2004). Survey of Global Regular Expression Print (GREP) Tools (Technical report). Dalhousie University. 
  9. ^ Hume, Andrew (1988). "A Tale of Two Greps". Software—Practice & Experience. 18 (11): 1063. 
  10. ^ Meurant, Gerard (12 Sep 1990). Algorithms and Complexity. Elsevier Science. p. 278. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  11. ^ "grep". The Open Group. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  12. ^ "pgrep(1)". Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  13. ^ "grep". Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  14. ^ "pcregrep man page". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  15. ^ "grep(1)". Retrieved 12 December 2015. 
  16. ^ Spalding, George (2000). Windows 2000 administration. Network professional's library. Osborne/McGraw-Hill. p. 634. ISBN 978-0-07-882582-8. Retrieved 2010-12-10. QGREP.EXE[:] A similar tool to grep in UNIX, this tool can be used to search for a text string 
  17. ^ "InDesign Help: search/change". Retrieved 2016-08-12. 
  18. ^ "InDesign Help: GREP stylus". Retrieved 2016-08-12. 
  19. ^ Jargon File, article "Documentation"
  • Alain Magloire (August 2000). Grep: Searching for a Pattern. Iuniverse Inc. ISBN 0-595-10039-2. 
  • Hume, Andrew Grep wars: The strategic search initiative. In Peter Collinson, editor, Proceedings of the EUUG Spring 88 Conference, pages 237–245, Buntingford, UK, 1988. European UNIX User Group.
  • 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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