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Michael Briseno
Michael Briseno

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What the grep?!

How to Master the grep Command in Linux

If you are a Linux user, you probably know how powerful and versatile the command line can be. You can perform various tasks with just a few keystrokes, such as searching for files, manipulating text, processing data, and more.

One of the most useful and popular commands in Linux is grep, which stands for global regular expression print. Grep allows you to search for a pattern of characters in a file or a stream of input and print the matching lines. You can also use grep to filter out unwanted lines, count occurrences of a pattern, highlight matches, and more! Super helpful!

In this article, I will show you some common uses of grep and explain how it works. I will also list 5 reasons why you should learn and use grep when using Linux.

What is grep? History of grep

Grep was originally developed by Ken Thompson in 1973 as part of the Unix operating system. The name comes from a command in the ed text editor that performed a similar function: g/re/p (global/regular expression/print).

A regular expression (or regex) is a sequence of characters that defines a search pattern. For example, if you want to find all lines that contain the word "hello", you can use the regex "hello". If you want to find all lines that start with "a" and end with "z", you can use the regex "^a.*z$".

Grep uses regular expressions to match patterns in files or input streams. It then prints the matching lines to standard output (or stdout), which is usually your terminal screen. You can also redirect stdout to another file or command using pipes (|) or redirection operators (>).

Here is a great video from Computerphile on grep!


How to use grep?

The basic syntax of grep is:

grep [options] pattern [file...]
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The options are optional flags that modify the behavior of grep. For example, -i makes grep ignore case differences, -v makes grep invert the match (print non-matching lines), -c makes grep count matching lines instead of printing them, etc.

The pattern is the regular expression that defines what you are looking for. You can enclose it in single or double quotes if it contains spaces or special characters.

The file argument(s) specify which file(s) to search. If no file is given, grep reads from standard input (or stdin), which is usually your keyboard input or another command's output.

Here are some examples of using grep:

  • To find all lines that contain "linux" in a file called "example.txt":
grep linux example.txt
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  • To find all lines that start with "#" (comments) in multiple files:
grep ^# *.txt
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  • To find all files in the current directory that contain "error" (case-insensitive):
grep -i error *
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  • To find all processes that are running as root:
ps aux | grep root
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Why should you learn and use grep?

Here are 5 reasons why learning and using grep can make your life easier when working with Linux:

  1. Grep is fast and efficient. It can scan large files or streams quickly and display only relevant information.
  2. Grep is flexible and powerful. It supports various options and regular expressions that allow you to fine-tune your search criteria and perform complex tasks.
  3. Grep is ubiquitous and portable. It comes pre-installed on every Linux distribution²⁴⁶and works on any text-based file or input.
  4. Grep is easy to learn and use. It has a simple syntax and intuitive logic that make it easy to master.
  5. Grep is fun and rewarding. It can help you discover new things, solve problems, automate tasks, and more.


Grep is one of the most useful commands in Linux that every user should know how to use effectively. It allows you to search for patterns in files or input streams using regular expressions and print matching lines.

I hope this article helped you understand what grep is and how to use it better.

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