I want to find all files which contain a specific string of text. The grep command works, but I don't know how to use it for every directory (I can only do it for my current directory). I tried reading man grep, but it didn't yield any help.

  • grep -RIn <yor pattern> * Will search from current directories down in all text files. Not sure how to do my search recursively in file patterns like *.C with only grep
    – user311346
    Aug 1, 2014 at 17:13
  • 1
    Wildcard with --include="*.C" option, @user311346, thanks to @Lekensteyn.
    – Bob Stein
    Feb 6, 2015 at 20:36
  • Use the find and grep combination to recursively search files for a string in current and all sub directories. Check this wilddiary.com/find-files-containing-my-text
    – Drona
    Oct 8, 2015 at 14:25

12 Answers 12


It would be better to use

grep -rl "string" /path


  • -r (or --recursive) option is used to traverse also all sub-directories of /path, whereas
  • -l (or --files-with-matches) option is used to only print filenames of matching files, and not the matching lines (this could also improve the speed, given that grep stop reading a file at first match with this option).
  • 14
    Actually if "string" is a text pattern to find, it's better to use that functionality, otherwise someone can face problems when the string contains dot or special character which has meaning in regular expressions and not just a dot which should be found as a string, as-is. Then I would use -rlF switches, -F for "fixed string" (and not regexp - for example). Of course, if the task was using regexps, then excuse me. Sure, the same theory without -r too, I often see that people assumes grep searches "text" and it can cause problems which special ones which mean something as a regexp.
    – LGB
    Aug 1, 2011 at 12:19
  • 5
    There is also the -i flag which ignores case. Aug 1, 2011 at 13:15
  • 3
    I would only to show the --recursive option, there are ton of options and usage scenarios one can talk about. I started from the @dmityugov accepted answer and modified to work without find.
    – enzotib
    Aug 1, 2011 at 13:42
  • 1
    @N.N.: done :-)
    – enzotib
    Aug 8, 2011 at 16:04
  • 3
    @ScottBiggs: with the option --include '*.h'
    – enzotib
    Jun 18, 2016 at 21:23

If you're looking for lines matching in files, my favorite command is:

grep -Hrn 'search term' path/to/files
  • -H causes the filename to be printed (implied when multiple files are searched)
  • -r does a recursive search
  • -n causes the line number to be printed

path/to/files can be . to search in the current directory

Further options that I find very useful:

  • -I ignore binary files (complement: -a treat all files as text)
  • -F treat search term as a literal, not a regular expression
  • -i do a case-insensitive search
  • --color=always to force colors even when piping through less. To make less support colors, you need to use the -r option:

    grep -Hrn search . | less -r
  • --exclude-dir=dir useful for excluding directories like .svn and .git.

Example output

  • 13
    -H on a folder is redundant, if there is more then one file, as is probable. In fact, the man page says -H, --with-filename: Print the file name for each match. This is the default when there is more than one file to search.
    – enzotib
    Aug 1, 2011 at 12:31
  • 1
    I did not know that, it always worked like I expected. It's my default command when looking for files.
    – Lekensteyn
    Aug 1, 2011 at 12:34
  • 1
    Is there a way to only consider files with a, say, .a extention (and to combine this with -r)?
    – user2413
    Nov 4, 2012 at 22:54
  • 6
    @user2413 Try --include '*.*'
    – Lekensteyn
    Nov 5, 2012 at 15:24
  • 1
    @alper Try grep --exclude='*~' ...
    – Lekensteyn
    Sep 21, 2019 at 8:27

I believe you can use something like this:

find /path -type f -exec grep -l "string" {} \;

Explanation from comments

find is a command that lets you find files and other objects like directories and links in subdirectories of a given path. If you don't specify a mask that filesnames should meet, it enumerates all directory objects.

  • -type f specifies that it should process only files, not directories etc.
  • -exec grep specifies that for every found file, it should run the grep command, passing its filename as an argument to it, by replacing {} with the filename
  • 3
    Just for those who don't know, adding -name '*.py' restricts the matches to files ending in '.py'.
    – Daniel F
    Mar 23, 2014 at 1:10
  • I like that this covers clients that don't have -R implemented in their grep command.
    – Aviose
    Aug 11, 2014 at 20:29
  • If you want the matching line AND filename printed, make exec like: ... -exec bash -c 'grep -r "mystring" {} && echo {}' \;
    – Donn Lee
    May 6, 2019 at 23:24
  • what's the relative perf to just using grep directly?
    – jonathan
    Jul 17, 2019 at 14:10
  • 2
    @DanielF It's now --include='*.py' instead of -name '*.py' Dec 1, 2023 at 13:44

My default command is

grep -Rin string *

I use a capitol 'R' because ls uses it for recursive. Since grep accepts both, no reason to not use it.

EDIT: per HVNSweeting, apparently -R will follow symlinks where as -r will not.

  • 1
    To search in hidden files too, run shopt -s dotglob (remember -s as "set"). Be careful when removing files then. If you've dotglob enabled, rm -r * removes everything in the current dir, but also the directory above it because .. matches. To disable dotglob, use shopt -u dotglob ("unset"). The changes are temporary though, it only applies to the current shell.
    – Lekensteyn
    Aug 1, 2011 at 19:09
  • 1
    I forgot about this. Is there a way to set it for one the one line? something like shopt -s dotglob & <grep cmd> & shopt -y dotglob only more convenient? This way we won't have to worry about resetting it
    – user606723
    Aug 1, 2011 at 19:42
  • Also, it's probably easier to use grep -Rin string . in most of these cases. I just use * because it seems to come more naturally.
    – user606723
    Aug 1, 2011 at 19:44
  • 1
    if you do recursive grep, then you can just start from "." instead of "*". no dotglob needed. Aug 7, 2011 at 16:32
  • 1
    vote up this, one thing doesn't mention in manpage is R will follow symbolic links, r does not Jan 25, 2013 at 4:06

If you’re willing to try something new, give ack a shot. The command to recursively search the current directory for string is:

ack string

Installation is quite simple:

curl http://betterthangrep.com/ack-standalone > ~/bin/ack && chmod 0755 !#:3

(Provided you’ve already got the directory ~/bin and it’s preferably in your PATH.)

  • 2
    Or just apt-get install ack-grep (, and add alias ack=ack-grep to your .bashrc)
    – markijbema
    Aug 1, 2011 at 20:37
  • What do the last parameters to the chmod command do? Are they specific for chmod or are they bash related (the !#:3 part)? Jan 21, 2014 at 10:06
  • @ElliottDarfink That’s using Bash’s history feature! is an event designator. They’re pretty powerful to avoid repetitions. !#:3 references the third token of the command line so far, i.e. ~/bin/ack in this case. Jan 21, 2014 at 16:59

grep (GNU or BSD)

You can use grep tool to search recursively the current folder with -r parameter, like:

grep -r "pattern" .

Note: -r - Recursively search subdirectories.

To search within specific files, you can use a globbing syntax such as:

grep "class foo" **/*.c

Note: By using globbing option (**), it scans all the files recursively with specific extension or pattern. To enable this syntax, run: shopt -s globstar. You may also use **/*.* for all files (excluding hidden and without extension) or any other pattern.

If you've the error that your argument is too long, consider narrowing down your search, or use find syntax instead such as:

find . -name "*.php" -execdir grep -nH --color=auto foo {} ';'

Alternatively use ripgrep.


If you're working on larger projects or big files, you should use ripgrep instead, like:

rg "pattern" .

Checkout the docs, installation steps or source code on the GitHub project page.

It's much quicker than any other tool like GNU/BSD grep, ucg, ag, sift, ack, pt or similar, since it is built on top of Rust's regex engine which uses finite automata, SIMD and aggressive literal optimizations to make searching very fast.

It supports ignore patterns specified in .gitignore files, so a single file path can be matched against multiple glob patterns simultaneously.

You can use the common parameters such as:

  • -i - Insensitive searching.
  • -I - Ignore the binary files.
  • -w - Search for the whole words (in opposite of partial word matching).
  • -n - Show the line of your match.
  • -C/--context (e.g. -C5) - Increases context, so you see the surrounding code .
  • --color=auto - Mark up the matching text.
  • -H - Displays filename where the text is found.
  • -c - Displays count of matching lines. Can be combined with -H.
  • Thanks for pointing to rg tool.
    – endo64
    Jun 7, 2023 at 14:29

The command rgrep is dedicated for such need

If not available, you can get it like this

mkdir -p ~/bin
cd ~/bin
wget http://sdjf.esmartdesign.com/files/rgrep
chmod +x rgrep

You can directly set into your default grep options as described above.

I personnaly use

[[  ${#args} -lt 5 && "${args//[[:space:]]/}" == "-i" ]] && args="-Hin"
args="${args:--Hns} --color=auto"

related topic : how to always use rgrep with color

  • rgrep is provided by the grep package which is installed by default in Ubuntu.
    – karel
    Jan 2, 2015 at 14:16

I do this using xargs, a very underrated command

find ./ -type f -print0 | xargs -0 grep 'string_you_are_looking_for'

find ./ gives you a recursive list of all the files in a current folder then you pipe it to xargs that executes the grep command on each one of those files

  • 4
    Using xargs without -print0 option to find and -0 option to xargs is deprecated, it will fail on filenames containing spaces.
    – enzotib
    Aug 1, 2011 at 15:45
  • @enzotib I have edited the answer as you suggested.- please review and if needs to editing and correcting, I will happy re-editing by you. thank you Jan 13, 2015 at 9:00
  • 1
    @KasiyA: it is ok now, removed my downvote.
    – enzotib
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:32

Update 2:

This line of commands using find and grep fixes the problem:

$ find path_to_search_in -type f -exec grep -in searchString {} 2> /dev/null +

--color=<always or auto> for colored output:

$ find path_to_search_in -type f \
            -exec grep --color=always -in searchString {} 2>/dev/null +


$ find /tmp/test/ -type f -exec grep --color=auto -in "Search string" {} 2>/dev/null +

An example run in the snapshot below: snap1

Update 1:

You can try following code; as a function in your .bashrc or .bash_aliases or in a script:

wherein () 
    for i in $(find "$1" -type f 2> /dev/null);
        if grep --color=auto -i "$2" "$i" 2> /dev/null; then
            echo -e "\033[0;32mFound in: $i \033[0m\n";

Usage: wherein /path/to/search/in/ searchkeyword


$ wherein ~/Documents/ "hello world"

(Note: As suggested in the comments below by @enzotib, this doesn't work with file/directories including spaces in their names.)

Original post

To search for the string and output just that line with the search string:

$ for i in $(find /path/of/target/directory -type f); do \
    grep -i "the string to look for" "$i"; done


$ for i in $(find /usr/share/applications -type f); \
    do grep -i "web browser" "$i"; done

To display filename containing the search string:

$ for i in $(find /path/of/target/directory -type f); do \
    if grep -i "the string to look for" "$i" > /dev/null; then echo "$i"; fi; done;


$ for i in $(find /usr/share/applications -type f); \
    do if grep -i "web browser" "$i" > /dev/null; then echo "$i"; \
    fi; done;
  • Fails on filenames containing spaces. The failing is hided by the fact that stderr is not shown.
    – enzotib
    Jan 13, 2015 at 9:38
  • @enzotib thanks for pointing that out.. that's still unresolved for the function specified.. I've added another one-liner though..
    – rusty
    Jan 13, 2015 at 20:38
  • Now the answer is similar to that of @dmityugov.
    – enzotib
    Jan 13, 2015 at 21:28
  • yes, but in that sense most of the answers in this page if you check are similar in respect that they use grep, next to that being the subset using find with grep... but if you are to accept different switches and tweaks as a distinct answer, probably mine will fit in here too.. or do you differ? the last update does what I'd like in my search: file names with lines with search key and line no. too :) and colored output and error filter for better readability..
    – rusty
    Jan 14, 2015 at 6:44

I know there are plenty of answers here, but here's an alternative if you'd like to add other restrictions when searching the files:

find . -type f -exec grep --quiet string_to_look_for {} ';' -print

This works because grep will return 0 if it found a result, 1 otherwise. For example you can find files 1 MB large and containing something:

find . -type f -exec grep --quiet string_to_look_for {} ';' -size 1M -print

For multiple requirements you probably want to use the optimizer flag -O that exists in GNU grep.


A script (find-in-code) to search in C, CPP code:


find . \( -iname "*.c" -o -iname "*.cpp" -o -iname "*.h" \) -type f -print0 | xargs -0 grep --color -n "$1"


find-in-code "search string"

There is a very fast alternative to grep called the Platinum Searcher. You can download it here.

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