I want to search for a string of text in all files in a directory (and not its subdirectories; I know the -r option does that, but that is not what I want).

  1. Running

    grep "string" /path/to/dir

    is supposed to be able to do this, I've read, but it gives me the error:

    grep: dir: Is a directory

  2. Next, I tried running grep on multiple files.

    grep "string" .bashrc .bash_aliases works perfectly.

    grep "string" .bash* works as intended too.

    grep "string" * gives me the errors:

    grep: data: Is a directory
    grep: Desktop: Is a directory
    grep: Documents: Is a directory
    grep: Downloads: Is a directory

Only the errors are printed, I don't get the matching lines. I tried using the -s option, but to no avail.

So, my questions:

  1. Why am I not being able to use grep on a directory, as in (1), when I should be able to? I've seen that done in plenty examples on the Internet.
    Edit: When I say "using grep on a directory", I mean "search in all the files in that directory excluding its subdirectories". I believe that this is what grep does when you pass a directory to it in place of a file. Am I incorrect?

  2. Please give me an explanation on the workings of grep that would explain the behavior of commands in (2).
    Edit: Let me be more specific. Why does using wildcards to specify multiple files to search in for work with .bash* and not with * or even ./*?

  3. How can I search all the files in a directory (and not its subdirectories) using grep?

  • Also you're relying on the shell expanding wildcards such as *, known as globbing. Globbing does not include filenames starting with a dot such as .bashrc as standard. You can set shell options so that it will include these files, but you can get yourself in a bit of a mess if you don't know what you're doing. A good guide to understanding globing can be found here mywiki.wooledge.org/glob – Arronical May 25 '16 at 16:23
  • I dunno why, but I've always done globbing on hidden files, and it has always worked. I haven't change any setting or something. As I pointed out in (2), it works with grep "string" .bash* too. – John Red May 25 '16 at 16:32
  • Sorry, my last example was incorrect. You can search in hidden files as well, and suppressing the "is a directory" because Linux technically sees directories as a different type of file. The command would be then: grep "string" * .* 2>/dev/null or grep -s "string" * .* – Terrance May 25 '16 at 16:55
  • Also this stackoverflow.com/q/9217185/3701431 – Sergiy Kolodyazhnyy Jun 7 '18 at 20:49

In Bash, a glob will not expand into hidden files, so if you want to search all the files in a directory, you need to specify hidden files .* and non-hidden *.

To avoid the "Is a directory" errors, you could use -d skip, but on my system I also get an error grep: .gvfs: Permission denied, so I suggest using -s, which hides all error messages.

So the command you are looking for is:

grep -s "string" * .*

If you are searching files in another dir:

grep -s "string" /path/to/dir/{*,.*}

Another option is to use the dotglob shell option, which will make a glob include hidden files.

shopt -s dotglob
grep -s "string" *

For files in another dir:

grep -s "string" /path/to/dir/*

† Someone mentioned that I shouldn't get this error. They may be right - I did some reading but couldn't make heads or tails of it myself.

  • Is there any reason for the space between * and .*? – Hashim Sep 23 '18 at 0:35
  • 2
    @Hashim Compare the output of echo * .* and echo *.* run in your home directory, and the difference should be obvious. Otherwise LMK and I'll explain it. – wjandrea Sep 23 '18 at 1:03
  • Interesting, so echo * shows non-hidden files and folders, echo *.* shows non-hidden files, echo .* shows all files, and echo * .* shows all files and directories. But why the reason for the space between the two in the latter case? It feels messy to me. Is there not a way to combine the two to get the same results? Or otherwise is there a syntax explanation of why the two need to be separated here, or is * .* an exceptional case? – Hashim Sep 23 '18 at 2:00
  • 1
    @Hashim I'm not sure how you came to those conclusions, so let me explain. First, directories are files in this context. In globs, * represents all non-hidden files (i.e. filenames which don't start with a dot); .* represents all hidden files (i.e. filenames that do start with a dot); and *.* represents all non-hidden files which contain a dot. In echo * .*, the two globs must be separate because they are different globs: one for non-hidden, one for hidden. Though as I wrote in my answer, you can make * include hidden files by turning on the dotglob shell option. – wjandrea Sep 23 '18 at 2:23
  • 1
    Using *.* is common on Windows (DOS) as a way to list all files but on *nix will only include files with a dot in them, so it doesn't make sense on *nix. Instead you use * to list all files except hidden files, and .* to list hidden files. – thomasrutter Mar 6 at 1:05

You need the -d skip option added on.

  1. Grep is searching inside of files. You can search recursively, as you said, if you want to search files inside of a directory.

  2. By default, grep will read all files, and it detects the directories. Because by default you have not defined what to do with the directories with the -d option, it give error output.

  3. Searching just within the parent directory would be `grep -d skip "string" ./*

  • For more information on grep, see man grep. – anonymous2 May 25 '16 at 16:14
  • (a) Please see the edit. (b) Using -d skip does not work; it's basically the same as -s; also, see the edit. (c) Nope, grep -d skip "string" ./* does not work either. – John Red May 25 '16 at 16:40

Old timers would probably do this:

find . -type f -print0 | xargs -0 grep "string"
  • 3
    Why not find . -type f -exec grep string {} +? – wchargin May 26 '16 at 1:07
  • 4
    You also want -maxdepth 1. – wchargin May 26 '16 at 5:48
  • @wchargin: if you want the file name in the output when there's only one file I think you want find . -type f -maxdepth 1 -exec grep string /dev/null {} + – Gregory Nisbet Mar 14 at 6:27
  • 1
    @GregoryNisbet: Just pass -H to grep. – wchargin Mar 14 at 17:23

Rephrasing - you want to grep the files in one level of subdirectory, but not recurse though all sub-sub directories?

grep forthis  *  */*

Or if you don't want the files in the current directory

grep forthis  */*

Note this won't find directories starting with a dot.

grep forthis  .*/*    */*   

should do that job.

There's also -maxdepth and -mindepth restriction parameters available to the find command too.

  • Wouldn't grep forthis */* search files both in the current directory and one directory down? – Hashim Sep 23 '18 at 0:37
  • @Hashim nope mostly - cos */* only matches things with one slash. If you had a file named a/b in the current directory then `*/* would match that. – Criggie Sep 23 '18 at 4:07

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