What is grep? How would one grep?

Let’s find out. In your terminal, run: man grep

Tip: Man (for manual) is a helpful command in you can run to display user manual of any commands on the terminal.


According to the manual, grep is a (Linux) tool to help search files through patterns and regular expressions. There are also several other variations, such as egrep and fgrep, with more specific functionality.

Essentially, grep is a low-level search tool from the command line. It can be quite a powerful utility tool once you get familiar with the command options.

There are more flags other than the ones listed below, but here are some of the flags I found useful in day-to-day programming work.

Flags to get familiar with

grep -i "gains" * Searches in current directory, ignoring case sensitivity. (Grep is case sensitive by default)

grep -r "gains" * Searches recursively in subdirectories

grep -l "gains" * Lists file paths of files containing the matched keyword

grep -c "gains" * Counts the number of matches of the word for each file

grep –m2 "gains" * Returns the first two matches of the keyword

grep "gains" * --colour Highlights the search word in the returned results

These flags can be used collectively in a single command:

grep -r -i "gains" * --colour Recursively searches for the keyword without case sensitivity and return results in colour

Using regular expressions

In any of the cases above you can replace your search word with a regex (and an extended regex in egrep).

grep -r -m3 "/gains/\d" * Searches for first 3 matches for the pattern “/gains/” followed by any digit

Tip: Remember to use quotation marks whenever there is a space or a symbol in a search pattern. Personally, I use quotes just to be safe regardless.