Grep By Example is also available as a PDF Minibook, and a Grep playground helps you learn quickly.

Galvanize Your Grip On Grep With This Great Grep Guide

These days, you can’t throw a USB stick without hitting something that’s running Linux. It might be a phone, an embedded device, or your TV. Either way, it’s running Linux, and somewhere along the line of the development of whatever your USB stick smacked into, somebody used the Global Regular Expression Print utility- better known as Grep. But what is Grep, and why do you need it? [Anton Zhiyanov] not only answers those questions but provides Grep by example: Interactive Guide to help you along.

Grep By Example is also available as a PDF Minibook, and a Grep playground helps you learn quickly.
Grep By Example is also available as a PDF Minibook, and a Grep playground helps you learn quickly.

To understand Linux, one must understand its commercial predecessor, Unix. One of the things that made Unix (and then Linux) unique was its philosophy: Write programs that work together, do one thing well, and handle text streams.¬† This philosophy describes a huge number of programs, and one of these programs is Grep. It’s installed everywhere there’s a *nix installed, and once one becomes familiar with it, their command-line-fu reaches an all new level.

At its core, Grep is simply a bloodhound. It’s scent? A magical incantation called Regular Expressions. Regular Expressions (aka Regex) are simply a way of describing what a stream of text should look like. So when you feed Grep a bit of Regular Expression, it Prints¬†only the text that matches that expression. Neat, right?

The trouble is that Regex can be kind of hard, and Grep has various versions and capabilities that need to be learned. And this is where the article shines- it covers both in an excellent interactive tutorial that’ll help you become a Grep Guru in no time. And if you want to do a deeper dive, check out what it takes to make your own Regex Engine from scratch!

Linux Fu: Global Search And Replace With Ripgrep

If you are even a casual Linux user, you probably know how to use grep. Even if you aren’t a regular expression guru, it is easy to use grep to search for lines in a file that match anything from simple strings to complex patterns. Of course, grep is fine for looking, but what if you want to find things and change them. Maybe you want to change each instance of “HackADay” to “Hackaday,” for example. You might use sed, but it is somewhat hard to use. You could use awk, but as a general-purpose language, it seems a bit of overkill for such a simple and common task. That’s the idea behind ripgrep which actually has the command name rg. Using rg, you can do things that grep can do using more modern regular expressions and also do replacements.

A Note on Installing Ripgrep

Your best bet is to get ripgrep from your repositories. When I tried running KDE Neon, it helpfully told me that I could install a version using apt or take a Snap version that was newer. I usually hate installing a snap, but I did anyway. It informed me that I had to add –classic to the install line because ripgrep could affect files outside the Snap sandbox. Since the whole purpose of the program is to change files, I didn’t think that was too surprising, so I did the install.

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Linux Fu: Literate Regular Expressions

Regular expressions — the things you feed to programs like grep — are a bit like riding a bike. It seems impossible until you learn to do it, and then it’s easy. Part of their bad reputation is because they use a very concise and abbreviated syntax that alarms people. To help people who don’t use regular expressions every day, I created a tool that lets you write them in something a little closer to plain English. Actually, I’ve written several versions of this over the years, but this incarnation that targets grep is the latest. Unlike some previous versions, this time I did it all using Bash.

Those who don’t know regular expressions might freak out when they see something like:

[0-9]{5}(-[0-9]{4})?

How long does it take to figure out what that does? What if you could write that in a more literate way? For example:

digit repeat 5 \

start_group \

   - digit repeat 4 \

end_group optional

Not as fast to type, sure. But you can probably deduce what it does: it reads US Zipcodes.

I’ve found that some of the most popular tools I’ve created over the years are ones that I don’t need myself. I’m sure you’ve had that experience, too. You know how to operate a computer, but you create a menu system for people who don’t and they love it. That’s how it is with this tool. You might not need it, but there’s a good chance you know someone who does. Along the way, the code uses some interesting features of Bash, so even if you don’t want to be verbose with your regular expressions, you might pick up a trick or two.

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