The grep command on Linux systems is one of the most common commands you'll come across. If we had to sum up this command, we'd say it's used to find a specified string or text inside inside of a file. But even with a simple explanation like that, the amount of things it can be used for is quite staggering.

The grep command also has a few close cousins, in case you find that it's not up to the job. That's where commands like egrep, fgrep, and rgrep come in handy. These commands all work similarly to grep, but extend its functionality and sometimes simplify its syntax. Yes, it sounds confusing at first. But don't worry, we'll help you master the alphabet of grep commands in this guide.

In this tutorial, we'll go over various command examples for grep, egrep, fgrep, and rgrep on Linux. Read on to see how these commands work, and feel free to use them on your own system as we go along so you can become acquainted with them.

In this tutorial you will learn:
  • Command examples for grep, egrep, fgrep, rgrep
grep, egrep, fgrep, and rgrep commands on Linux
grep, egrep, fgrep, and rgrep commands on Linux
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Any Linux distro
Software grep, egrep, fgrep, rgrep
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # - requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ - requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user


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For our examples, we've created a simple text document named distros.txt that contains a bunch of names of Linux distros. See below how we use grep and its related commands to search this file for certain text and patterns.

  1. As mentioned before, grep can be used to search for a string within a file. Lets search for the word "Ubuntu":
    $ grep Ubuntu distros.txt 
  2. As everything else in Linux, grep is also case sensitive. To ignore case we need to use grep with combination of -i option:
    $ grep -i ubuntu distros.txt 
  3. The -n option will show which line number each match was found on.
    $ grep -i -n ubuntu distros.txt 
  4. We can also use the -v (invert) option to show lines that don't match our search pattern.
    $ grep -iv ubuntu distros.txt
    Arch Linux
    Red Hat Enterprise Linux
    Linux Mint
    As you can see, all the distros are listed except the ones that contained "Ubuntu" (case insensitive).

  5. With the -c option, grep can count the number of string occurrences within files. So here the grep will print the number of how many times Ubuntu does NOT appear within the file:
    $ grep -ivc ubuntu distros.txt
  6. The -x option will print exact occurrences only.
    $ grep -ix ubuntu distros.txt
  7. System administrators will definitely appreciate this example when searching log files. -B3 ( display 3 lines before match ) and -A3 ( display 3 lines after match ) will give your output more context.
    $ grep -B3 -A3 command /var/log/dmesg
    [    0.201120] kernel: pcpu-alloc: [0] 0 
    [    0.201186] kernel: Built 1 zonelists, mobility grouping on.  Total pages: 515961
    [    0.201188] kernel: Policy zone: DMA32
    [    0.201191] kernel: Kernel command line: BOOT_IMAGE=/boot/vmlinuz-5.8.0-59-generic root=UUID=a80ad9d4-90ff-4903-b34d-ca70d82762ed ro quiet splash
    [    0.201563] kernel: Dentry cache hash table entries: 262144 (order: 9, 2097152 bytes, linear)
    [    0.201648] kernel: Inode-cache hash table entries: 131072 (order: 8, 1048576 bytes, linear)
    [    0.201798] kernel: mem auto-init: stack:off, heap alloc:on, heap free:off

grep and regex

grep and regular expressions is a topic that can cover a whole book, but it would be shame to not show at least a couple examples for grep and regular expressions.

  1. To make grep return only lines which contains digits, we would use the command:
    $ grep [0-9] file.txt
  2. To count all empty lines within a file using grep we use this command:
    $ grep -ch ^$ file.txt

  3. Let's see what line starts with "L" and ends with a number. ^ is used to match the beginning of a line, and $ is used to match the end of a line:
    $ grep ^L.*[0-9]$ file.txt
  4. To make grep match only lines where "b" is a third character in the word, we can use the following command:
    $ grep ..b file.txt


egrep is the extended version of grep. In other words, egrep is equal to grep -E. egrep supports more regular expression patterns.

  1. Let's search for lines that contain exactly two consecutive "p" characters:
    $ egrep p{2} file.txt
    $ grep pp file.txt
    $ grep -E p{2} file.txt
  2. Let's get an output of egrep command of all lines that end with "S" or "A":

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    $ egrep "S$|A$" file.txt


fgrep is a faster version of grep which does not support regular expressions and therefore is considered to be faster. fgrep is equal to grep -F. This is handy to use in scripts or against large files where you don't need the extra robustness of normal grep, as the results should be returned faster, and with a lesser impact on system resources.

  1. You can only use simple pattern searching with this tool, such as the following:
    $ fgrep Fedora distros.txt 
  2. Expressions will NOT work and will simply return blank output.
    $ fgrep -i linux$ distros.txt 
    $ grep -i linux$ distros.txt 
    Arch Linux
    Red Hat Enterprise Linux


rgrep is a recursive version of grep. Recursive in this case means that rgrep can recursively descend through directories as it greps for the specified pattern. rgrep is similar to grep -r.

  1. Search all files, recursively for a string "linux".
    $ rgrep -i linux *
    dir1/RHEL-based.txt:Red Hat Enterprise Linux
    dir2/Debian-based.txt:Linux Mint

Closing Thoughts

In this guide, we saw various command examples for grep, egrep, fgrep, and rgrep on Linux. At their core, these commands are just used to search for certain string patterns in one or more files. As you've seen from the examples here, their functionality can be easily extended, and applied to many useful scenarios.

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