How to Use Grep to Search for Multiple Patterns?

Grep, short for Global Regular Expression Print, is a powerful command-line utility in Unix and Unix-like operating systems. It allows users to search for specific patterns or expressions within text files. One of its compelling features is the ability to search for multiple patterns simultaneously, making it a versatile tool for data extraction and analysis.

In this guide, we’ll explore the various ways you can use Grep to search for multiple patterns.

Introduction to Grep

Before delving into multiple patterns, let’s revisit the basics of Grep. The syntax for a simple Grep command looks like this:

grep pattern filename

Here, ‘pattern’ is the expression you’re searching for, and ‘filename’ is the name of the file you want to search within.

Searching for Multiple Patterns

There are multiple different ways through which you can easily search for multiple patterns with the grep command line utility. These different methods are as:

Using the OR Operator (|)

The OR operator allows you to search for multiple patterns. For instance:

grep 'pattern1\|pattern2' filename

This command searches for lines containing either ‘pattern1’ or ‘pattern2’ in the specified file.

Using the -e Option

The ‘-e’ option allows you to specify multiple patterns directly:

grep -e pattern1 -e pattern2 filename

This achieves the same result as the OR operator, making it a matter of personal preference.

Useful Options for Pattern Matching Through Grep

Apart from normal pattern matching through grep, you can utilize its various option to match different kinds of patterns. Some of these are as follows:

Searching for Whole Words Using the -w Option

If you want to search for whole words and not just patterns, then you can use the”-w” option. The ‘-w’ option ensures that Grep matches only whole words, avoiding partial matches:

grep -w 'pattern' filename

Inverting Matches Using the -v Option

You can also have the grep utility to go for inverting matches. The ‘-v’ option inverts matches, showing lines that do not contain the specified patterns:

grep -v 'pattern' filename

Recursive Searching in Directories using the -r Option

To search for patterns in all files within a directory and its subdirectories:

grep -r 'pattern' directory

Examples for Searching Multiple Patterns Through Grep

There are a lot of scenarios where the system admin is required to search for multiple patterns at the same time. Let’s take a look a couple of such patterns.

Scenario 1: Searching for Errors

In log files, searching for multiple error patterns simultaneously:

grep -e 'error' -e 'fatal' logfile.txt

Scenario 2: Extracting Relevant Information

For a CSV file, extracting lines with ‘user’ or ‘admin’:

grep -e 'user' -e 'admin' data.csv

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Best Practices and Tips

A. Use Regular Expressions

Grep supports powerful regular expressions. Utilize them for more complex pattern matching.

B. Combine Grep with Other Commands

Enhance Grep’s functionality by combining it with other commands in the Unix toolkit.

C. Utilize Grep Recursively

When dealing with directories, the ‘-r’ option can save time and provide comprehensive results.


Mastering Grep’s ability to search for multiple patterns opens up a realm of possibilities for efficient data exploration. Whether you’re analyzing logs, extracting specific information from files, or troubleshooting code, Grep remains an indispensable tool. By incorporating the techniques discussed here into your workflow, you empower yourself to navigate and extract valuable insights from textual data.

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