Recursively Find/Replace Inside Files Within a Directory

We recently had to change a handful of usernames in LDAP due to a merging of resources. This was a relatively painless process, but since some services use static authorization files to grant access, some manual post-processing was necessary. The script at the end of this post is something I came up with to deal with updating the subversion auth_files. It’s a bash script that uses a couple useful tricks:

tree -ifF --noreport /path/to/dir/ | grep -v '/$'
  • The tree command normally prints out an ascii-graphical representation of the file structure rooted in the given path, recursively. The ‘-i’ option tells it not to display the graphics. The ‘-f’ option prints out the full path to each item. The ‘-F’ adds file-type indicators to the end of file names, which I’m using here so I can filter out directories from the list using an inverse grep.
  • The output of the tree command is piped to grep. The ‘-v’ option activates inverse grep, and the ‘/$’ regex will match trailing slashes. This grep will match all lines not ending in ‘/’.
  • The tree command is not standard on all flavors/versions of *nix. It’s missing on OS X, for example.
perl -p -i -e 's|before|after|[ig]' file
  • This perl command will edit a file in-place, replacing occurrences of “before” with “after”.
  • Adding an i to the end of the substitution string makes it a case insensitive substitution.
  • Adding a g makes the command replace all instances, a.k.a. global, instead of just the first instance.

Why perl instead of sed for in-place edits?

Not all versions of sed allow in-place edits, especially older ones, so perl is the more universal option. If you know your sed can do in-place edits (check the man page for the ‘-i’ option), then you can replace the perl line in the script below with this:

sed -i'' -e "s|$1|$2|g" $afile

Whether you choose to use perl or sed, you must remember to double-quote the substitution string so bash expands the variables and hands the values off to sed/perl. Using single quotes here would result in sed/perl looking for a literal ‘$1’ to replace with a literal ‘$2’.

The Script

This code can easily be repurposed for other tasks, but I present it here as I wrote it for the subversion auth_files purpose. (I named it “auth_find”.)


UPDATE (8/31/09): Added “why perl instead of sed” section in response to comment.


4 thoughts on “Recursively Find/Replace Inside Files Within a Directory

    • I agree; however, older incarnations of sed (not GNU or older BSD) do not allow in-place editing (e.g. Solaris), so I opted to use the more universal perl option. I updated the post for completeness, though.

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