Command line quick tips: Searching with grep

If you use your Fedora system for more than just browsing the web, you have probably needed to search for text in your files. For instance, you might be a developer that can’t remember where you left some code snippet. Or you might be looking for a setting stored in your system configuration files. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of ways to search for text on your Fedora system. This article will show you how, including using the built-in utility grep.

Introducing grep

The grep utility allows you to search for text, or more specifically text patterns, on your file system. The name grep comes from global regular expression print. Yikes, what a mouthful! This is because a regular expression (or regex) is a way of defining text patterns.

The grep utility lets you find and print out matches on these patterns — thus the name. It’s a powerful system, and you can even find it in modern code editors like Visual Studio Code or Atom.

Regular expressions

Harnessing all the power of regular expressions is a topic bigger than this article, for sure. The simplest kind of regex can be just a word, or a portion of a word. That pattern is simply “the following characters, in the same order.” The pattern is searched line by line. For example:

  • pciutil – matches any time the 7 characters pciutil appear together — including pciutil, pciutils, pciutil123, and foopciutil.
  • ^pciutil – matches any time the 7 characters pciutil appear together immediately at the beginning of a line (that’s what the ^ stands for)
  • pciutil$ – matches any time the 7 characters pciutil appear together immediately before the end of a line (that’s what the $ stands for)

More complicated expressions are also possible. Special characters are used in a regex as wildcards, or to change the way the regex works. If you want to match on one of these characters, use a \ (backslash) before the character.

For instance, the . (period or full stop) is a wildcard that matches any single character. If you use it in the expression pci.til, it matches pciutil, pci4til, or pci!til, but does not match pcitil. There must be a character to match the . in the regular expression.

The ? is a marker in a regex that marks the previous element as optional. So if you built on the previous example, the expression pci.?til would also match on pcitil because there need not be a character between i and t for a valid match.

The + and * are markers that stand for repetition. While + stands for one or more of the previous element, * stands for zero or more. So the regex pci.+til would match any of these: pciutil, pci4til, pci!til, pciuuuuuutil, pci423til. However, it wouldn’t match pcitil — but the regex pci.*til would.

Examples of grep

Now that you know a little about regex, let’s put it to work. Imagine that you’re trying to find a configuration file that mentions a user account jpublic. You tried a bunch of files already, but none were the correct one, and you’re sure it’s there. So, try searching the /etc folder (using sudo because some subfolders are not readable outside the root account):

$ sudo grep -r jpublic /etc/

The -r switch searches the folder recursively. The utility prints a list of matching files, and the line where the hit occurred. In most modern terminal environments, the hit is color highlighted for better readability.

Imagine you have a much larger selection of files in /home/shared and you need to establish which ones mention the name MacNulty. However, you’re not sure whether the capitalization will be consistent, and you’re just looking for names of files, not the context. Also, you believe someone may have misspelled the name as McNulty in some places.

Use the -l switch to only output filenames with a match, a ? marker for optional a in the name, and -i to make the search case-insensitive:

$ sudo grep -irl 'ma\?cnulty' /home/shared

This command will match on strings like Macnulty, McNulty, Mcnulty, and macNulty with no problem. You’ll get a simple list of filenames where the match was found in the contents.

These are only the simplest ways to use grep and regular expressions. You can learn a lot more about both using the info grep command.

But wait, there’s more…

The grep command is venerable but in some situations may not be as efficient as newer search utilities. For instance, the ripgrep utility is engineered to be a fast search utility that can take the place of grep. We covered ripgrep as part of an article on Rust and Rust applications previously in the Magazine:

It’s important to note that ripgrep has its own command line switches and syntax. For example, it has simple switches to print only filename matches, invert searches, and many other useful functions. It can also ignore based on .rgignore files placed in any subdirectories. (It’s also noteworthy that the -r switch is used differently for ripgrep, because it is automatically recursive.)

To install, use this command:

$ sudo dnf install ripgrep

To explore the options, use the manual page (man rg). You’ll find that many, but not all, options are the same as grep.

Have fun searching!


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Use a drop-down terminal for fast commands in Fedora

A drop-down terminal lets you tap a key and quickly enter any command on your desktop. Often it creates a terminal in a smooth way, sometimes with effects. This article demonstrates how it helps to improve and speed up daily tasks, using drop-down terminals like Yakuake, Tilda, Guake and a GNOME extension.

Yakuake

Yakuake is a drop-down terminal emulator based on KDE Konsole techonology. It is distributed under the terms of the GNU GPL Version 2. It includes features such as:

  • Smoothly rolls down from the top of your screen
  • Tabbed interface
  • Configurable dimensions and animation speed
  • Skinnable
  • Sophisticated D-Bus interface

To install Yakuake, use the following command:

$ sudo dnf install -y yakuake

Startup and configuration

If you’re runnign KDE, open the System Settings and go to Startup and Shutdown. Add yakuake to the list of programs under Autostart, like this:

It’s easy to configure Yakuake while running the app. To begin, launch the program at the command line:

$ yakuake &

The following welcome dialog appears. You can set a new keyboard shortcut if the standard one conflicts with another keystroke you already use:

Now click the menu button, and the following help menu appears. Next, select Configure Yakuake… to access the configuration options.

You can customize the options for appearance, such as opacity; behavior, such as focusing terminals when the mouse pointer is moved over them; and window, such as size and animation. In the window options you’ll find one of the most useful options is you use two or more monitors: Open on screen: At mouse location.

Using Yakuake

The main shortcuts are:

  • F12 = Open/Retract Yakuake
  • Ctrl+F11 = Full Screen Mode
  • Ctrl+) = Split Top/Bottom
  • Ctrl+( = Split Left/Right
  • Ctrl+Shift+T = New Session
  • Shift+Right = Next Session
  • Shift+Left = Previous Session
  • Ctrl+Alt+S = Rename Session

Below is an example of Yakuake being used to split the session like a terminal multiplexer. Using this feature, you can run several shells in one session.

Tilda

Tilda is a drop-down terminal that compares with other popular terminal emulators such as GNOME Terminal, KDE’s Konsole, xterm, and many others.

It features a highly configurable interface. You can even change options such as the terminal size and animation speed. Tilda also lets you enable hotkeys you can bind to commands and operations.

To install Tilda, run this command:

$ sudo dnf install -y tilda

Startup and configuration

Most users prefer to have a drop-down terminal available behind the scenes when they login. To set this option, first go to the app launcher in your desktop, search for Tilda, and open it.

Next, open up the Tilda Config window. Select Start Tilda hidden, which means it will not display a terminal immediately when started.

Next, you’ll set your desktop to start Tilda automatically. If you’re using KDE, go to System Settings > Startup and Shutdown > Autostart and use Add a Program.

If you’re using GNOME, you can run this command in a terminal:

$ ln -s /usr/share/applications/tilda.desktop ~/.config/autostart/

When you run for the first time, a wizard shows up to set your preferences. If you need to change something, right click and go to Preferences in the menu.

You can also create multiple configuration files, and bind other keys to open new terminals at different places on the screen. To do that, run this command:

$ tilda -C

Every time you use the above command, Tilda creates a new config file located in the ~/.config/tilda/ folder called config_0, config_1, and so on. You can then map a key combination to open a new Tilda terminal with a specific set of options.

Using Tilda

The main shortcuts are:

  • F1 = Pull Down Terminal Tilda (Note: If you have more than one config file, the shortcuts are the same, with a diferent open/retract shortcut like F1, F2, F3, and so on)
  • F11 = Full Screen Mode
  • F12 = Toggle Transparency
  • Ctrl+Shift+T = Add Tab
  • Ctrl+Page Up = Go to Next Tab
  • Ctrl+Page Down = Go to Previous Tab

GNOME Extension

The Drop-down Terminal GNOME Extension lets you use this useful tool in your GNOME Shell. It is easy to install and configure, and gives you fast access to a terminal session.

Installation

Open a browser and go to the site for this GNOME extension. Enable the extension setting to On, as shown here:

Then select Install to install the extension on your system.

Once you do this, there’s no reason to set any autostart options. The extension will automatically run whenever you login to GNOME!

Configuration

After install, the Drop Down Terminal configuration window opens to set your preferences. For example, you can set the size of the terminal, animation, transparency, and scrollbar use.

If you need change some preferences in the future, run the gnome-shell-extension-prefs command and choose Drop Down Terminal.

Using the extension

The shortcuts are simple:

  • ` (usually the key above Tab) = Open/Retract Terminal
  • F12 (customize as you prefer) = Open/Retract Terminal

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Convert file systems with Fstransform

Few people know that they can convert their filesystems from one type to another without losing data, i.e. non-destructively. It may sound like magic, but Fstransform can convert an ext2, ext3, ext4, jfs, reiserfs or xfs partition to another type from the list in almost any combination. More importantly, it does so in-place, without formatting or copying data anywhere. Atop of all this goodness, there is a little bonus: Fstransform can also handle ntfs, btrfs, fat and exfat partitions as well.

Before you run it

There are certain caveats and limitations in Fstransform, so it is strongly advised to back up before attempting a conversion. Additionally, there are some limitations to be aware of when using Fstransform:

  • Both the source and target filesystems must be supported by your Linux kernel. Sounds like an obvious thing and exposes zero risk in case you want to use ext2, ext3, ext4, reiserfs, jfs and xfs partitions. Fedora supports all of that just fine.
  • Upgrading ext2 to ext3 or ext4 does not require Fstransform. Use the Tune2fs utility instead.
  • The device with source file system must have at least 5% of free space.
  • You need to be able to unmount the source filesystem before you begin.
  • The more data your source file system stores, the longer the conversion will last. The actual speed depends on your device, but expect it to be around one gigabyte per minute. The large amount of hard links can also slow down the conversion.
  • Although Fstransform is proved to be stable, please back up data on your source filesystem.

Installation instructions

Fstransform is already a part of Fedora. Install with the command:

sudo dnf install fstransform

Time to convert something

Converting one file system to another in-place can take a while

The syntax of the fstransform command is very simple: fstransform <source device> <target file system>. Keep in mind that it needs root privileges to run, so don’t forget to add sudo in the beginning. Here goes an example:

sudo fstransform /dev/sdb1 ext4

Note that it is not possible to convert a root file system, which is a security measure. Use a test partition or an experimental thumb drive instead. In the meantime, Fstransform will through a lot of auxiliary output in the console. The most useful part is the estimated time of completion, which keep you informed about how long  the process will take. Again, few small files on an almost empty drive will make Fstransform do its job in a minute or so, whereas more real-world tasks may involve hours of wait time.

More file systems are supported

As mentioned above, it is possible to try Fstransform with ntfs, btrfs, fat and exfat partitions. These types are very experimental, and nobody can guarantee that the converion will flow perfect. Still, there are many success stories, and you can add your own by testing Fstransform with a sample data set on a test partition. Those additional file systems can be enabled by the use of the –force-untested-file-systems parameter:

sudo fstransform /dev/sdb1 ntfs --force-untested-file-systems

Sometimes the process may iterrupt with an error. Feel free to repeat the command again — it may eventually complete the conversion from second or third attempt.