The Grep command-line tool is very useful for finding text information for lines and snippets that match a specified string, character, word, or regular expression. While most uses of grep are sorting data into syntax matches, what if you want to exclude a word or string with grep? Excluding line matches with grep is as useful as finding and printing matches in grep, so we’ll tell you how to remove strings and words with grep.
Of course, you want some command line experience and exposure to grep to make this useful. If you want to follow along, you can open the Terminal app and try it for yourself. Because grep is an agnostic utility for the operating system, you can use the exclusion trick on Mac OS, Linux, unix, or any of your other uses that use grep.
How to exclude a single word with grep
The simplest way to exclude lines with a string or syntax is to use the grep and -v flag.
For example, suppose we use a cat to print a file to the command line, but we want to exclude all lines that have the term “ThisWord”, then the syntax format seems to be as follows:
cat example.txt | grep -v “This word”
The output is a text.txt file, but not a line that contains the string “ThisWord”.
You can also use the grep file directly in the files and exclude line items based on words or syntax, such as:
grep -v “ThisWord” example.txt
Use what works best for your workflow.
How to exclude multiple strings or words with grep
Now that you know how to exclude equivalences of a single word, the next obvious question is to exclude multiple words with grep. It’s just as simple, and there are a few different ways to accomplish this using the -v flag and the -e flag.
Let’s first take the example above of using a cat in a file that is entered into grep, leaving out all the lines that match the two words; “Word1” and “Word2”, this would look like this:
cat example.txt | grep -v -e “Word1” -e “Word2”
All lines that contain “Word1” or “Word2” are excluded from the printed results.
You can also use the grep file directly in the files just like before:
grep -v -e “Word1” -e “Word2” example.txt
Another approach is to distinguish what is ruled out by grep using a pipe to separate each match, as follows:
grep -Ev “word1 | word2” example.txt
If you test any of these options in a sample text file, you’ll find that the result is identical regardless of your approach, each omitting lines that contain targeted phrases, syntax, words, or text matches.
Great, show me a useful example of data exclusion with grep!
As a practical example that advanced Mac users may find useful, we can use grep exclusion when printing and querying the command line history by looking for previously executed commands to find default matches, but excluding some selected default characters.
This example prints the command history for the default batch entries, but excludes all similar functions related to iTunes, as defined by com.apple.itunes:
history grep “defaults to write” grep -v -e “com.apple.itunes”
So if you’ve been following along, this will report all the historical execution of the “type defaults” command, but nothing related to iTunes. Great?
If you have particularly handy ways to rule out matches with grep, share them with us in the comments below! And if you liked this article, you’ll almost certainly want to browse our many command line articles here with lots more to learn!
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