Find and replace words in all files with find and sed commands

Although is essential using an IDE for programming, I believe that we should not be completely attach to it. For simple operations, UNIX tools can be used to do a lot, programmers should see linux environments as an IDE by itself and use it more to manage projects.

In this article I am going to explain how to find and replace all word occurrences in all files inside a project folder structure using find and sed commands.

Just have in mind that before doing some modification do a backup or a commit, unlike IDE there’s no undo command for this!

find command

find command is used to list all files inside a folder:

find <path> [args]


#list files from current directory
find .

#list files from home directory
find ~/

#list only regular files (excludes directories)
find . -type f

#ignore files or folders
find . ! -path './ignore_path/*' 

sed command

sed command is used to find and replaces words inside files:

sed [options] <file>

#replace all occurrences of word1 with word2 in file.txt
sed -i 's/word1/word2/g' file.txt

# -i replaces the word1 occurrences inside the file, otherwise the result of replacing will be just output to terminal without affecting the file itself
# 's/' option is to replace
# '/g' replaces all words inside a line, otherwise the sed command only replaces the first occurrence of each line inside the file

Using the two commands together

These two commands can be used together in multiple ways, it can be used for example pipes or xargs but in this article we will do things in other way. find command has the option -exec to run commands for each result it encounters. We can use find with sed in the following way to replace all occurrences of word1 for word2 in all files from current directory and sub directories:

find . -type f -exec sed -i '/s/word1/word2/g' {} +

Real example

Now I am going to give a real example of one modification I needed to do in a NodeJS project. In this project I needed to replace the word __model for _model in all files. It should be noted that in this case the node_modules and .git folders should be ignored, so I ran this command:

find . -type f ! -path './node_modules/*' ! -path '.git/*' -exec sed -i 's/__model/_model/g' {} +