I am looking for a shell script that recursively traverses all .php files in a directory and performs a search & replace of a particular text pattern.

The search pattern is quite long ( > 5000 characters) so it might be saved in another textfile for convenience. Also it contains forward slash characters.

edit: i think i figured out the first part:

find . -name "*.php"

but then how do i search & replace in those files?

3 Answers 3


It can be done easily with a good combination of sed and xargs.

find . -name "*.php" | xargs -n 1 echo

will show you the power of xargs.

After that, on a sample file, you can test the regexp, with an inplace change (-i) or a backup change (-i.bak). You can also use an other character to replace '/' if your pattern/replacement already have one.

At the end, it should looks like :

pattern=`cat /path/to/pattern`; replacement=`cat /path/to/replacement`
find . -name "*.php" | xargs -n 1 sed -i -e "s|$pattern|$replacement|g"
  • ok thank you! same question here: how would i load the search pattern from a file?
    – clamp
    Jan 17, 2012 at 9:52
  • 1
    something like this, maybe ? pattern=cat /path/to/pattern; replacement=cat /path/to/replacement; find . -name "*.php" | xargs -n 1 sed -i -e "s/$pattern/$replacement/g"
    – Coren
    Jan 17, 2012 at 10:04
  • thank you! the only problem remaining is that the pattern contains forward slashes which seem to be problematic in the regexp
    – clamp
    Jan 17, 2012 at 10:06
  • 1
    you can use an other character than '/' in sed. For instance, sed -i -e "|$pattern|$replacement|g works well
    – Coren
    Jan 17, 2012 at 10:15
  • thank you! now it runs without errors but it doesnt seem to replace anything. i guess the search pattern is not found. (although it is there). the search pattern contains all kind of characters including tabs, spaces, $, <, > etc. could that be the problem?
    – clamp
    Jan 17, 2012 at 10:22


find . -name "*.php" -exec sed -i "s/$(cat /path/to/pattern.txt)/$(cat /path/to/replacement.txt)/g" {} \;

where pattern is the pattern to search for and replacement is the text to replace it with.

The -i option for sed edits the files "in place". If you want to create a backup of the file before you edit it, use -i'.bak'.

  • thanks! how would i get pattern and replacement from a file?
    – clamp
    Jan 17, 2012 at 9:42
  • @clamp Replace the argument to sed by "s/$(cat /path/to/pattern.txt)/$(cat /path/to/replacement.txt)/g". Jan 17, 2012 at 23:39
perl -p -i -e 's/originalString/targetString/g' `find . -name '*' -type f`
  • Can you explain this?
    – George M
    Jan 18, 2013 at 2:57

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