Is there a way to search PDF files using grep, without converting to text first in Ubuntu?


19 Answers 19


Install the package pdfgrep, then use the command:

find /path -iname '*.pdf' -exec pdfgrep pattern {} +


Simplest way to do that:

pdfgrep 'pattern' *.pdf
pdfgrep 'pattern' file.pdf 
  • 8
    This works in mac osx (Mavericks) as well. Install it using brew. Simple. Thanks. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 1:28
  • 10
    Out of curiosity I checked the source of pdfgrep and it uses poppler to extract strings from the pdf. Almost exactly as @wag's answer only pagewise rather than, presumably, the entire document. Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 11:11
  • 13
    pdfgrep also has a recursive flag. So this answer could perhaps be reduced to: pdfgrep -R pattern /path/. Though it might be less effective if it goes through every file even if it isn't a PDF. And I notice that it has issues with international characters such as å, ä and ö.
    – Rovanion
    Commented Jan 14, 2016 at 12:11
  • 6
    This answer would be easier to use if it explained which bits of the command are meant to copied literally and which are placeholders. What's pattern? What's {}? What's up with the ` +`? I have no idea upon first reading... so off to the manpage I go, I suppose.
    – Mark Amery
    Commented Apr 20, 2018 at 14:44
  • 3
    @MarkAmery This answer is unnecessarily complex because he is find. The usage is simply pdfgrep 'pattern' file.pdf. The {} is just a way to drop the file name in from find. Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 10:30

If you have poppler-utils installed (default on Ubuntu Desktop), you could "convert" it on the fly and pipe it to grep:

pdftotext my.pdf - | grep 'pattern'

This won't create a .txt file.

  • 21
    @akira The OP probably meant "without opening the PDF in a viewer and exporting to text" Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 17:36
  • 6
    @akira Where do you see "grep only"? Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 18:55
  • 7
    @akira Well, I already said what I think he probably meant; he doesn't want to export to text before processing it. I very much doubt he has a problem with any command that converts to text in any way; there's no reason not to Commented Feb 1, 2011 at 5:52
  • 2
    Nice solution. What is the purpose of the - character preceding the pipe? I observed that without it, or with any or character, the a file is created with the same name and the grep is not executed as expected. Is this how all linux piping is done when the intermediate file is unnecessary?
    – sherrellbc
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 18:42
  • 4
    @sherrellbc The second argument of pdftotext is the filename it should write to. However, by convention, tools typically allow you to write to stdout instead of to a file by specifying a - instead. Similarly, some tools would write to stdout by default if you omit such an argument entirely (but this is not always possible without creating ambiguity).
    – Joost
    Commented Sep 23, 2016 at 14:06

pdfgrep was written for exactly this purpose and is available in Ubuntu.

It tries to be mostly compatible to grep and thus provides "the power of grep", only specialized for PDFs. That includes common grep options, such as --recursive, --ignore-case or --color.

In contrast to pdftotext | grep, pdfgrep can output the page number of a match in a performant way and is generally faster when it doesn't have to search the whole document (e.g. --max-count or --quiet).

The basic usage is:

pdfgrep PATTERN FILE..

where PATTERN is your search string and FILE a list of filenames (or wildcards in a shell).

See the manpage for more infos.

  • 1
    As of release 2.0 pdfgrep has a --cache option to drastically speed up multiple searches on the same files. Commented Oct 24, 2022 at 0:48

Recoll can search PDFs. It doesn't support regular expressions, but it has lots of other search options, so it might fit your needs.


There is a duplicate question on StackOverflow. The people there suggest a variation of harish.venkarts answer:

find /path -name '*.pdf' -exec sh -c 'pdftotext "{}" - | grep --with-filename --label="{}" --color "your pattern"' \;

The advantage over the similar answer here is the --with-filename flag for grep. This is somewhat superior to pdfgrep as well, because the standard grep has more features.


  • 1
    I think it would have been better to leave this as a comment (or edit) in the similar answer you are referring to.
    – Bernhard
    Commented May 9, 2014 at 12:07


A pdf consists of chunks of data, some of them text, some of them pictures and some of them really magical fancy XYZ (eg. .u3d files). Those chunks are most of the times compressed (eg. flat, check http://www.verypdf.com/pdfinfoeditor/compression.htm). In order to 'grep' a .pdf you have to reverse the compression aka extract the text.

You can do that either per file with tools such as pdf2text and grep the result, or you run an 'indexer' (look at xapian.org or lucene) which builds an searchable index out of your .pdf files and then you can use the search engine tools of that indexer to get the content of the pdf.

But no, you can not grep pdf files and hope for reliable answers without extracting the text first.

  • 15
    Considering pdfgrep exists (see above), a flat "no" is incorrect. Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 10:18
  • 3
    @JonathanCross, considering the question says "using the power of grep, without converting to text first", a flat "no" is correct.
    – Jivan Pal
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 8:58
  • A good way to ask for an alternative without explicit requesting an alternative. Anyway, lucene as indexer works generally well.
    – ChoCho
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 15:02
  • @JonathanCross The verb convert is ambiguous. To insist on one interpretation instead of a possibly different one in the mind of the OP is uncharitable pedantry.
    – Pound Hash
    Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 21:08
  • @JonathanCross :) "use grep without convert to text" is the limiting part of the question. A question like "can I use $something on CLI to search for text in PDFs" would have yielded a different answer from me … or none at all because those pdftotext answers exist already.
    – akira
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:04

Take a look at the common resource grep tool crgrep which supports searching within PDF files.

It also allows searching other resources like content nested in archives, database tables, image meta-data, POM file dependencies and web resources - and combinations of these including recursive search.


Here is a quick script for search pdf in the current directory :


if [ $# -ne 1 ]; then
  echo "usage $0 VALUE" 1>&2
  exit 1


find . -name '*.pdf' -exec /bin/bash -c 'pdftotext "{}" - | grep --with-filename --label="{}" --color "$0"' "$1" \;
  • I cannot edit this due to being to little: The $1 in the find invocation should be quoted, otherwise this won't work with search terms with spaces.
    – ankon
    Commented Aug 25, 2020 at 11:44
  • 1
    @ankon fixed it :)
    – Nico
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 17:53

You could pipe it through strings first:-

cat file.pdf | strings | grep <...etc...>
  • 11
    Just use strings file.pdf | grep <...>, you don't need cat
    – phunehehe
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 14:31
  • Yeah - my mind seems to work better with streams... :-)
    – Andy Smith
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 14:57
  • 14
    wont work if text is compressed, which it is most of the times.
    – akira
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 15:18
  • 8
    Even if the text is uncompressed, it's generally small pieces of sentences (not even necessarily whole words!) finely intermixed with formatting information. Not very friendly for strings or grep.
    – Jander
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 16:08
  • Can you think of another reason why using strings for this wouldn't work? I found that using strings works on some PDFs but not others.
    – hourback
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 19:58

try this

find /path -iname *.pdf -print0 | for i in `xargs 0`; do echo $i; \
    pdftotext "$i" - | grep pattern; done

for printing the lines the pattern occurs inside the pdf


cd to your folder containing your pdf-file and then..

pdfgrep 'pattern' your.pdf

or if you want to search in more than just one pdf-file (e.g. in all pdf-files in your folder)

pdfgrep 'pattern'  `ls *.pdf`


pdfgrep 'pattern' $(ls *.pdf)
  • 1
    why on earth do you use ls to put filenames in parameters? It's not only slower but also a bad idea to use ls output as the input to other commands. Just pdfgrep 'pattern' *.pdf is enough
    – phuclv
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 5:07
  • @phuclv Your are wrong. pdfgrep 'pattern' *.pdf will not work.
    – f0nzie
    Commented Feb 25, 2020 at 19:55
  • @f0nzie you're wrong. $(ls *.pdf) will be almost exactly the same as *.pdf, only worse because special files are not protected in quotes
    – phuclv
    Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 1:45

If you just want to search for pdf names/properties... or simple strings that are not compressed or encoded then instead of strings you can use the below

grep -a STRING file.pdf
cat -v file.pdf | grep STRING

From grep --help:

      --binary-files=TYPE   assume that binary files are TYPE;
                            TYPE is 'binary', 'text', or 'without-match'
  -a, --text                equivalent to --binary-files=text

and cat --help:

  -v, --show-nonprinting   use ^ and M- notation, except for LFD and TAB

I assume you mean tp not convert it on the disk, you can convert them to stdout and then grep it with pdftotext. Grepping the pdf without any sort of conversion is not a practical approach since PDF is mostly a binary format.

In the directory:

ls -1 ./*.pdf | xargs -L1 -I {} pdftotext {}  - | grep "keyword"

or in the directory and its subdirectories:

tree -fai . | grep -P ".pdf$" | xargs -L1 -I {} pdftotext {}  - | grep "keyword"

Also because some pdf are scans they need to be OCRed first. I wrote a pretty simple way to search all pdfs that cannot be greped and OCR them.

I noticed if a pdf file doesn't have any font it is usually not searchable. So knowing this we can use pdffonts.

First 2 lines of the pdffonts are the table header, so when a file is searchable has more than two line output, knowing this we can create:

gedit check_pdf_searchable.sh

then paste this

#set -vx
if ((`pdffonts "$1" | wc -l` < 3 )); then
echo $1
pypdfocr "$1"

then make it executable

chmod +x check_pdf_searchable.sh

then list all non-searchable pdfs in the directory:

ls -1 ./*.pdf | xargs -L1 -I {} ./check_pdf_searchable.sh {}

or in the directory and its subdirectories:

tree -fai . | grep -P ".pdf$" | xargs -L1 -I {} ./check_pdf_searchable.sh {}

gpdf might be what you need if you're using Gnome! Check this in case you're not using Gnome. It's got a list of CLI pdf viewers. Then you can use grep to find some pattern.

pdfgrep -r --include "*.pdf" -i 'pattern'
  • 3
    Welcome to the site, and thank you for your contribution. Could you add some explanation on what these options mean? This could also help explain how your approach differs from other answers to this question that also recommend pdfgrep.
    – AdminBee
    Commented Aug 17, 2020 at 9:53

ripgrep-all (or rga) enables ripgrep functionality on multiple file types, including PDFs.


Quickest way is

grep -rinw "pattern" --include \*.pdf *
  • 1
    Welcome to the site. Would you mind adding more explanation to your proposed solution to make it more accessible to the non-expert? For example, your grep command-line searches recursively in sub-directories which someone not familiar with grep might be unaware of. Also, you included the -i flag although ignoring the case may not always be what the user wants. In addition, please explain in what way your approach differs from the asnwer of e.g. @phuclv and others.
    – AdminBee
    Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 8:12
  • 1
    As AdminBee says, the question doesn’t ask for a case-insensitive search or a recursive directory search. The -n and -w options aren’t justified by the question, either. But, more importantly, this answer tells how to search through text files whose names end with .pdf — you’ve missed the point of the question. Commented Jan 21, 2020 at 8:22

put this in your bashrc:

LESSOPEN="|/usr/bin/lesspipe %s"; export LESSOPEN    

Then you can use less:

less mypdf.pdf | grep "Hello, World"

Check : https://www.zeuthen.desy.de/~friebel/unix/lesspipe.html : to get more about this.


If you want to use a GUI you can try pdfgrepgui.

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