Using a shell like bash or zshell, how can I do a recursive 'find and replace'? In other words, I want to replace every occurrence of 'foo' with 'bar' in all files in this directory and its subdirectories.


This command will do it (tested on both Mac OS X Lion and Kubuntu Linux).

# Recursively find and replace in files
find . -type f -name "*.txt" -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e 's/foo/bar/g'

Here's how it works:

  1. find . -type f -name '*.txt' finds, in the current directory (.) and below, all regular files (-type f) whose names end in .txt
  2. | passes the output of that command (a list of filenames) to the next command
  3. xargs gathers up those filenames and hands them one by one to sed
  4. sed -i '' -e 's/foo/bar/g' means "edit the file in place, without a backup, and make the following substitution (s/foo/bar) multiple times per line (/g)" (see man sed)

Note that the 'without a backup' part in line 4 is OK for me, because the files I'm changing are under version control anyway, so I can easily undo if there was a mistake.

To avoid having to remember this, I use an interactive bash script, as follows:

# find_and_replace.sh

echo "Find and replace in current directory!"
echo "File pattern to look for? (eg '*.txt')"
read filepattern
echo "Existing string?"
read existing
echo "Replacement string?"
read replacement
echo "Replacing all occurences of $existing with $replacement in files matching $filepattern"

find . -type f -name $filepattern -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e "s/$existing/$replacement/g"
  • 13
    Never ever pipe find output to xargs without the -print0 option. Your command will fail on files with spaces etc. in their name. – slhck May 24 '12 at 23:16
  • 21
    Also, just find -name '*.txt' -exec sed -i 's/foo/bar/g' {} + will do all this with GNU find. – Daniel Andersson May 25 '12 at 7:20
  • 8
    I get sed: can't read : No such file or directory when I run find . -name '*.md' -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e 's/ä/ä/g', but find . -name '*.md' -print0 gives a list of many files. – Martin Thoma Jan 30 '14 at 11:00
  • 12
    This works for me if I remove the space between the -i and the '' – Canadian Luke Jun 2 '14 at 19:49
  • 4
    What is the meaning of '' after the sed -i what is the '' role? – Jas Jul 28 '15 at 15:06
find . -type f -name "*.txt" -exec sed -i'' -e 's/foo/bar/g' {} +

This removes the xargs dependency.

  • 4
    This does not work with GNU sed, so will fail on most systems. GNU sed requires you to put no space between -i and ''. – slhck Jan 16 '13 at 9:59
  • 2
    The accepted answers does a better job of explaining it. but +1 for using the correct syntax. – orodbhen Nov 18 '16 at 17:10
  • -i'' is exactly the same as -i. – Carsten S Jan 7 at 16:35

If you're using Git then you can do this:

git grep -lz foo | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e 's/foo/bar/g'

-l lists only filenames. -z prints a null byte after each result.

I ended up doing this because some files in a project did not have a newline at the end of the file, and sed added a newline even when it made no other changes. (No comment on whether or not files should have a newline at the end. 🙂)

  • 1
    Big +1 for this solution. The rest of the find ... -print0 | xargs -0 sed ... solutions not only take a lot longer but also add newlines to files that don't have one already, which is a nuisance when working inside a git repo. git grep is lighting fast by comparison. – Josh Kupershmidt Sep 30 '16 at 19:56
  • Not sure what the single quote pair does in the sed command. I think it was causing a "no such file" error. Worked great without them. – David Lotts Dec 28 '20 at 23:04
  • May be a difference between gnu sed and other sed implementations. – David Winiecki Dec 30 '20 at 4:23

Here's my zsh/perl function I use for this:

change () {
        for file in $*
                perl -i.bak -p -e "s{$from}{$to}g;" $file
                echo "Changing $from to $to in $file"

And I'd execute it using

$ change foo bar **/*.java

(for example)



sed -i 's/foo/bar/g' $(find . -type f)

Tested on Ubuntu 12.04.


This command will NOT work if subdirectory names and/or filenames contain spaces, but if you do have them don't use this command as it won't work.

It is generally a bad practice to use spaces in directory names and filenames.


Look at "Important facts about file names"

  • 1
    Try it when you have file(s) with space(s) in their names.  (There's a rule of thumb that says, "If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."  If you have "discovered" a solution that's more compact than anything anybody else has posted in 3½ years, you should ask yourself why that might be.) – Scott Nov 8 '15 at 6:43

Use This Shell Script

I now use this shell script, which combines things I learned from the other answers and from searching the web. I placed it in a file called change in a folder on my $PATH and did chmod +x change.

function err_echo {
  >&2 echo "$1"

function usage {
  err_echo "usage:"
  err_echo '  change old new foo.txt'
  err_echo '  change old new foo.txt *.html'
  err_echo '  change old new **\*.txt'
  exit 1

[ $# -eq 0 ] && err_echo "No args given" && usage

files=$* # the rest of the arguments

[ -z "$old_val" ]  && err_echo "No old value given" && usage
[ -z "$new_val" ]  && err_echo "No new value given" && usage
[ -z "$files" ]    && err_echo "No filenames given" && usage

for file in $files; do
  sed -i '' -e "s/$old_val/$new_val/g" $file
  • so which of your two answers you prefer? – David Mar 16 at 5:29

My use case was I wanted to replace foo:/Drive_Letter with foo:/bar/baz/xyz In my case I was able to do it with the following code. I was in the same directory location where there were bulk of files.

find . -name "*.library" -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e 's/foo:\/Drive_Letter:/foo:\/bar\/baz\/xyz/g'

hope that helped.


The following command worked fine on Ubuntu and CentOS; however, under OS X I kept getting errors:

find . -name Root -exec sed -i 's/\/home/foo.com\/mnt/' {} \;

sed: 1: "./Root": invalid command code .

When I tried passing the params via xargs it worked fine with no errors:

find . -name Root -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e 's/\/home/foo.com\/mnt/'
  • The fact that you changed -i to -i '' is probably more relevant than the fact that you changed -exec to -print0 | xargs -0.  BTW, you probably don't need the -e. – Scott Nov 8 '15 at 6:36
# Recursively find and replace in files
find . -type f -name "*.txt" -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e 's/foo/bar/g'

The above worked like a charm, but with linked directories, I've to add -L flag to it. The final version looks like:

# Recursively find and replace in files
find -L . -type f -name "*.txt" -print0 | xargs -0 sed -i '' -e 's/foo/bar/g'

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