Search and replace in multiple files with a Perl one-linerEdit

In 2024, Perl still seems like the best choice for ripping through a large directory hierarchy applying simple mass changes.

In the context of a Git repo like this one, I don’t worry about creating backup files; I just let Perl do its thing and then check the result with git status/git diff. In order to not exceed permitted command-line lengths, I grab the list of files I want to operate on with git-grep, and then process them in chunks of 100 files with xargs -L 100.

Here’s an example commit changing 6,939 files on the main branch, out of 9,117 files, as seen in this commit:

git grep -l | xargs -L 100 perl -p -i -e 's/typechecked\.net/'

And the companion commit which changed 938 files out of 8,216 files on the content branch:

git grep -z -l | xargs -0 -L 100 perl -p -i -e 's/typechecked\.net/'

Note the second one needed -z (turning on NUL-byte separators for git-grep) and -0 (telling xargs to expect those separators), in order do avoid:

xargs: unterminated quote

due to filenames with quotes in them.

Related to that, I wanted to go through my Git configs to make sure my references to old hostnames (, were updated to the new one (, so I did this in my home directory:

find code -type f -name config 2> /dev/null | xargs -L 100 egrep -l 'git\.(typechecked\.net|wincent\.com)' | xargs -L 100 perl -p -i -e 's/git\.(typechecked\.net|wincent\.com)/'


  • find . -type f -name config 2> /dev/null (find all regular files named config)
  • xargs -L 100 egrep -l 'git\.(typechecked\.net|wincent\.com) (filter that to only files containing or
  • xargs -L 100 perl -p -i -e 's/git\.(typechecked\.net|wincent\.com)/' (do the find and replace in those files)

Older notes

I recently needed to change all the occurrences of a string in a number of files. The following perl one-liner:

  • Makes backups of all of the files specified by the pattern, files*
  • Names the backups with a .bak extension
  • Searches for the string find
  • Replaces each match with the string replace
perl -i.bak -p -e 's/find/replace/g' files*

Note that you can also just read from standard in and write to standard out, and if you need to specify multiple find/replacement pairs at once:

cat input | perl -pe 's/find/replace/g; s/another/foo/g' > output


In moving to SVK I needed to find a replacement for Subversion externals (see "Working around the lack of svn:externals support in SVK"). Let’s take the example of moving the WOCommon external from inside the Synergy Advance source root:


To outside of it:


First I needed to find all references in the project file. I started with those preceded by a slash:

cd SynergyAdvance.xcodeproj
grep '/WOCommon' project.pbxproj

This yielded two results, one a reference to the WOCommon.xcodeproj file:

BC0CEBDA0AC32E0400434EC2 /* WOCommon.xcodeproj */ = {isa = PBXFileReference; lastKnownFileType = "wrapper.pb-project"; name = WOCommon.xcodeproj; path = ../../WOCommon/tiger/WOCommon.xcodeproj; sourceTree = SOURCE_ROOT; };

Note that this is a reference to the original project file, not the one in the Subversion external. This must be changed to point to the separately checked out copy.

The other result was a shell script which had numerous references of the form "${SOURCE_ROOT}/WOCommon/...".

The first I could handle with:

perl -i -p -e 's#\.\./\.\./WOCommon/tiger#../WOCommon#' project.pbxproj
svk diff # visually inspect the change

Then the second:

perl -i -p -e 's#\$\{SOURCE_ROOT\}/WOCommon#\${SOURCE_ROOT}/../WOCommon#g' project.pbxproj
svk diff

The next step was to find all occurrences of WOCommon followed by a slash (280 lines found):

grep 'WOCommon/' project.pbxproj

We basically want to change all such instances except for those which are preceded by a slash (those we’ve already handled above).

perl -i -p -e 's#(?<!/)WOCommon/#../WOCommon/#g' project.pbxproj
svk diff

Finally, check for WOCommon neither preceded nor followed by a slash:

perl -nle 'print if /(?<!\/)WOCommon(?!\/)/' project.pbxproj

On opening the modified Xcode project everything seemed to be intact; the only thing broken was a single folder reference that had to be updated. Evidently I had overlooked the following in my last check:

BC0CEBFD0AC33D3D00434EC2 /* WOCommon */ = {isa = PBXFileReference; lastKnownFileType = folder; path = WOCommon; sourceTree = "<group>"; };

Finally I had to add "$(SOURCE_ROOT)/.." to my HEADER_SEARCH_PATHS so as to be able to find the relocated shared files.