How to Do Recursive Find and Replace in the Command Line With sed

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I get it. It’s 2 a.m. and you need a name for a placeholder variable, but for some reason the only name you can think of is “dicks.”

So you type public int dicks = 5;, and keep going. Everything is golden…until the next day when you realize that you’re a full-grown adult with a paycheck and a degree who just wrote the word dicks in a dozen different files, like a child.

This is never going to pass code review.

The good news: with a simple recursive find and replace operation, you can take all those dicks in all those files and turn them into something more socially acceptable like foobar.

The bad news: it’s almost impossible to do recursive find and replace in Vim1, and you’re too proud to use a point-and-click editor.

In moments like this you couuuuld just cave and open Sublime or Atom and do a simple find and replace in 5 seconds and be done with it…OR you could do it in the command line, and use sed and xargs because you’re a real hacker with self-respect.

Without further ado, here’s how to do recursive find-and-replace in Mac OS X:

find . -name "*" -type f -print | xargs sed -i '' -e 's:dicks:foobar:g'

Linux version:

find . -name "*" -type f -print | xargs sed -i'' -e 's:dicks:foobar:g'

The above command will replace all occurrences of the string dicks with foobar in all files starting at your current directory, sanitizing your code for the whole world to see. 2

Interesting tidbit: The Mac and Linux commands are different because Mac uses OpenBSD sed, while Linux is all about that GNU sed life. 3

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  1. Although with some patience and a plugin or two it can be done. 

  2. There are a bunch of other ways to do this according to this thread on StackOverflow but I tried basically all of them and none of them worked for me. 

  3. For more information. 


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