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4.3. Pattern matching using Bash features

4.3.1. Character ranges

Apart from grep and regular expressions, there's a good deal of pattern matching that you can do directly in the shell, without having to use an external program.

As you already know, the asterisk (*) and the question mark (?) match any string or any single character, respectively. Quote these special characters to match them literally:

 cathy ~> touch "*"

cathy ~> ls "*"

But you can also use the square braces to match any enclosed character or range of characters, if pairs of characters are separated by a hyphen. An example:

 cathy ~> ls -ld [a-cx-z]*
drwxr-xr-x    2 cathy	 cathy		4096 Jul 20  2002 app-defaults/
drwxrwxr-x    4 cathy    cathy          4096 May 25  2002 arabic/
drwxrwxr-x    2 cathy    cathy          4096 Mar  4 18:30 bin/
drwxr-xr-x    7 cathy    cathy          4096 Sep  2  2001 crossover/
drwxrwxr-x    3 cathy    cathy          4096 Mar 22  2002 xml/

This lists all files in cathy's home directory, starting with "a", "b", "c", "x", "y" or "z".

If the first character within the braces is "!" or "^", any character not enclosed will be matched. To match the dash ("-"), include it as the first or last character in the set. The sorting depends on the current locale and of the value of the LC_COLLATE variable, if it is set. Mind that other locales might interpret "[a-cx-z]" as "[aBbCcXxYyZz]" if sorting is done in dictionary order. If you want to be sure to have the traditional interpretation of ranges, force this behavior by setting LC_COLLATE or LC_ALL to "C".

4.3.2. Character classes

Character classes can be specified within the square braces, using the syntax [:CLASS:], where CLASS is defined in the POSIX standard and has one of the values

"alnum", "alpha", "ascii", "blank", "cntrl", "digit", "graph", "lower", "print", "punct", "space", "upper", "word" or "xdigit".

Some examples:

 cathy ~> ls -ld [[:digit:]]*
drwxrwxr-x    2 cathy	cathy		4096 Apr 20 13:45 2/

cathy ~> ls -ld [[:upper:]]*
drwxrwxr--    3 cathy   cathy           4096 Sep 30  2001 Nautilus/
drwxrwxr-x    4 cathy   cathy           4096 Jul 11  2002 OpenOffice.org1.0/
-rw-rw-r--    1 cathy   cathy         997376 Apr 18 15:39 Schedule.sdc

When the extglob shell option is enabled (using the shopt built-in), several extended pattern matching operators are recognized. Read more in the Bash info pages, section Basic shell features->Shell Expansions->Filename Expansion->Pattern Matching.