Searching PDF files with pdfgrep

Most people who are familiar with Unix-like systems are aware that the grep utility can search many text files for a particular string using regular expressions. For instance, the command

$ grep function_name *.cc *.h
searches all of the C++ source (.cc) and header (.h) files in the current directory for the string “function_name,”

$ grep -E '\\todo' *.cc *.h
searches the same files for “\todo,” and

$ grep -E '^class' *.cc *.h
searches the same files for lines that begin with the keyword, “class.”

Suppose you are writing a research paper or a proposal. In the process of preparing to write, you read and skimmed many articles in PDF format. Unless you kept very careful notes while you were reading—or you have an exceptionally detailed memory—you will probably have trouble finding certain details from the papers that you read. Google is often not terribly helpful in this situation and skimming through the articles again can be very time-consuming.  Luckily, if you have saved the relevant PDFs to your computer’s hard drive, you can search through the files with a single command using pdfgrep. Unlike regular grep, pdfgrep is typically not installed by default. To install on a Debian-based GNU/Linux distribution, simply use

$ sudo apt-get install pdfgrep
Then search your PDFs. See the manual page for details.


$ pdfgrep 'tidal dwarf' *.pdf
searches all of the PDF files in the current directory for the string “tidal dwarf,” while

$ pdfgrep 'clumpy dust' */*.pdf
searches all of the PDF files contained in sub-directories of the current directory for “clumpy dust.”

Yes, there are other tools that can be used to organize PDFs, but pdfgrep is very convenient. You don’t even have to rename your PDFs when you download them from a website. You can even search your web browser’s cache directory or your download folder.

19 Responses to “Searching PDF files with pdfgrep”

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