How can I exclude directories from grep -R? – Dev

The best answers to the question “How can I exclude directories from grep -R?” in the category Dev.


I want to traverse all subdirectories, except the “node_modules” directory.


SOLUTION 1 (combine find and grep)

The purpose of this solution is not to deal with grep performance but to show a portable solution : should also work with busybox or GNU version older than 2.5.

Use find, for excluding directories foo and bar :

find /dir \( -name foo -prune \) -o \( -name bar -prune \) -o -name "*.sh" -print

Then combine find and the non-recursive use of grep, as a portable solution :

find /dir \( -name node_modules -prune \) -o -name "*.sh" -exec grep --color -Hn "your text to find" {} 2>/dev/null \;

SOLUTION 2 (using the --exclude-dir option of grep):

You know this solution already, but I add it since it’s the most recent and efficient solution. Note this is a less portable solution but more human-readable.

grep -R --exclude-dir=node_modules 'some pattern' /path/to/search

To exclude multiple directories, use --exclude-dir as:



If you frequently search through code, Ag (The Silver Searcher) is a much faster alternative to grep, that’s customized for searching code. For instance, it automatically ignores files and directories listed in .gitignore, so you don’t have to keep passing the same cumbersome exclude options to grep or find.


Recent versions of GNU Grep (>= 2.5.2) provide:


which excludes directories matching the pattern dir from recursive directory searches.

So you can do:

grep -R --exclude-dir=node_modules 'some pattern' /path/to/search

For a bit more information regarding syntax and usage see

  • The GNU man page for File and Directory Selection
  • A related StackOverflow answer Use grep –exclude/–include syntax to not grep through certain files

For older GNU Greps and POSIX Grep, use find as suggested in other answers.

Or just use ack (Edit: or The Silver Searcher) and be done with it!


This syntax


is expanded by the shell (e.g. Bash), not by grep, into this:

--exclude-dir=dir1 --exclude-dir=dir2

Quoting will prevent the shell from expanding it, so this won’t work:

--exclude-dir="{dir1,dir2}"    <-- this won't work

The patterns used with --exclude-dir are the same kind of patterns described in the man page for the --exclude option:

    Skip files whose base name matches GLOB (using wildcard matching).
    A file-name glob can use *, ?, and [...]  as wildcards, and \ to
    quote a wildcard or backslash character literally.

The shell will generally try to expand such a pattern itself, so to avoid this, you should quote it:


You can use the curly braces and quoted exclude patterns together like this:



If you want to exclude multiple directories:

“r” for recursive, “l” to print only names of files containing matches and “i” to ignore case distinctions :

grep -rli --exclude-dir={dir1,dir2,dir3} keyword /path/to/search

Example : I want to find files that contain the word ‘hello’. I want to search in all my linux directories except proc directory, boot directory, sys directory and root directory :

grep -rli --exclude-dir={proc,boot,root,sys} hello /

Note : The example above needs to be root

Note 2 (according to @skplunkerin) : do not add spaces after the commas in {dir1,dir2,dir3}