Search and replace a line in a file in Python


I want to loop over the contents of a text file and do a search and replace on some lines and write the result back to the file. I could first load the whole file in memory and then write it back, but that probably is not the best way to do it.

What is the best way to do this, within the following code?

f = open(file)
for line in f:
    if line.contains('foo'):
        newline = line.replace('foo', 'bar')
        # how to write this newline back to the file

This question is tagged with python file

~ Asked on 2008-09-02 09:19:04

13 Answers


I guess something like this should do it. It basically writes the content to a new file and replaces the old file with the new file:

from tempfile import mkstemp
from shutil import move, copymode
from os import fdopen, remove

def replace(file_path, pattern, subst):
    #Create temp file
    fh, abs_path = mkstemp()
    with fdopen(fh,'w') as new_file:
        with open(file_path) as old_file:
            for line in old_file:
                new_file.write(line.replace(pattern, subst))
    #Copy the file permissions from the old file to the new file
    copymode(file_path, abs_path)
    #Remove original file
    #Move new file
    move(abs_path, file_path)

~ Answered on 2008-09-02 09:42:21


The shortest way would probably be to use the fileinput module. For example, the following adds line numbers to a file, in-place:

import fileinput

for line in fileinput.input("test.txt", inplace=True):
    print('{} {}'.format(fileinput.filelineno(), line), end='') # for Python 3
    # print "%d: %s" % (fileinput.filelineno(), line), # for Python 2

What happens here is:

  1. The original file is moved to a backup file
  2. The standard output is redirected to the original file within the loop
  3. Thus any print statements write back into the original file

fileinput has more bells and whistles. For example, it can be used to automatically operate on all files in sys.args[1:], without your having to iterate over them explicitly. Starting with Python 3.2 it also provides a convenient context manager for use in a with statement.

While fileinput is great for throwaway scripts, I would be wary of using it in real code because admittedly it's not very readable or familiar. In real (production) code it's worthwhile to spend just a few more lines of code to make the process explicit and thus make the code readable.

There are two options:

  1. The file is not overly large, and you can just read it wholly to memory. Then close the file, reopen it in writing mode and write the modified contents back.
  2. The file is too large to be stored in memory; you can move it over to a temporary file and open that, reading it line by line, writing back into the original file. Note that this requires twice the storage.

~ Answered on 2008-11-14 15:47:40


Here's another example that was tested, and will match search & replace patterns:

import fileinput
import sys

def replaceAll(file,searchExp,replaceExp):
    for line in fileinput.input(file, inplace=1):
        if searchExp in line:
            line = line.replace(searchExp,replaceExp)

Example use:


~ Answered on 2008-11-24 19:02:28


This should work: (inplace editing)

import fileinput

# Does a list of files, and
# redirects STDOUT to the file in question
for line in fileinput.input(files, inplace = 1): 
      print line.replace("foo", "bar"),

~ Answered on 2009-09-07 10:07:25


Based on the answer by Thomas Watnedal. However, this does not answer the line-to-line part of the original question exactly. The function can still replace on a line-to-line basis

This implementation replaces the file contents without using temporary files, as a consequence file permissions remain unchanged.

Also re.sub instead of replace, allows regex replacement instead of plain text replacement only.

Reading the file as a single string instead of line by line allows for multiline match and replacement.

import re

def replace(file, pattern, subst):
    # Read contents from file as a single string
    file_handle = open(file, 'r')
    file_string =

    # Use RE package to allow for replacement (also allowing for (multiline) REGEX)
    file_string = (re.sub(pattern, subst, file_string))

    # Write contents to file.
    # Using mode 'w' truncates the file.
    file_handle = open(file, 'w')

~ Answered on 2012-11-30 08:51:17


As lassevk suggests, write out the new file as you go, here is some example code:

fin = open("a.txt")
fout = open("b.txt", "wt")
for line in fin:
    fout.write( line.replace('foo', 'bar') )

~ Answered on 2008-09-02 09:42:57


A more pythonic way would be to use context managers like the code below:

from tempfile import mkstemp
from shutil import move
from os import remove

def replace(source_file_path, pattern, substring):
    fh, target_file_path = mkstemp()
    with open(target_file_path, 'w') as target_file:
        with open(source_file_path, 'r') as source_file:
            for line in source_file:
                target_file.write(line.replace(pattern, substring))
    move(target_file_path, source_file_path)

You can find the full snippet here.

~ Answered on 2013-09-07 18:39:01


If you're wanting a generic function that replaces any text with some other text, this is likely the best way to go, particularly if you're a fan of regex's:

import re
def replace( filePath, text, subs, flags=0 ):
    with open( filePath, "r+" ) as file:
        fileContents =
        textPattern = re.compile( re.escape( text ), flags )
        fileContents = textPattern.sub( subs, fileContents ) 0 )
        file.write( fileContents )

~ Answered on 2014-02-18 14:43:02


fileinput is quite straightforward as mentioned on previous answers:

import fileinput

def replace_in_file(file_path, search_text, new_text):
    with fileinput.input(file_path, inplace=True) as f:
        for line in f:
            new_line = line.replace(search_text, new_text)
            print(new_line, end='')


  • fileinput can accept multiple files, but I prefer to close each single file as soon as it is being processed. So placed single file_path in with statement.
  • print statement does not print anything when inplace=True, because STDOUT is being forwarded to the original file.
  • end='' in print statement is to eliminate intermediate blank new lines.

Can be used as follows:

file_path = '/path/to/my/file'
replace_in_file(file_path, 'old-text', 'new-text')

~ Answered on 2019-10-03 10:37:58


Create a new file, copy lines from the old to the new, and do the replacing before you write the lines to the new file.

~ Answered on 2008-09-02 09:24:20


Expanding on @Kiran's answer, which I agree is more succinct and Pythonic, this adds codecs to support the reading and writing of UTF-8:

import codecs 

from tempfile import mkstemp
from shutil import move
from os import remove

def replace(source_file_path, pattern, substring):
    fh, target_file_path = mkstemp()

    with, 'w', 'utf-8') as target_file:
        with, 'r', 'utf-8') as source_file:
            for line in source_file:
                target_file.write(line.replace(pattern, substring))
    move(target_file_path, source_file_path)

~ Answered on 2014-05-02 11:15:57


Using hamishmcn's answer as a template I was able to search for a line in a file that match my regex and replacing it with empty string.

import re 

fin = open("in.txt", 'r') # in file
fout = open("out.txt", 'w') # out file
for line in fin:
    p = re.compile('[-][0-9]*[.][0-9]*[,]|[-][0-9]*[,]') # pattern
    newline = p.sub('',line) # replace matching strings with empty string
    print newline

~ Answered on 2014-04-17 02:13:32


if you remove the indent at the like below, it will search and replace in multiple line. See below for example.

def replace(file, pattern, subst):
    #Create temp file
    fh, abs_path = mkstemp()
    print fh, abs_path
    new_file = open(abs_path,'w')
    old_file = open(file)
    for line in old_file:
        new_file.write(line.replace(pattern, subst))
    #close temp file
    #Remove original file
    #Move new file
    move(abs_path, file)

~ Answered on 2012-08-02 19:12:12

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