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Search Expressions

Search expressions provide a hybrid syntax between keyword search and boolean expressions. In this way, a search is a shorthand for a "lean forward" style activity where one is interactively exploring data with ad hoc searches. All shorthand searches have a corresponding long form built from the expression syntax in combination with the search term syntax described below.

Search Patterns

Several styles of string search can be performed with a search expression (as well as the grep function) using "patterns", where a pattern is a regular expression, glob, or simple string.

Regular Expressions

A regular expression is specified in the familiar slash syntax where the expression begins with a / character and ends with a terminating / character. The string between the slashes (exclusive of those characters) is the regular expression.

The format of Zed regular expressions follows the syntax of the RE2 regular expression library and is documented in the RE2 Wiki.

Regular expressions may be used freely in search expressions, e.g.,

echo '"foo" {s:"bar"} {s:"baz"} {foo:1}' | zq -z '/(foo|bar)/' -



Regular expressions may also appear in the grep, regexp, and regexp_replace functions:

echo '"foo" {s:"bar"} {s:"baz"} {foo:1}' | zq -z 'yield {ba_start:grep(/^ba.*/, s),last_s_char:regexp(/(.)$/,s)[1]}' -




Globs provide a convenient short-hand for regular expressions and follow the familiar pattern of "file globbing" supported by Unix shells. Zed globs are a simple, special case that utilize only the * wildcard.

Valid glob characters include a through z, A through Z, any valid string escape sequence (along with escapes for *, =, +, -), and the unescaped characters:

_ . : / % # @ ~

A glob must begin with one of these characters or * then may be followed by any of these characters, *, or digits 0 through 9.

Note that these rules do not allow for a leading digit.

For example, a prefix match is easily accomplished via prefix*, e.g.,

echo '"foo" {s:"bar"} {s:"baz"} {foo:1}' | zq -z 'b*' -



Likewise, a suffix match may be performed as follows:

echo '"foo" {s:"bar"} {s:"baz"} {foo:1}' | zq -z '*z' -




echo '"foo" {s:"bar"} {s:"baz"} {a:1}' | zq -z '*a*' -



Globs may also appear in the grep function:

echo '"foo" {s:"bar"} {s:"baz"} {foo:1}' | zq -z 'yield grep(ba*, s)' -



Note that a glob may look like multiplication but context disambiguates these conditions, e.g.,


is a glob match for any matching string value in the input, but


is a Boolean comparison between the product a*b and c.

Search Logic

The search patterns described above can be combined with other "search terms" using Boolean logic to form search expressions.

Note that when processing ZNG data, the Zed runtime performs a multi-threaded Boyer-Moore scan over decompressed data buffers before parsing any data. This allows large buffers of data to be efficiently discarded and skipped when searching for rarely occurring values. For a Zed lake, a planned feature will introduce search indexes to further accelerate searches. This will include an approach for locating delimited words within string fields, which will allow accelerated search using a full-text search index.

Search Terms

A "search term" is one of the following;

  • a regular expression as described above,
  • a glob as described above,
  • a keyword,
  • any literal of a primitive type, or
  • expression predicates.

Regular Expression Search Term

A regular expression /re/ is equivalent to

grep(/re/, this)

but shorter and easier to type in a search expression.

For example,


Searches for any string that begins with foo or bar has the string baz in it and ends with .com.

Glob Search Term

A glob search term <glob> is equivalent to

grep(<glob>, this)

but shorter and easier to type in a search expression.

For example,


Searches for any string that begins with foo has the string baz in it and ends with .com.

Keyword Search Term

Keywords and string literals are equivalent search terms so it is often easier to quote a string search term instead of using escapes in a keyword. Keywords are useful in interactive workflows where searches can be issued and modified quickly without having to type matching quotes.

Keyword search has the look and feel of Web search or email search.

Valid keyword characters include a through z, A through Z, any valid string escape sequence (along with escapes for *, =, +, -), and the unescaped characters:

_ . : / % # @ ~

A keyword must begin with one of these characters then may be followed by any of these characters or digits 0 through 9.

A keyword search is equivalent to

grep(<keyword>, this)

where <keyword> is the quoted string-literal of the unquoted string. For example,

search foo

is equivalent to

where grep("foo", this)

Note that the "search" keyword may be omitted. For example, the simplest Zed program is perhaps a single keyword search, e.g.,


As above, this program searches the implied input for values that contain the string "foo".

String Literal Search Term

A string literal as a search term is simply a search for that string and is equivalent to

grep(<string>, this)

For example,

search "foo"

is equivalent to

where grep("foo", this)

Note that this equivalency between keyword search terms and grep semantics will change in the near future when we add support for full-text search. In this case, grep will still support substring match but keyword search will match segmented words from string fields so that they can be efficiently queried in search indexes.

Non-String Literal Search Term

Search terms representing non-string Zed values search for both an exact match for the given value as well as a string search for the term exactly as it appears as typed. Such values include:

  • integers,
  • floating point numbers,
  • time values,
  • durations,
  • IP addresses,
  • networks,
  • bytes values, and
  • type values.

A search for a Zed value <value> represented as the string <string> is equivalent to

<value> in this or grep(<string>, this)

For example,

search 123 and

which can be abbreviated


is equivalent to

where (123 in this or grep("123", this)) and ( in this or grep("", this))

Complex values are not supported as search terms but may be queried with the "in" operator, e.g.,

{s:"foo"} in this

Predicate Search Term

Any Boolean-valued function like is, has, grep, etc. and any comparison expression may be used as a search term and mixed into a search expression.

For example,

is(<foo>) has(bar) baz x==y+z timestamp > 2018-03-24T17:17:55Z

is a valid search expression but

/foo.*/ x+1

is not.

Boolean Logic

Search terms may be combined into boolean expressions using logical operators and, or, not, and !. and may be elided; i.e., concatenation of search terms is a logical and. not (and its equivalent !) has highest precedence and and has precedence over or. Parentheses may be used to override natural precedence.

Note that the concatenation form of and is not valid in standard expressions and is available only in search expressions. Concatenation is convenient in interactive sessions but it is best practice to explicitly include the and operator when editing Zed source files.

For example,

not foo bar or baz


((not grep("foo")) and grep("bar)) or grep("baz")


foo (bar or baz)


grep("foo") and (grep("bar)) or grep("baz"))