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VS Code - using regular expressions in find / replace

VS Code - using regular expressions in find / replace

·3 mins·

A quick reminder to use regular expressions in VS Code. This is a feature I use frequently, but not enough to remember the patterns when I need them.

What is the regular expression engine?

Regular expressions may be in ECMAScript 5 or PCRE2 format.

Opening the search/replace widget

To start a search, simply use Ctrl + F or for MacOS Cmd + F to open this widget:

search widget

To start a search with replacement, simply use Ctrl + Shift + F or for MacOS Cmd + Shift + F which opens this widget:

replacement widget

To activate the regexes, click on .*.

Entering regular expressions

I’m not going to rehash a course on regular expressions, but I’ll take a few to give you a refresher. You can practice with the site

To search for a character in a set, just put []. For example, a lowercase letter [a-z], an upper or lowercase letter [a-zA-Z], a number [0_9], etc. You can add other characters to the list.

You can use | to specify one or more words: me|you|we|you searches for the words me, you, we or you.

Special characters:

  • \n line break
  • \r carriage return
  • \t tabulation
  • \f page break
  • \e exhaust
  • ^ designates the beginning of a line
  • $ designates the end of a line


  • \w which is equivalent to [a-zA-Z0-9_].
  • \W to [^a-zA-Z0-9_] so the opposite of \w.
  • \s to [\r\n\t\f\v]
  • \S to all characters other than those of \s.
  • \d to [0-9]
  • \D to all non-numeric characters. [^0-9]
  • . to any character except line break
  • \b searches for all \w sequences whose first and/or last letter is the preceding one.

To set the number of occurrences of a character or set

  • ? to zero or one occurrence of a search
  • + to one or more occurrences of a search.
  • * to zero or more occurrences of a search.
  • {i,j} same as above, but define the minimum and maximum number of repetitions.


  • (...) captures the content for reuse in the replace field with the $n character. n is the index of the () occurrence.

If you are looking for one of the reserved characters, you have to escape them with \ : $^.|?*+()[]{}

Some examples

In an Ansible playbook, you forgot to surround a variable name with spaces.

"{{variable}}" should be written as "{{ variable }}".

We need to add escapes since we are looking for {}. :

  • In the search field: \{\{(\w+)\}\}
  • In the replacement field: {{ $1 }}

In job descriptions, we would like the first letter of the job to be capitalized.

  • In the search field: (\s+) - name: (\w+)
  • In the replacement field: $1 - name: \u$2

In the result field, simply precede the occurrence of the capture with \u. To lowercase \l. To do so on the full word \L or \U.