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Feb 20, 2012

Multiline search and replace in Visual Studio

Today I had to add a new HttpModule to A LOT of web.configs. Adding it manually would be too tedious, so I had to figure out how to search for a single line in Visual Studio 2010 and replace it with two lines of text. If I could only find a way to search for some text, and replace it with several lines of text!

Google turned up some hints about the Regex search, but no apparent solutions. After playing around a bit with the regex search in Visual studio, I found that it supports multiline text in both the search and replace strings.

When you're using "Find and Replace" in Visual Studio you can enable Regular Expressions, under "Find options", as shown in the screenshot. The regular expressions let you represent newlines in the search or replace fields, by using a \n. Cool! I've included an example below the image.

But beware, when you enable regular expressions you need to escape special characters, in my case < and >,  with a backslash. Your "Find" statement will be interpreted as a regular expression. Check out the MSDN page on regular expressions in Visual Studio to learn more about which characters are special and which are not.

Update Sep. 2012: This post deals with Visual Studio 2010. Regular expressions have changed in VS 2012, as you'll see from the link above. See the comments on this post for a new example of multiline search and replace for both VS 2010 and VS 2012.

In my case, I wanted to add a new module directly after the WIF SessionAuthenticationModule. I've shortened the config lines, for space and readability. To match the config line I had to escape < and > which have special meaning in a regex.

\<add name="SessionAuthenticationModule" ... PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" /\>

And you want to replace it with itself, followed by a new line of config (the \N represents the newline):

<add name="SessionAuthenticationModule"... />\n <add name="BrandNewModule" ... />

This neatly replaced the line of config with the two lines of config I was hoping for:

<add name="SessionAuthenticationModule"... PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" />
<add name="BrandNewModule" ... />

Easy huh?

Mr. F pointed out a better solution in his comment on this post — tagging expressions. Just now, I had to add a new appsetting to a lot of web.configs so I had to give it a try! In the "Find what:"


and in the "Replace with:"

<add key="newsetting" value="somevalue"/>\n  \1

Even cooler! Thanks F! (We both know who you are..)


  1. Why not use tagged expressions by adding some curly braces to your search string:
    {\<add name="SessionAuthenticationModule" ... PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" /\>}

    and in replace, use this:
    \1\n <add name="BrandNewModule" ... />


    1. Excellent point. If I had read my own reference thoroughly I would've learned this :) The post has been duly updated.

  2. This isn't multi-line search though is it? You're replacing with a newline character yes but you're not finding text which spans more than one line. For example, if I want to find:


    and replace it with:


    This can't be done, because VS won't be able to match the first three lines together. Even searching for "one.*two" yields no results which means VS is incapable of seeing beyond one line at a time.

    I appreciate the information provided in this post but its title is misleading, and as a result it comes up when searching for a way to perform multi-line find and replace in VS.

    1. Hi,

      thank you for leaving a comment. You're right, I did not include an example for matching text that spans more than one line. It can still be done! The easiest way to match your example in VS 2010 would be this:

      Find: one\ntwo\nthree
      Replace: four\nfive\nsix

      For a more advanced example, where there's whitespace characters before and after each word on the line (think indentation) this would preserve whitespace characters in VS 2010:

      Find: one{[:b\n]*}two{[:b\n]*}three
      Replace: four\1five\2six

      Turns out they changed the regular expressions in VS 2012, so I'll update my post.

      To do the same whitespace preserving multiline search with a multiline replace in VS2012:

      Find: one([\s\n]*)two([\s\n]*)three
      Replace: four$1five$2six

      So, it's possible. Hope this helps.

  3. It's also very possible by just opening an editor like dreamweaver and using their multi-line find and replace. Kind of a real pain to go from VS to another application just to get functionality that should be built into VS. The fact that people still have to use hacks to do something that has been included in most other editors for years is amazing.

  4. Thank you very much! :)


  5. Here is VS extension tool for Multiline Search and Replace: https://visualstudiogallery.msdn.microsoft.com/699ce302-b0d4-4083-be0e-1682e873cebf

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