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Pattern syntax


Getting started with rule writing? Try the Semgrep Tutorial ๐ŸŽ“

This document describes Semgrepโ€™s pattern syntax. You can also see pattern examples by language. In the command line, patterns are specified with the flag --pattern (or -e). Multiple coordinating patterns may be specified in a configuration file. See rule syntax for more information.

Pattern matchingโ€‹

Pattern matching searches code for a given pattern. For example, the expression pattern 1 + func(42) can match a full expression or be part of a subexpression:

foo(1 + func(42)) + bar()

In the same way, the statement pattern return 42 can match a top statement in a function or any nested statement:

def foo(x):
if x > 1:
if x > 2:
return 42
return 42

Ellipsis operatorโ€‹

The ... ellipsis operator abstracts away a sequence of zero or more items such as arguments, statements, parameters, fields, characters.

The ... ellipsis can also match any single item that is not part of a sequence when the context allows it.

See the use cases in the subsections below.

Function callsโ€‹

Use the ellipsis operator to search for function calls or function calls with specific arguments. For example, the pattern insecure_function(...) finds calls regardless of its arguments.

insecure_function("MALICIOUS_STRING", arg1, arg2)

Functions and classes can be referenced by their fully qualified name, e.g.,

  • django.utils.safestring.mark_safe(...) or mark_safe(...)
  • System.out.println(...) or println(...)

You can also search for calls with arguments after a match. The pattern func(1, ...) will match both:

func(1, "extra stuff", False)
func(1) # Matches no arguments as well

Or find calls with arguments before a match with func(..., 1):

func("extra stuff", False, 1)
func(1) # Matches no arguments as well

The pattern requests.get(..., verify=False, ...) finds calls where an argument appears anywhere:

requests.get(verify=False, url=URL)
requests.get(URL, verify=False, timeout=3)
requests.get(URL, verify=False)

Match the keyword argument value with the pattern $FUNC(..., $KEY=$VALUE, ...).

Method callsโ€‹

The ellipsis operator can also be used to search for method calls. For example, the pattern $OBJECT.extractall(...) matches:

tarball.extractall('/path/to/directory')  # Oops, potential arbitrary file overwrite

You can also use the ellipsis in chains of method calls. For example, the pattern $ ... .bar() will match:

obj = MakeObject(),2).again(3,4).bar()

Function definitionsโ€‹

The ellipsis operator can be used in function parameter lists or in the function body. To find function definitions with mutable default arguments:

pattern: |
def $FUNC(..., $ARG={}, ...):
def parse_data(parser, data={}):  # Oops, mutable default arguments

The YAML | operator allows for multiline strings.

The ellipsis operator can match the function name. Match any function definition: Regular functions, methods, and also anonymous functions (such as lambdas). To match named or anonymous functions use an ellipsis ... in place of the name of the function. For example, in JavaScript the pattern function ...($X) { ... } matches any function with one parameter:

function foo(a) {
return a;
var bar = function (a) {
return a;

Class definitionsโ€‹

The ellipsis operator can be used in class definitions. To find classes that inherit from a certain parent:

pattern: |
class $CLASS(InsecureBaseClass):
class DataRetriever(InsecureBaseClass):
def __init__(self):

The YAML | operator allows for multiline strings.

Ellipsis operator scopeโ€‹

The ... ellipsis operator matches everything in its current scope. The current scope of this operator is defined by the patterns that precede ... in a rule. See the following example:

Semgrep matches the first occurrence of bar and baz in the test code as these objects fall under the scope of foo and .... The ellipsis operator does not match the second occurrence of bar and baz as they are not inside of the function definition, therefore these objects in their second occurrence are not inside the scope of the ellipsis operator.


The ellipsis operator can be used to search for strings containing any data. The pattern crypto.set_secret_key("...") matches:

crypto.set_secret_key("HARDCODED SECRET")

This also works with constant propagation.

In languages where regular expressions use a special syntax (for example JavaScript), the pattern /.../ will match any regular expression construct:

re1 = /foo|bar/;
re2 = /a.*b/;

Binary operationsโ€‹

The ellipsis operator can match any number of arguments to binary operations. The pattern $X = 1 + 2 + ... matches:

foo = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4


The ellipsis operator can match inside container data structures like lists, arrays, and key-value stores.

The pattern user_list = [..., 10] matches:

user_list = [8, 9, 10]

The pattern user_dict = {...} matches:

user_dict = {'username': 'password'}

The pattern user_dict = {..., $KEY: $VALUE, ...} matches the following and allows for further metavariable queries:

user_dict = {'username': 'password', 'address': 'zipcode'}

You can also match just a key-value pair in a container, for example in JSON the pattern "foo": $X matches just a single line in:

{ "bar": True,
"name": "self",
"foo": 42

Conditionals and loopsโ€‹

The ellipsis operator can be used inside conditionals or loops. The pattern:

pattern: |

The YAML | operator allows for multiline strings.


if can_make_request:

A metavariable can match a conditional or loop body if the body statement information is re-used later. The pattern:

pattern: |


if can_make_request:

Half or partial statements can't be matches; both of the examples above must specify the contents of the conditionโ€™s body (e.g., $BODY or ...), otherwise they are not valid patterns.

Matching single items with an ellipsisโ€‹

Ellipsis ... is generally used to match sequences of similar elements. However, you can also match single item using ellipsis ... operator. The following pattern is valid in languages with a C-like syntax even though ... matches a single boolean value rather than a sequence:

if (...)
return 42;

Another example where a single expression is matched by an ellipsis is the right-hand side of assignments:

foo = ...;

However, matching a sequence of items remains the default meaning of an ellipsis. For example, the pattern bar(...) matches bar(a), but also bar(a, b) and bar(). To force a match on a single item, use a metavariable as in bar($X).


Metavariables are an abstraction to match code when you donโ€™t know the value or contents ahead of time, similar to capture groups in regular expressions.

Metavariables can be used to track values across a specific code scope. This includes variables, functions, arguments, classes, object methods, imports, exceptions, and more.

Metavariables look like $X, $WIDGET, or $USERS_2. They begin with a $ and can only contain uppercase characters, _, or digits. Names like $x or $some_value are invalid.

Expression metavariablesโ€‹

The pattern $X + $Y matches the following code examples:

foo() + bar()
current + total

Import metavariablesโ€‹

Metavariables can also be used to match imports. For example, import $X matches:

import random

Reoccuring metavariablesโ€‹

Re-using metavariables shows their true power. Detect useless assignments:

pattern: |
$X = $Y
$X = $Z

Useless assignment detected:

initial_value = 10  # Oops, useless assignment
initial_value = get_initial_value()

The YAML | operator allows for multiline strings.

Literal Metavariablesโ€‹

You can use "$X" to match any string literal. This is similar to using "...", but the content of the string is stored in the metavariable $X, which can then be used in a message or in a metavariable-regex.

You can also use /$X/ and :$X to respectively match any regular expressions or atoms (in languages that support those constructs, e.g., Ruby).

Typed metavariablesโ€‹


Typed metavariables only match a metavariable if itโ€™s declared as a specific type.


For example, to look for calls to the log method on Logger objects. A simple pattern for this purpose could use a metavariable for the Logger object.

pattern: $LOGGER.log(...)

But if we are concerned about finding calls to the Math.log() method as well, we can use a typed metavariable to put a type constraint on the $LOGGER metavariable.

pattern: (java.util.logging.Logger $LOGGER).log(...)

Alternatively, if we want to capture more logger types, for example custom logger types, we could instead add a constraint to the type of the argument in this methodcall instead.

pattern: $LOGGER.log(java.util.logging.LogRecord $RECORD)

In this example in C, we want to capture all cases where something is compared to a char array. We start with a simple pattern that looks for comparison between two variables.

pattern: $X == $Y

We can then put a type constraint on one of the metavariables used in this pattern by turning it into a typed metavariable.

pattern: $X == (char *$Y)
int main() {
char *a = "Hello";
int b = 1;

// Matched
if (a == "world") {
return 1;

// Not matched
if (b == 2) {
return -1;

return 0;

The syntax for a typed metavariable in Go looks different from the syntax for Java. In this Go example we look for calls to the Open function, but only on an object of the zip.Reader type.

pattern: ($READER : *zip.Reader).Open($INPUT)
func read_file() {

reader, _ := zip.NewReader(readerat, 18276)

// Matched

dir := http.Dir("/")

// Not matched
f, err := dir.Open(c.Param("file"))

For Go, Semgrep currently does not recognize the type of all variables that are declared on the same line. That is, the following will not take both a and b as ints: var a, b = 1, 2


In this example, we want to look for uses of the DomSanitizer function.

pattern: ($X: DomSanitizer).sanitize(...)
private _activatedRoute: ActivatedRoute,
private sanitizer: DomSanitizer,
) { }

ngOnInit() {
// Not matched

// Matched

Using typed metavariablesโ€‹

Type inference applies to the entire file! One common way to use typed metavariables is to check for a function called on a specific type of object. For example, let's say you're looking for calls to a potentially unsafe logger in a class like this:

class Test {
static Logger logger;

public static void run_test(String input, int num) {
logger.log("Running a test with " + input);

test(input, Math.log(num));

If you searched for $X.log(...), you can also match Math.log(num). Instead, you can search for (Logger $X).log(...) which gives you the call to logger. See the rule logger_search.


Since matching happens within a single file, this is only guaranteed to work for local variables and arguments. Additionally, Semgrep currently understands types on a shallow level. For example, if you have int[] A, it will not recognize A[0] as an integer. If you have a class with fields, you will not be able to use typechecking on field accesses, and it will not recognize the classโ€™s field as the expected type. Literal types are understood to a limited extent. Expanded type support is under active development.

Ellipsis metavariablesโ€‹

You can combine ellipses and metavariables to match a sequence of arguments and store the matched sequence in a metavariable. For example the pattern foo($...ARGS, 3, $...ARGS) will match:


Displaying matched metavariables in rule messagesโ€‹

Display values of matched metavariables in rule messages. Add a metavariable to the rule message (for example Found $X) and Semgrep replaces it with the value of the detected metavariable.

To display matched metavariable in a rule message, add the same metavariable as you are searching for in your rule to the rule message.

  1. Find the metavariable used in the Semgrep rule. See the following example of a part Semgrep rule (formula):
    - pattern: $MODEL.set_password(โ€ฆ)
    This formula uses $MODEL as a metavariable.
  2. Insert the metavariable to rule message:
    - message: Setting a password on $MODEL
  3. Use the formula displayed above against the following code:

The resulting message is:

Setting a password on user

Run the following example in Semgrep Playground to see the message (click Open in Editor, and then Run, unroll the 1 Match to see the message):


If you're using Semgrep's advanced dataflow features, see documentation of experimental feature Displaying propagated value of metavariable.


Semgrep automatically searches for code that is semantically equivalent.


Equivalent imports using aliasing or submodules are matched.

The pattern subprocess.Popen(...) matches:

import subprocess.Popen as sub_popen

The pattern matches:

from import baz


Semgrep performs constant propagation.

The pattern set_password("password") matches:


def update_system():

Basic constant propagation support like in the example above is a stable feature. Experimentally, Semgrep also supports intra-procedural flow-sensitive constant propagation.

The pattern set_password("...") also matches:

def update_system():
if cond():
password = "abc"
password = "123"

It is possible to disable constant propagation in a per-rule basis via the options rule field.

Associative and commutative operatorsโ€‹

Semgrep performs associative-commutative (AC) matching. For example, ... && B && C will match both B && C and (A && B) && C (i.e., && is associative). Also, A | B | C will match A | B | C, and B | C | A, and C | B | A, and any other permutation (i.e., | is associative and commutative).

Under AC-matching metavariables behave similarly to .... For example, A | $X can match A | B | C in four different ways ($X can bind to B, or C, or B | C). In order to avoid a combinatorial explosion, Semgrep will only perform AC-matching with metavariables if the number of potential matches is small, otherwise it will produce just one match (if possible) where each metavariable is bound to a single operand.

Using options it is possible to entirely disable AC-matching. It is also possible to treat boolean AND and OR operators (e.g., && in || in C-family languages) as commutative, which can be useful despite not being semantically accurate.

Deep expression operatorโ€‹

Use the deep expression operator <... [your_pattern] ...> to match an expression that could be deeply nested within another expression. An example is looking for a pattern anywhere within an if statement. The deep expression operator matches your pattern in the current expression context and recursively in any subexpressions.

For example, this pattern:

pattern: |
if <... $USER.is_admin() ...>:


if user.authenticated() and user.is_admin() and user.has_group(gid):

The deep expression operator works in:

  • if statements: if <... $X ...>:
  • nested calls: sql.query(<... $X ...>)
  • operands of a binary expression: "..." + <... $X ...>
  • any other expression context


Statements typesโ€‹

Semgrep handles some statement types differently than others, particularly when searching for fragments inside statements. For example, the pattern foo will match these statements:

x += foo()
return bar + foo
foo(1, 2)

But foo will not match the following statement (import foo will match it though):

import foo

Statements as expressionsโ€‹

Many programming languages differentiate between expressions and statements. Expressions can appear inside if conditions, in function call arguments, etc. Statements can not appear everywhere; they are sequence of operations (in many languages using ; as a separator/terminator) or special control flow constructs (if, while, etc.).

foo() is an expression (in most languages).

foo(); is a statement (in most languages).

If your search pattern is a statement, Semgrep will automatically try to search for it as both an expression and a statement.

When you write the expression foo() in a pattern, Semgrep will visit every expression and sub-expression in your program and try to find a match.

Many programmers don't really see the difference between foo() and foo();. This is why when one looks for foo(); Semgrep thinks the user wants to match statements like a = foo();, or print(foo());.


Note that in some programming languages such as Python, which does not use semicolons as a separator or terminator, the difference between expressions and statements is even more confusing. Indentation in Python matters, and a newline after foo() is really the same than foo(); in other programming languages such as C.

Partial expressionsโ€‹

Partial expressions are not valid patterns. For example, the following is invalid:

pattern: 1+

A complete expression is needed (like 1 + $X)

Ellipses and statement blocksโ€‹

The ellipsis operator does not jump from inner to outer statement blocks.

For example, this pattern:




and also matches:

if cond:

but it does not match:

if cond:

because ... cannot jump from the inner block where foo() is, to the outer block where bar() is.

Partial statementsโ€‹

Partial statements are partially supported. For example, you can just match the header of a conditional with if ($E), or just the try part of an exception statement with try { ... }.

This is especially useful when used in a pattern-inside to restrict the context in which to search for other things.

Other partial constructsโ€‹

It is possible to just match the header of a function (without its body), for example int foo(...) to match just the header part of the function foo. In the same way, you can just match a class header (e.g., with class $A).

Deprecated featuresโ€‹

String matchingโ€‹


String matching has been deprecated. You should use metavariable-regex instead.

Search string literals within code with Perl Compatible Regular Expressions (PCRE).

The pattern requests.get("=~/dev\./i") matches:

requests.get("")  # Oops, development API left in

To search for specific strings, use the syntax "=~/<regexp>/". Advanced regexp features are available, such as case-insensitive regexps with '/i' (e.g., "=~/foo/i"). Matching occurs anywhere in the string unless the regexp ^ anchor character is used: "=~/^foo.*/" checks if a string begins with foo.

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