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Pattern syntax


Getting started with rule writing? Try the Semgrep Tutorial πŸŽ“

This document describes Semgrep’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 matching

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 operator

The ellipsis operator (...) abstracts away a sequence of zero or more arguments, statements, parameters, fields, characters, etc.

Function calls

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 calls

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 definitions

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 also be used for the function name. Indeed, In some cases, you may want to match any function definitions: regular functions, methods, but also anonymous functions (a.k.a. lambdas). In that case you can use ellipsis in place of the name of the function to match named or anonymous functions. For example, in Javascript the pattern function ...($X) { ... } will match any function with one parameter:

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

Class definitions

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.


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 (e.g., Javascript), the pattern /.../ will match any regular expression construct:

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

Binary operations

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 loops

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 condition’s body (e.g., $BODY or ...), otherwise they are not valid patterns.


Metavariables are an abstraction to match code when you don’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 metavariables

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

foo() + bar()
current + total

Import metavariables

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

import random

Reoccuring metavariables

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 Metavariables

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 Metavariables

Typed metavariables only match a metavariable if it’s declared as a specific type. For example, you may want to specifically check that == is never used for strings.


pattern: "$X == ($Y : string)"
func main() {
var x string
var y string
var a int
var b int

// Matched
if x == y {
x = y

// Not matched
if a == b {
a = b

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


pattern: $X == (String $Y)
public class Example {
public int foo(String a, int b) {
// Matched
if (a == "hello") {
return 1;

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


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;


pattern: $X == ($Y : string)
function foo(a: string, b: number) {
// Matched
if (a == "hello") {
return 1;

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

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 class’s field as the expected type. Literal types are understood to a limited extent. Expanded type support is under active development.

Ellipsis Metavariables

You can combine ellipsis 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:



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 operators

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 operator

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 types

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 expressions

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 expressions

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

pattern: 1+

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

Partial statements

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 constructs

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 features

String matching


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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