Pattern syntax


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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.

Expression matching

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

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

String matching

Perl Compatible Regular Expressions (PCRE) are available for searching string literals within code.

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

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

To indicate a regex, use the syntax "=~//" within a string element. 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’.

Ellipsis operator

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

Function calls

Use 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 must be referenced by their fully qualified name, e.g.,

  • django.utils.safestring.mark_safe(...) not mark_safe(...)
  • System.out.println(...) not 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 be used to search for method calls on a specific object type. For example, the pattern $OBJECT.extractall(...) matches:

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

Function definitions

The ellipsis operator can be used in function argument 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.

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")

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

user_list = [8, 9, 10]

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 don’t know the value or contents ahead of time, acting like 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.

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

foo() + bar()
current + total

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

import random

Re-using metavariables shows their true power. The following pattern reuses a metavariable to 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.

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


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;


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.


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


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


Languages supporting constants allow for constant propagation. In other words, the constant’s value is considered equivalent to a literal value. The following patterns will catch each respective code snippet:


The pattern crypto.hash("MD5", ...) matches:

crypto.hash("MD5", "text")

const algorithm = "MD5"
crypto.hash(algorithm, "text")


The pattern $MD.getInstance("MD5"); matches:


class Hash {

    public final String algorithm = "MD5";

    public static void main(String[] args) {
        MessageDigest md = MessageDigest.getInstance(algorithm);


The pattern crypto.subtle.digest("SHA-1", ...); matches:

crypto.subtle.digest("SHA-1", "text");

const LITERAL = "SHA-1";
crypto.subtle.digest(LITERAL, "text");

const LIT = "SHA";
crypto.subtle.digest(LIT + "-1", "text");

const LIT = "SHA";
crypto.subtle.digest(`${LIT}-1`, "text");


The pattern"MD5", ...).digest() matches:

import hashlib


def get_digest(data):
    return, data=data).digest()

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 statements differently from other expressions like imports. For example, the pattern foo will match these statements:

bar + foo
foo(1, 2)

It will not match the following:

import foo

Partial statements

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

pattern: 1+
pattern: if $CONDITION: