5 Best Ways to Scan for a String in Multiple Document Formats with Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Python developers often need to search for specific strings across various document formats for data analysis, automation, or software development purposes. This article explores how to find a target string within CSV, plain text, and Microsoft Word documents using Python, with examples of input as document files and desired output as the occurrence of the string.

Method 1: Using the csv Module to Read CSV Files

The csv module in Python provides functions to both read from and write to CSV files. When searching for a string in a CSV file, the csv.reader function is typically used to iterate over rows of the file, examining each cell for the desired string.

Here’s an example:

import csv

search_string = "target_string"
with open('example.csv', newline='') as csvfile:
    reader = csv.reader(csvfile)
    for row in reader:
        if search_string in row:
            print(f"String found in row: {row}")

Output: String found in row: ['...data containing target_string...']

In this snippet, we open ‘example.csv’ and use the csv.reader to loop through each row. If the search_string is found within the row, it prints out the entire row that contains the string.

Method 2: Reading Plain Text Files with open()

Python’s built-in open() function can read text (.txt) files. To scan for a string, you can read the file line by line and check if the string is in each line using the in operator.

Here’s an example:

search_string = "target_string"
with open('document.txt', 'r') as file:
    for line in file:
        if search_string in line:
            print(f"String found: {line.strip()}")

Output: String found: ...line containing target_string...

This code opens ‘document.txt’ in read mode, iterates over each line, and prints out lines that contain search_string. The strip() method removes any leading and trailing whitespace for cleaner output.

Method 3: Using python-docx to Read Word Documents

The python-docx library provides a way to create, modify, and extract information from Word (.docx) documents. To search for strings, you can access the text of paragraphs in the document.

Here’s an example:

from docx import Document

search_string = "target_string"
doc = Document('example.docx')
for paragraph in doc.paragraphs:
    if search_string in paragraph.text:
        print(f"String found in paragraph: {paragraph.text}")

Output: String found in paragraph: ...paragraph containing target_string...

After loading the Word document ‘example.docx’ with Document(), this example iterates over its paragraphs. If search_string is found within a paragraph’s text, that paragraph is printed.

Method 4: Combining File Type Detection with Search

For a more holistic approach, combining file-type detection with string search allows you to scan through files of various formats without specifying their type in advance. Libraries like mimetypes can assist in determining file type.

Here’s an example:

import mimetypes
import os

def search_string_in_file(file_path, search_string):
    file_type = mimetypes.guess_type(file_path)[0]

    if 'text/csv' in file_type:
        # Previous CSV search code
    elif 'text/plain' in file_type:
        # Previous plain text search code
    elif 'application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document' in file_type:
        # Previous Word document search code
        print("Unsupported file type")

search_string_in_file('example.txt', 'target_string')

After invoking search_string_in_file() with a file path and string to search, the file type is guessed and a corresponding search function is used. Remember, you’d insert the previously shown code for each file type case.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using grep with subprocess

For a quick and dirty one-liner, we can utilize the Unix grep command through Python’s subprocess module to search for strings in files.

Here’s an example:

import subprocess

search_string = "target_string"
file_path = 'example.txt'
subprocess.run(['grep', search_string, file_path])

Output: ...lines from example.txt containing target_string...

This executes the Unix grep command to search for search_string inside file_path, and outputs matching lines. It doesn’t work natively on Windows and lacks the nuance of handling different file formats compared to Python-specific approaches.


  • Method 1: Using the csv Module. Strengths: Integrated into Python, ideal for CSV files. Weaknesses: Only for CSVs, not other file types.
  • Method 2: Reading plain text files with open(). Strengths: Simple and efficient for plain text. Weaknesses: Limited to .txt files only.
  • Method 3: Using python-docx for Word documents. Strengths: Powerful for .docx files, allows for rich interaction with Word document elements. Weaknesses: Requires external library, is file-format specific.
  • Method 4: Combining file type detection with search. Strengths: Versatile and adaptable to different file types. Weaknesses: Complex setup, more prone to errors if file types are misidentified.
  • Method 5: Using grep with subprocess. Strengths: Quick for Unix-like systems. Weaknesses: Platform-dependent, not as robust as Python-based methods.