Many of beets’ commands are built around query strings: searches that select tracks and albums from your library. This page explains the query string syntax, which is meant to vaguely resemble the syntax used by Web search engines.


This command:

$ beet list love

will show all tracks matching the query string love. By default any unadorned word like this matches in a track’s title, artist, album name, album artist, genre and comments. See below on how to search other fields.

For example, this is what I might see when I run the command above:

Against Me! - Reinventing Axl Rose - I Still Love You Julie
Air - Love 2 - Do the Joy
Bag Raiders - Turbo Love - Shooting Stars
Bat for Lashes - Two Suns - Good Love

Combining Keywords

Multiple keywords are implicitly joined with a Boolean “and.” That is, if a query has two keywords, it only matches tracks that contain both keywords. For example, this command:

$ beet ls magnetic tomorrow

matches songs from the album “The House of Tomorrow” by The Magnetic Fields in my library. It doesn’t match other songs by the Magnetic Fields, nor does it match “Tomorrowland” by Walter Meego—those songs only have one of the two keywords I specified.

Keywords can also be joined with a Boolean “or” using a comma. For example, the command:

$ beet ls magnetic tomorrow , beatles yesterday

will match both “The House of Tomorrow” by the Magnetic Fields, as well as “Yesterday” by The Beatles. Note that the comma has to be followed by a space (e.g., foo,bar will be treated as a single keyword, not as an OR-query).

Specific Fields

Sometimes, a broad keyword match isn’t enough. Beets supports a syntax that lets you query a specific field—only the artist, only the track title, and so on. Just say field:value, where field is the name of the thing you’re trying to match (such as artist, album, or title) and value is the keyword you’re searching for.

For example, while this query:

$ beet list dream

matches a lot of songs in my library, this more-specific query:

$ beet list artist:dream

only matches songs by the artist The-Dream. One query I especially appreciate is one that matches albums by year:

$ beet list -a year:2012

Recall that -a makes the list command show albums instead of individual tracks, so this command shows me all the releases I have from this year.


You can query for strings with spaces in them by quoting or escaping them using your shell’s argument syntax. For example, this command:

$ beet list the rebel

shows several tracks in my library, but these (equivalent) commands:

$ beet list "the rebel"
$ beet list the\ rebel

only match the track “The Rebel” by Buck 65. Note that the quotes and backslashes are not part of beets’ syntax; I’m just using the escaping functionality of my shell (bash or zsh, for instance) to pass the rebel as a single argument instead of two.

Regular Expressions

While ordinary keywords perform simple substring matches, beets also supports regular expression matching for more advanced queries. To run a regex query, use an additional : between the field name and the expression:

$ beet list "artist::Ann(a|ie)"

That query finds songs by Anna Calvi and Annie but not Annuals. Similarly, this query prints the path to any file in my library that’s missing a track title:

$ beet list -p title::^$

To search all fields using a regular expression, just prefix the expression with a single :, like so:

$ beet list ":Ho[pm]eless"

Regular expressions are case-sensitive and build on Python’s built-in implementation. See Python’s documentation for specifics on regex syntax.

Most command-line shells will try to interpret common characters in regular expressions, such as ()[]|. To type those characters, you’ll need to escape them (e.g., with backslashes or quotation marks, depending on your shell).

Numeric Range Queries

For numeric fields, such as year, bitrate, and track, you can query using one- or two-sided intervals. That is, you can find music that falls within a range of values. To use ranges, write a query that has two dots (..) at the beginning, middle, or end of a string of numbers. Dots in the beginning let you specify a maximum (e.g., ..7); dots at the end mean a minimum (4..); dots in the middle mean a range (4..7).

For example, this command finds all your albums that were released in the ‘90s:

$ beet list -a year:1990..1999

and this command finds MP3 files with bitrates of 128k or lower:

$ beet list format:MP3 bitrate:..128000

The length field also lets you use a “M:SS” format. For example, this query finds tracks that are less than four and a half minutes in length:

$ beet list length:..4:30

Date and Date Range Queries

Date-valued fields, such as added and mtime, have a special query syntax that lets you specify years, months, and days as well as ranges between dates.

Dates are written separated by hyphens, like year-month-day, but the month and day are optional. If you leave out the day, for example, you will get matches for the whole month.

Date intervals, like the numeric intervals described above, are separated by two dots (..). You can specify a start, an end, or both.

Here is an example that finds all the albums added in 2008:

$ beet ls -a 'added:2008'

Find all items added in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010:

$ beet ls 'added:2008..2010'

Find all items added before the year 2010:

$ beet ls 'added:..2009'

Find all items added on or after 2008-12-01 but before 2009-10-12:

$ beet ls 'added:2008-12..2009-10-11'

Find all items with a file modification time between 2008-12-01 and 2008-12-03:

$ beet ls 'mtime:2008-12-01..2008-12-02'

Query Term Negation

Query terms can also be negated, acting like a Boolean “not,” by prefixing them with - or ^. This has the effect of returning all the items that do not match the query term. For example, this command:

$ beet list ^love

matches all the songs in the library that do not have “love” in any of their fields.

Negation can be combined with the rest of the query mechanisms, so you can negate specific fields, regular expressions, etc. For example, this command:

$ beet list -a artist:dylan ^year:1980..1989 "^album::the(y)?"

matches all the albums with an artist containing “dylan”, but excluding those released in the eighties and those that have “the” or “they” on the title.

The syntax supports both ^ and - as synonyms because the latter indicates flags on the command line. To use a minus sign in a command-line query, use a double dash -- to separate the options from the query:

$ beet list -a -- artist:dylan -year:1980..1990 "-album::the(y)?"

Path Queries

Sometimes it’s useful to find all the items in your library that are (recursively) inside a certain directory. Use the path: field to do this:

$ beet list path:/my/music/directory

In fact, beets automatically recognizes any query term containing a path separator (/ on POSIX systems) as a path query if that path exists, so this command is equivalent as long as /my/music/directory exist:

$ beet list /my/music/directory

Note that this only matches items that are already in your library, so a path query won’t necessarily find all the audio files in a directory—just the ones you’ve already added to your beets library.

Path queries are case sensitive if the queried path is on a case-sensitive filesystem.

Sort Order

Queries can specify a sort order. Use the name of the field you want to sort on, followed by a + or - sign to indicate ascending or descending sort. For example, this command:

$ beet list -a year+

will list all albums in chronological order. You can also specify several sort orders, which will be used in the same order as they appear in your query:

$ beet list -a genre+ year+

This command will sort all albums by genre and, in each genre, in chronological order.

The artist and albumartist keys are special: they attempt to use their corresponding artist_sort and albumartist_sort fields for sorting transparently (but fall back to the ordinary fields when those are empty).

Lexicographic sorts are case insensitive by default, resulting in the following sort order: Bar foo Qux. This behavior can be changed with the sort_case_insensitive configuration option. Case sensitive sort will result in lower-case values being placed after upper-case values, e.g., Bar Qux foo.

Note that when sorting by fields that are not present on all items (such as flexible fields, or those defined by plugins) in ascending order, the items that lack that particular field will be listed at the beginning of the list.

You can set the default sorting behavior with the sort_item and sort_album configuration options.