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The sed FAQ
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5.10. Why can't I match or delete a newline using the \n escape sequence? Why can't I match 2 or more lines using \n?

The \n will never match the newline at the end-of-line because the newline is always stripped off before the line is placed into the pattern space. To get 2 or more lines into the pattern space, use the 'N' command or something similar (such as 'H;...;g;').

Sed works like this: sed reads one line at a time, chops off the terminating newline, puts what is left into the pattern space where the sed script can address or change it, and when the pattern space is printed, appends a newline to stdout (or to a file). If the pattern space is entirely or partially deleted with 'd' or 'D', the newline is not added in such cases. Thus, scripts like

       sed 's/\n//' file       # to delete newlines from each line
       sed 's/\n/foo\n/' file  # to add a word to the end of each line

will never work, because the trailing newline is removed before the line is put into the pattern space. To perform the above tasks, use one of these scripts instead:

       tr -d '\n' < file              # use tr to delete newlines
       sed ':a;N;$!ba;s/\n//g' file   # GNU sed to delete newlines
       sed 's/$/ foo/' file           # add "foo" to end of each line

Since versions of sed other than GNU sed have limits to the size of the pattern buffer, the Unix 'tr' utility is to be preferred here. If the last line of the file contains a newline, GNU sed will add that newline to the output but delete all others, whereas tr will delete all newlines.

To match a block of two or more lines, there are 3 basic choices: (1) use the 'N' command to add the Next line to the pattern space; (2) use the 'H' command at least twice to append the current line to the Hold space, and then retrieve the lines from the hold space with x, g, or G; or (3) use address ranges (see section 3.3, above) to match lines between two specified addresses.

Choices (1) and (2) will put an \n into the pattern space, where it can be addressed as desired ('s/ABC\nXYZ/alphabet/g'). One example of using 'N' to delete a block of lines appears in section 4.13 ("How do I delete a block of specific consecutive lines?"). This example can be modified by changing the delete command to something else, like 'p' (print), 'i' (insert), 'c' (change), 'a' (append), or 's' (substitute).

Choice (3) will not put an \n into the pattern space, but it does match a block of consecutive lines, so it may be that you don't even need the \n to find what you're looking for. Since several versions of sed support this syntax:

       sed '/start/,+4d'  # to delete "start" plus the next 4 lines,

in addition to the traditional '/from here/,/to there/{...}' range addresses, it may be possible to avoid the use of \n entirely.

The sed FAQ
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   Reprinted courtesy of Eric Pement. Also available at Design by Interspire