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10 Reporting Bugs

Email bug reports to Also, please include the output of ‘sed --version’ in the body of your report if at all possible.

Please do not send a bug report like this:

while building frobme-1.3.4
$ configure
error→ sed: file sedscr line 1: Unknown option to 's'

If GNU sed doesn’t configure your favorite package, take a few extra minutes to identify the specific problem and make a stand-alone test case. Unlike other programs such as C compilers, making such test cases for sed is quite simple.

A stand-alone test case includes all the data necessary to perform the test, and the specific invocation of sed that causes the problem. The smaller a stand-alone test case is, the better. A test case should not involve something as far removed from sed as “try to configure frobme-1.3.4”. Yes, that is in principle enough information to look for the bug, but that is not a very practical prospect.

Here are a few commonly reported bugs that are not bugs.

N command on the last line

Most versions of sed exit without printing anything when the N command is issued on the last line of a file. GNU sed prints pattern space before exiting unless of course the -n command switch has been specified. This choice is by design.

Default behavior (gnu extension, non-POSIX conforming):

$ seq 3 | sed N

To force POSIX-conforming behavior:

$ seq 3 | sed --posix N

For example, the behavior of

sed N foo bar

would depend on whether foo has an even or an odd number of lines11. Or, when writing a script to read the next few lines following a pattern match, traditional implementations of sed would force you to write something like

/foo/{ $!N; $!N; $!N; $!N; $!N; $!N; $!N; $!N; $!N }

instead of just

/foo/{ N;N;N;N;N;N;N;N;N; }

In any case, the simplest workaround is to use $d;N in scripts that rely on the traditional behavior, or to set the POSIXLY_CORRECT variable to a non-empty value.

Regex syntax clashes (problems with backslashes)

sed uses the POSIX basic regular expression syntax. According to the standard, the meaning of some escape sequences is undefined in this syntax; notable in the case of sed are \|, \+, \?, \`, \', \<, \>, \b, \B, \w, and \W.

As in all GNU programs that use POSIX basic regular expressions, sed interprets these escape sequences as special characters. So, x\+ matches one or more occurrences of ‘x’. abc\|def matches either ‘abc’ or ‘def’.

This syntax may cause problems when running scripts written for other seds. Some sed programs have been written with the assumption that \| and \+ match the literal characters | and +. Such scripts must be modified by removing the spurious backslashes if they are to be used with modern implementations of sed, like GNU sed.

On the other hand, some scripts use s|abc\|def||g to remove occurrences of either abc or def. While this worked until sed 4.0.x, newer versions interpret this as removing the string abc|def. This is again undefined behavior according to POSIX, and this interpretation is arguably more robust: older seds, for example, required that the regex matcher parsed \/ as / in the common case of escaping a slash, which is again undefined behavior; the new behavior avoids this, and this is good because the regex matcher is only partially under our control.

In addition, this version of sed supports several escape characters (some of which are multi-character) to insert non-printable characters in scripts (\a, \c, \d, \o, \r, \t, \v, \x). These can cause similar problems with scripts written for other seds.

-i clobbers read-only files

In short, ‘sed -i’ will let you delete the contents of a read-only file, and in general the -i option (see Invocation) lets you clobber protected files. This is not a bug, but rather a consequence of how the Unix file system works.

The permissions on a file say what can happen to the data in that file, while the permissions on a directory say what can happen to the list of files in that directory. ‘sed -i’ will not ever open for writing a file that is already on disk. Rather, it will work on a temporary file that is finally renamed to the original name: if you rename or delete files, you’re actually modifying the contents of the directory, so the operation depends on the permissions of the directory, not of the file. For this same reason, sed does not let you use -i on a writable file in a read-only directory, and will break hard or symbolic links when -i is used on such a file.

0a does not work (gives an error)

There is no line 0. 0 is a special address that is only used to treat addresses like 0,/RE/ as active when the script starts: if you write 1,/abc/d and the first line includes the word ‘abc’, then that match would be ignored because address ranges must span at least two lines (barring the end of the file); but what you probably wanted is to delete every line up to the first one including ‘abc’, and this is obtained with 0,/abc/d.

[a-z] is case insensitive

You are encountering problems with locales. POSIX mandates that [a-z] uses the current locale’s collation order – in C parlance, that means using strcoll(3) instead of strcmp(3). Some locales have a case-insensitive collation order, others don’t.

Another problem is that [a-z] tries to use collation symbols. This only happens if you are on the GNU system, using GNU libc’s regular expression matcher instead of compiling the one supplied with GNU sed. In a Danish locale, for example, the regular expression ^[a-z]$ matches the string ‘aa’, because this is a single collating symbol that comes after ‘a’ and before ‘b’; ‘ll’ behaves similarly in Spanish locales, or ‘ij’ in Dutch locales.

To work around these problems, which may cause bugs in shell scripts, set the LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE environment variables to ‘C’.

s/.*// does not clear pattern space

This happens if your input stream includes invalid multibyte sequences. POSIX mandates that such sequences are not matched by ‘.’, so that ‘s/.*//’ will not clear pattern space as you would expect. In fact, there is no way to clear sed’s buffers in the middle of the script in most multibyte locales (including UTF-8 locales). For this reason, GNU sed provides a ‘z’ command (for ‘zap’) as an extension.

To work around these problems, which may cause bugs in shell scripts, set the LC_COLLATE and LC_CTYPE environment variables to ‘C’.



which is the actual “bug” that prompted the change in behavior

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