How can I replace a newline (\n) using sed?


How can I replace a newline ("\n") with a space ("") using the sed command?

I unsuccessfully tried:

sed 's#\n# #g' file
sed 's#^$# #g' file

How do I fix it?

8/12/2019 3:44:18 PM

Accepted Answer

Use this solution with GNU sed:

sed ':a;N;$!ba;s/\n/ /g' file

This will read the whole file in a loop, then replaces the newline(s) with a space.


  1. Create a label via :a.
  2. Append the current and next line to the pattern space via N.
  3. If we are before the last line, branch to the created label $!ba ($! means not to do it on the last line as there should be one final newline).
  4. Finally the substitution replaces every newline with a space on the pattern space (which is the whole file).

Here is cross-platform compatible syntax which works with BSD and OS X's sed (as per @Benjie comment):

sed -e ':a' -e 'N' -e '$!ba' -e 's/\n/ /g' file

As you can see, using sed for this otherwise simple problem is problematic. For a simpler and adequate solution see this answer.

9/23/2018 5:56:14 PM

Fast answer

sed ':a;N;$!ba;s/\n/ /g' file
  1. :a create a label 'a'
  2. N append the next line to the pattern space
  3. $! if not the last line, ba branch (go to) label 'a'
  4. s substitute, /\n/ regex for new line, / / by a space, /g global match (as many times as it can)

sed will loop through step 1 to 3 until it reach the last line, getting all lines fit in the pattern space where sed will substitute all \n characters


All alternatives, unlike sed will not need to reach the last line to begin the process

with bash, slow

while read line; do printf "%s" "$line "; done < file

with perl, sed-like speed

perl -p -e 's/\n/ /' file

with tr, faster than sed, can replace by one character only

tr '\n' ' ' < file

with paste, tr-like speed, can replace by one character only

paste -s -d ' ' file

with awk, tr-like speed

awk 1 ORS=' ' file

Other alternative like "echo $(< file)" is slow, works only on small files and needs to process the whole file to begin the process.

Long answer from the sed FAQ 5.10

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 GNU sed
version 3.02.80 now supports 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.


A shorter awk alternative:

awk 1 ORS=' '


An awk program is built up of rules which consist of conditional code-blocks, i.e.:

condition { code-block }

If the code-block is omitted, the default is used: { print $0 }. Thus, the 1 is interpreted as a true condition and print $0 is executed for each line.

When awk reads the input it splits it into records based on the value of RS (Record Separator), which by default is a newline, thus awk will by default parse the input line-wise. The splitting also involves stripping off RS from the input record.

Now, when printing a record, ORS (Output Record Separator) is appended to it, default is again a newline. So by changing ORS to a space all newlines are changed to spaces.


gnu sed has an option -z for null separated records (lines). You can just call:

sed -z 's/\n/ /g'

The Perl version works the way you expected.

perl -i -p -e 's/\n//' file

As pointed out in the comments, it's worth noting that this edits in place. -i.bak will give you a backup of the original file before the replacement in case your regular expression isn't as smart as you thought.


Who needs sed? Here is the bash way:

cat test.txt |  while read line; do echo -n "$line "; done