In a file containing lines like this one:

# lorem ipsum blah variable

I would like to remove # (comment) character in the same line that contains a specific string, in place. Is sed good for this?

I'm struggling to get this conditional working. I have a "clumsy" way of doing this; I can find the matching line number with awk or sed and then use this number in a separate sed command, but I believe that this can be done in a much better way.


Use the string you are looking for as the selector for the lines to be operated upon:

sed '/ipsum/s/#//g'

/ipsum/ selects lines containing "ipsum" and only on these lines the command(s) that follow are executed. You can use braces to run more commands

  • 4
    I agree; this is the best answer (although not the only one). Comments: (1) 's/#//g' will remove all the # characters in the line. If that’s not what you want, remove the g (which stands for “global”). (2) To edit a file in place (as asked for in the question), use sed -i. – G-Man Sep 12 '14 at 21:54
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    (3) As a matter of real-world situations, if you want to un-comment a line, you might want to use sed -i '/ipsum/s/#[[:space:]]*//', to get rid of any spaces and tabs immediately following the #. (4) You might also want to consider verifying that the # is the first non-blank character in the line. The current command would delete the # from the line prompt "Enter # of ipsums:". – G-Man Sep 12 '14 at 21:55
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    @G-Man - great addition! To your 2nd pt (leading space), what about: sed -i '/ipsum/s/^#[[:space:]]*//'?! (^ signifies start of line, $ for end of line) - at least in gnu sed... – Jeremy Davis Oct 19 '17 at 6:02
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    @JeremyDavis: Yes, you could anchor the regex to the beginning of the line with ^, but that would be wrong. I often comment out indented code by putting the # immediately before the code, so the # is indented.  I doubt that I’m the only person who does that. – G-Man Oct 21 '17 at 3:50
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    @G-Man - ah yes, of course! Thanks, I hadn't considered that. So you'd also want to check for whitespace between ^ & #, so something more like this: /ipsum/{/^[[:space:]]*#/s/#[[:space:]]*//}. Although even then, depending on where the # is, it may still cause issues (e.g. in languages that use whitespace indentation/separation). – Jeremy Davis Oct 22 '17 at 0:04
$ cat input.txt
# lorem ipsum blah variable
# lorem ipsum blat variable
# lorem ipsum blow variable
# lorem ipsum blip variable
# lorem ipsum blue variable


$ sed 's|# \(.*blue.*\)|\1|' input.txt


# lorem ipsum blah variable
# lorem ipsum blat variable
# lorem ipsum blow variable
# lorem ipsum blip variable
lorem ipsum blue variable

It works as follows:

The s tells sed that it should substitute what the regular expression finds.

The pattern is # \(.*blue.*\) which breaks down to: Find a hash followed by a space. The bracket (\() starts the grouping. .*blue.* is the word blue with anything before and after. The next bracket (\)) closes the grouping.

The replacement is \1 which is a back-reference to the content of the first grouping bracket.


You can use Vim in Ex mode:

ex -sc '/ipsum/s/#//|x' file
  1. s substitute

  2. x save and close

  • That's pretty cool. I didn't know about that! TBH, I'm not sure it's the best answer for this question (IMO the leading sed answer is the one) but it's still very cool! Thanks for posting. – Jeremy Davis Oct 19 '17 at 5:55

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