0:root@SERVER:/root # echo "something" | sed -e 's/^/\t/g'
0:root@SERVER:/root # 

AIX/ksh .. why doesn't it works? I just want to put a "tab" before every line!

  • What happens if instead of typing "\t" you press Ctrl-V then press Tab?
    – manatwork
    Dec 11, 2011 at 16:02

2 Answers 2


\t on the right hand side of a sed expression is not portable. Here are some possible solutions:

POSIX shell

Bear in mind that since many shells store their strings internally as cstrings, if the input contains the null character (\0), it may cause the line to end prematurely.

echo "something" | while IFS= read -r line; do printf '\t%s\n' "$line"; done


echo "something" | awk '{ print "\t" $0 }'


echo "something" | perl -pe 'print "\t"'
  • Is pointless to specify perl's -n switch here. -p implies the -n's effect.
    – manatwork
    Dec 19, 2011 at 10:19

If your shell is bash, ksh93 or zsh, you can use shell escaping to put a literal tab in the sed command. The quoting syntax $'…' treats every character inside the quotes literally except for backslashes and single quotes. You can use the usual backslash escapes inside these quotes.

sed -e $'s/^/\t/g'

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