The following command will add pattern to the fourth line.

sed -i '4i pattern' file

But it is not working if I have less than four lines in the file. The requirement is I need to add the pattern in 4th line with empty prefix lines.

Expected Result: cat -n file

1  line1
4  pattern

GNU sed version 4.2.1


You can pad the file with a few blank lines to ensure there are at least 4 lines:

{ cat file; echo; echo; echo; } | sed -e '4i pattern' 

If you want to subsequently trim the trailing blank lines, then you can pipe that into:

| sed -n 'H; ${g; s/^\n//; s/\n\+$//; p}' 


| tac | awk '/./{p=1}p' | tac 

Or adding only the minimum number of blank lines:

{ cat file; for ((i=$(wc -l <file); i<3; i++)); do echo; done; } | sed '3a pattern'

Note the sed program changed to append after line 3 instead of insert before line 4.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks. It is possible to make echo dynamic. if we don't know the number of lines exist in the file. as title suggests – Stack EG Sep 7 '18 at 13:26
while [ $(wc -l <file) -lt 4 ] ; do
    echo >> file
sed -i '4i pattern' file
| improve this answer | |

Check if file has enough lines with wc -l (counting lines).

Display a warning if file has not enough lines.

[ $(cat file | wc -l) -ge 4 ] && sed -i '4s pattern' file || echo "not enough lines"
| improve this answer | |
  • Be careful with the A && B || C pattern: if B exits with non-zero, C will be executed. – glenn jackman Sep 7 '18 at 12:49
  • @Michael D want to add the pattern in 4th line even it has less the 4 lines. If previous line is blank also not a problem. – Stack EG Sep 7 '18 at 12:50
  • @glennjackman please check my edit in question. – Stack EG Sep 7 '18 at 12:54

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