I just noticed that it seems like the flag -e does not exist for the echo command in my shell on Linux. Is this just a messed up setting or is it "normal"?

Some code as an example:

echo -e "\e[3;12r\e[3H"


-e \e[3;12r\e[3H

This worked before! I guess some stty commands went terribly wrong and now it does not work anymore. Somebody suggested that my sh was actually just bash.

  • There's no such thing as a "Linux shell". There's for instance the echo builtin of the /bin/sh shell as provided by the dash package on Debian (an operating system that can have Linux or FreeBSD as its kernel). Aug 27, 2013 at 5:33
  • And this is why I just put escape characters in my script when I need them.
    – user41515
    Aug 27, 2013 at 14:59

4 Answers 4


Because you used sh, not bash, then echo command in sh doesn't have option -e. From sh manpage:

echo [-n] args...
            Print the arguments on the standard output, separated by spaces.
            Unless the -n option is present, a newline is output following the

And it doesn't have \e, too:

        If any of the following sequences of characters is encountered
        during output, the sequence is not output.  Instead, the specified
        action is performed:

        \b      A backspace character is output.

        \c      Subsequent output is suppressed.  This is normally used at
                the end of the last argument to suppress the trailing new‐
                line that echo would otherwise output.

        \f      Output a form feed.

        \n      Output a newline character.

        \r      Output a carriage return.

        \t      Output a (horizontal) tab character.

        \v      Output a vertical tab.

                Output the character whose value is given by zero to three
                octal digits.  If there are zero digits, a nul character
                is output.

        \\      Output a backslash.

        All other backslash sequences elicit undefined behaviour.
  • 6
    Several sh implementations support echo -e, at compilation time bash can be told not to support echo -e. It's just that that particular sh (probably dash) doesn't support -e while that particular bash does. Aug 27, 2013 at 5:41

-e is not POSIX (in fact, POSIX echo generally accepts no options, though it is allowed to support -n, see here), and /bin/sh on your system appears to be a POSIX shell. -e is an extension accepted in some shells, but you shouldn't rely on it, it's not portable. Ideally, use printf, or switch to using a shell which has echo -e.

Also see the caveats of \e in the comments below, which should be replaced with \033.

printf '\033[3;12r\033[3H'
  • 3
    as gnouc points out, sh doesn't recognize \e either. Use \033
    – rici
    Aug 27, 2013 at 3:15
  • Also beware that printf treats % as a substitution character whereas echo does not. Mar 26, 2020 at 12:54

Note that at any time and in almost any shell, you can figure out which "echo" will be called by typing type echo or which echo. It's usually a shell builtin. So it depends on which "echo" is installed and on which shell you're using.

  • 4
    which echo should not be used, it likely won't tell you if you are using a builtin because which is usually an external binary. type is good, though.
    – Chris Down
    Aug 27, 2013 at 10:09
  • 1
    Well spotted, though on my main shell (zsh), it's a builtin (as revealed by type which or which which). ;)
    – piojo
    Aug 27, 2013 at 10:10

Seems like zsh wants to encourage us to use printf "blah\n" instead of echo -e "blah\n" for some reason.

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