I am looking for a way to add some string to the beginning of every line (same string for every line). Not something customizable but rather something that will be easy to remember and available on every POSIX-compliant platform (and every shell as well).


You can use sed:

sed -i 's/^/your_string /' your_file

Thanks to Stephane and Marco's comments, note that the -i option isn't POSIX. A POSIX way to do the above would be

sed 's/^/your_string /' your_file > tmp_copy && mv tmp_copy your_file

or perl:

perl -pi -e 's/^/your_string /' your_file


Both commands perform a regex substitution, replacing the beginning of a line (^) with your desired string. The -i switch in both commands makes sure the file is edited in place (i.e. the changes are reflected in the file instead of printed to stdout).

sed should be available on any POSIX-compliant OS and perl should be available on most modern Unices except perhaps for the ones that have gone through the effort of removing it.

  • 1
    Small correction: The -i switch does not edit the file in place. It creates a new file and overwrites the original one after it's done (proof: the inode changes). There are not many tools which actually do in-place editing, which is a dangerous operation. Furthermore, since you mention POSIX, the -i switch is not mandatory for a POSIX compatible sed, it's a feature of some particular implementations. – Marco Oct 8 '13 at 20:00
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    sed -i is not POSIX. It's GNU. FreeBSD sed has a similar option, but you need sed -i '' there. – Stéphane Chazelas Oct 8 '13 at 20:01
  • @Marco I'm aware that -i creates a temporary copy (that's why I said the changes are reflected in the original file); I meant that you get the same semantics as in-place substitution. Please check that the updated answer is POSIX-compliant. – Joseph R. Oct 8 '13 at 20:06
  • Strictly speaking, the changes are reflected in a new file with the same name as the original. – Keith Thompson Oct 8 '13 at 23:17
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    I often use $$ (the current shell's process id) as part of a temporary file name; it avoids the effort of thinking of a guaranteed unique name every time: command filename > filename.$$ && mv filename.$$ filename – Keith Thompson Oct 8 '13 at 23:18
:|paste -d'foo ' - - - - input > output

(just kidding, though you'll probably find it's the fastest of all the solutions posted here :-b).

The canonical way is:

sed 's/^/foo /' < input > output

However, it's not easily adapted to arbitrary strings. For instance,

sed "s/^/$var /"

Only works if $var doesn't contain, &, \, / nor newline characters.

In that regard,

export var
awk '{print ENVIRON["var"], $0}'


perl -pe '$_="$ENV{var} $_"'

would work better.

  • that's something interesting... :P – Rahul Patil Oct 8 '13 at 20:12

I present a solution using awk prepending the string “foo”.

awk '{ print "foo", $0; }' input > output

awk is cross-platform and available on any POSIX system. It does not do in-place editing. If you want to edit a file without creating a second one, you will have to use a temporary file. See Joseph's sed answer, it shows the syntax. Another hack is to use the following syntax, which is basically creating a temporary file with the same file name as the original file.

{ rm file; awk '{ print "foo", $0 }' > file; } < file
  • reducto# wc -l foo ` 914 foo` reducto# { rm foo ; awk '{ print "prepend" , $0 }' > foo } < foo > This doesn't seem to work. I was trying because the redirecting to original made me nervous, but it won't even start. – kurtm Oct 8 '13 at 20:45
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    This example will work if it uses parentheses for the outside rather than curly braces. – kurtm Oct 8 '13 at 20:49

You can avoid the problems of in-place editing with the stream tools by using a tool that normally does in-place editing - an editor!

ex sample.txt -c "%s/^/foo /" -c wq

There is an additional advantage that the commands are easy and obvious to anyone who is versed in the one true editor.


You can use perl to do this:

$ perl -pi -e 's/^/mystring /' afile.txt


Create a sample file.

$ seq 5 > afile.txt

$ cat afile.txt

Run the above command:

$ perl -pi -e 's/^/mystring /' afile.txt

$ cat afile.txt
mystring 1
mystring 2
mystring 3
mystring 4
mystring 5
  • Perl seems to be universal nowadays, but for a long time it wasn't. And I'm betting there are a couple rare UNIX variants out there that steadfastly refuse to have perl as part of the base. Something to be aware of. – kurtm Oct 8 '13 at 20:41
  • @kurtm see the discussion here. Apparently, AIX does not have Perl by default and nor do embedded systems. – terdon Oct 8 '13 at 20:53
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    @DavidSainty - it's universal enough. The Q was tagged with Bash so I find it extremely hard to imagine a system that has Bash but not Perl. At any rate, here's one of 5 answers, several of the others show how to use sed, I showed how to use Perl....not looking for a holy war on the matter. – slm Oct 8 '13 at 21:01
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    @DavidSainty Apparently only OpenBSD. I guess I made the assumption since the Open folks tend to be conservative about what they allow in base. OpenBSD definitively does have it in base. – kurtm Oct 8 '13 at 21:43
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    @slm: "I find it extremely hard to imagine a system that has Bash but not Perl". I have several such systems sitting on my desk. (They happen to be embedded systems.) – Keith Thompson Oct 8 '13 at 23:20

Simply using Bash

 while IFS= read -r line; do echo "foo" "${line}" ; done  < input > Output

Using Python

python -c "import sys; print 'foo '.join([ l for l in sys.stdin.readlines() ])" < input > Output

If you want to edit in-place

import fileinput
import sys

for line in fileinput.input(['inputfile'], inplace=True):
    sys.stdout.write('foo {l}'.format(l=line))

Reference link

  • Why it's working faster than awk ? – Rahul Patil Oct 8 '13 at 20:11
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    It's only going to work faster than awk on very small files. The behavior varies across echo implementations and it strips leading and trailing blanks and processes backslashes specially. – Stéphane Chazelas Oct 8 '13 at 20:12
  • @StephaneChazelas Yes. you are 100% correct just tested... paste.ubuntu.com/6210934 – Rahul Patil Oct 8 '13 at 20:19
  • prefix () { while IFS= read -r REPLY; do printf "%s%s\n" "$1" "$REPLY"; done; } ought to be more correct. – Matt Oct 8 '13 at 20:34
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    Why the {}? I think @Matt was suggesting you make it into a named function, what's the point of {} without a function name? – terdon Oct 8 '13 at 20:51

Or you can do the following:

vi filename.txt

Esc (to make sure you're in NORMAL mode), and then enter the following command:

:1,$ s/^/mystring
  • Note that since the user is asking about every line of the file, you could replace 1,$ with simply %. This makes the command :%s/^/string/. – HalosGhost Sep 12 '14 at 14:26

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