I've been looking around sed command to add text into a file in a specific line. This works adding text after line 1:

sed '1 a\

But I want to add it before line 1. It would be:

sed '0 a\

but I get this error: invalid usage of line address 0.

Any suggestion?

14 Answers 14


Use sed's insert (i) option which will insert the text in the preceding line.

sed '1 i\

Question author's update:

To make it edit the file in place - with GNU sed - I had to add the -i option:

sed -i '1 i\anything' file

Also syntax

sed  -i '1i text' filename

For non-GNU sed

You need to hit the return key immediately after the backslash 1i\ and after first_line_text:

sed -i '1i\

Also note that some non-GNU sed implementations (for example the one on macOS) require an argument for the -i flag (use -i '' to get the same effect as with GNU sed).

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    It doesn't work without -i option. I'll update your answer before accepting. – Manolo Nov 8 '13 at 12:07
  • 1
    thanks. What OS are you using? Original solution worked on OpenSuse 9. – suspectus Nov 8 '13 at 12:22
  • 1
    Interesting! I'm on Lubuntu 13.10 and sed '1 i\this text is entered above the existing first line' file works for me. – user15760 Nov 8 '13 at 13:47
  • 2
    Here, using sed (GNU sed) 4.2.2 just sed '1 i text to insert' -i file worked like a charm. Thanks – ton Feb 15 '16 at 14:06
  • 3
    Does not work on empty files. – rudimeier Sep 28 '16 at 20:32

Echo is used to get the text. Cat filename - prints the file in the console and > uses it to send to another file filename1 and then we move filename1 to filename to get the text inserted to the first line of desired file.

  (echo "some text" && cat filename) > filename1 && mv filename1 filename
| improve this answer | |
  • 9
    Please let me know why the following is downvoted – Ankit Shah Jan 9 '17 at 14:58
  • 1
    Perhaps because the OP mentions sed. That does not deserve a down vote in my opinion. That solution was even the best fitting my needs, then upvoted. – рüффп Apr 12 '18 at 10:46
  • 1
    I upvoted. works on ksh for me. – arcee123 Aug 22 '19 at 13:47
  • 2
    this is great solutions! it work in Makefile & MacOS well. – zx1986 Jun 18 at 23:33

You can use the POSIX tool ex:

ex a.txt <<eof
1 insert


| improve this answer | |

Using GNU awk >= 4.1:

awk -i inplace 'BEGINFILE{print "first line"}{print}' foo.sh

In opposite to all the sed answers, this works on empty files too.

| improve this answer | |
  • inplace is a library, and unfortunately it appears on all awk distributions ship it. I get "awk: fatal: can't open source file 'inplace' for reading" GNU Awk 4.2.1, API: 2.0 (GNU MPFR 4.0.1, GNU MP 6.1.2) – vossad01 Jul 8 '18 at 14:15

You want to insert text before the first line rather than append it after, so use

sed '1 i\
your_text' your_file

A here document can also help:

cat /dev/stdin your_file <<EOI
Your text
goes here
| improve this answer | |
sed  -i '1i new_text' file_name

If you don't specify the -i option, it won't show any error, and displays the output on standard terminal, but doesn't insert the text in the file.

| improve this answer | |
  • The question is not about the -i switch. – don_crissti Mar 14 '16 at 20:30
  • How do you figure that?  It is an answer to the question.  Yes, it's similar to the accepted answer, but not exactly the same. – G-Man Says 'Reinstate Monica' Mar 14 '16 at 22:51
  • @G-Man - one might argue the template used by cas is far from ideal but really, this is similar like in nearly identical... the difference being the spacing and the fact this one has no backslash. As far as I am concerned they are technically identical (as they are both gnu sed specific and it just happens that gnu sed will accept the i without a backslash). If others think this warrants a separate answer + an upvote... oh well. – don_crissti Mar 15 '16 at 0:41

The 0a command you attempted does work in ex, the predecessor to vi:

printf '%s\n' 0a 'Anything you want to add' . x | ex file.txt

The printf command by itself outputs:

Anything you want to add

The 0a means append after the 0th line (i.e. before the first line).

The next line or multiple lines is literal text to be added.

The . on a line by itself terminates the "append" command.

The x causes Ex to save the changes to the file and exit.

| improve this answer | |

I am surprised that in this old question nobody has shown the most common (and quite simple in this case) sed command:

$ sed  -i '1s/^/new_text\
/' file_name

Which works in most shells and is portable to several sed versions, provided that the file contains at least one valid line.
If GNU sed is available, you may use this:

$ sed -i '1s/^/new_text\n' file_name

The difference is that GNU sed allow the use of a \n for a newline and others need a literal newline preceded by a backslash (which also work in GNU sed anyway).

If a shell which accepts the $'…' syntax is in use, you may insert the newline directly, so sed sees that the newline is already there:

$ sed -i $'1s/^/new_text\\\n/' file_name

Which works for more sed versions.

If the file has no lines (i.e: its empty) just:

$ echo "new_text" > file_name
| improve this answer | |
  • What if there is no lines in the file? – Just a learner Jan 9 at 7:21
  • @Justalearner The title of the question asks for: insert text before the first line of a file, so, a first line must already exist. That is also a problem for the selected answer. – Isaac Jan 13 at 19:04
  • Amazing answer @Isaac. This is certainly the only solution which works in the literal sense. I needed to add "schema": before the first line without any new line to be added. Your solution work -> sed -i '1s/^/"schema":/' o – nitinr708 Apr 1 at 19:13
  • @nitinr708 Thanks!! happy to be of help. – Isaac Apr 1 at 23:15

I had issues with BSD sed (MacOS) and inserting text from a variable, so this is how I did it:

sed -i '' -e "1{x;s/^.*/$headers/p;x;} some_file"


  • 1{...} This affects only the first line
  • x swap the current line with the hold space (currently empty)
  • s/../../p replaces (the now empty line) with the expected text (this avoids the line-break problem) and outputs it (so the first line will be get printed)
  • x swap again, retrieving the file first line which was in the hold space into the pattern space
| improve this answer | |

Unfortunately, all the answers above (mostly with sed) didn't work out for me since they all substituted the first line. I am on an Ubuntu 16.04 LTS machine. Here is my workaround with GNU Awk 4.0.2:

awk '{if(NR==1){$0="NEW_FIRST_LINE"$0; print $0} ;if(NR!=1){print $0}}' file_name
| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    Not sure what you're talking about... There's only one sed answer that uses replacement but it doesn't substitute the existing line. – don_crissti Nov 15 '18 at 18:06

If anyone is interested, my problem was to insert same header line into several files. Thanks to proposed solution, I came up with this :

sed -i 1i\ $(cat header_line) data.csv

where header_line is a file containing desired first line ,

| improve this answer | |

Adding the text hello before the first line without a carriage return or line feed to the file myfile

sed -i '1s/^/hello /' myfile

This will also not output the entire file on the terminal.

| improve this answer | |

Just similar to Ankit Shah's answer:

(echo "some text" && cat filename) > /tmp/filename && cat /tmp/filename > filename

It's not convenient to use such a long command, so I create a simple bash function (in .bashrc or elsewhere possible) as following:

echo0 () {
  (echo ${@:2} && cat $1) > /tmp/$1
  cat /tmp/$1 > $1
# $1 is your-file-name, ${@:2} are contents after "your-file-name".
# How to use:
#   > echo0 myfile hellow world etc.
#   > head myfile
#     hellow world etc.
#     ...
| improve this answer | |

sed can insert (multiple times) before the first and after the last

I would assume that anyone who searched for how to insert/append text to the beginning/end of a file probably also needs to know how to do the other also.

cal |                            \
  gsed -E                        \
       -e     '1i\{'             \
       -e     '1i\  "lines": ['  \
       -e 's/(.*)/    "\1",/'    \
       -e '$s/,$//'              \
       -e     '$a\  ]'           \
       -e     '$a\}'


This is cal output piped to gnu-sed (called gsed on macOS installed via brew.sh) with extended RegEx (-E) and 6 "scripts" applied (-e) and line breaks escaped with \ for readability.

  • Scripts 1 & 2 use 1i\ to "at line 1, insert".
  • Scripts 5 & 6 use $a\ to "at line <last>, append".
    • I vertically aligned the text outputs to make the code represent what is expected in the result.
  • Scripts 3 & 4 do substitutions
    • Script 4 applies only to "line <last>" because of the $ placed before the s/.

The result is converting command output to valid JSON.


  "lines": [
    "    October 2019      ",
    "Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa  ",
    "       1  2  3  4  5  ",
    " 6  7  8  9 10 11 12  ",
    "13 14 15 16 17 18 19  ",
    "20 21 22 23 24 25 26  ",
    "27 28 29 30 31        ",
    "                      "
| improve this answer | |
  • While I haven't voted on your question, note that we already have several answers, including an accepted one, that demonstrate the desired result. – Jeff Schaller Oct 22 '19 at 12:12
  • @JeffSchaller The Stack Exchange community is not a forum. Its purpose extends beyond helping the OP get unblocked. The goal is to seed the global knowledge base with many options that seekers can stumble upon when searching for answers. The reason I titled my answer is to help users recognize the utility of this answer before they even click the Google result. – Bruno Bronosky Oct 22 '19 at 16:09
  • What I'm saying is that your answer isn't providing any new options (answers) for future readers of this question. We already have four answers that use variations of 1i to insert text before the first line. Someone with this question would have to extract the parts they need from your answer in order to solve their problem. Questions are free, so I'd invite you to ask & answer your own question in order to provide your specific answer. – Jeff Schaller Oct 22 '19 at 16:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.