Sunday, November 29, 2020

Using sed "in place" (gnu vs bsd)

 I'm not crazy after all!

Well, ok, I guess figuring out a difference between gnu sed and bsd sed is not a sign of sanity.

I use sed a fair amount in my shell scripts. Recently, I've been using "-i" a lot to edit files "in-place". The "-i" option takes a value which is interpreted as a file name suffix to save the pre-edited form of the file. You know, in case you mess up your sed commands, you can get back your original file.

But for a lot of applications, the file being edited is itself generated, so there is no need to save a backup. So just pass a null string in as the suffix. No problem, right?

 

GNU SED (Linux and Cygwin)

echo "x" >x
sed -i '' -e "s/x/y/" x
sed: can't read : No such file or directory

Hmm ... that's odd. It's trying to interpret that null string as a file name, not the value for the "-i" option. Maybe it doesn't like that space between the option and the value.

echo "x" >x
sed -i'' -e "s/x/y/" x

There. It worked. I'm generally in the habit of using a space between the option and the value, but oh well. Learn something new every day...


BSD SED (FreeBSD and Mac)

echo "x" >x
sed -i'' -e "s/x/y/" x
ls x*
x    x-e

Hey, what's that "x-e" file? Oh, it IGNORED the empty string and interpreted "-e" as the suffix! Put the space back in:

echo "x" >x
sed -i '' -e "s/x/y/" x

Works. No "x-e" file.


ARGH!

I use both Mac and Linux, and want scripts that work on both!

 

THE SOLUTION

Go ahead and always generate a backup file. And don't use a space between the option and the value. This works on both:

echo "x" >x
sed -i.bak -e "s/x/y/" x
rm x.bak

Works on Mac and Linux.

IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME TO FIGURE ALL THIS OUT!!! Part of the reason it took so long is that for the cases that don't work as intended, they tend to basically work. For example, the first Linux case where it tried to interpret '' as a file. It printed an error. But then it went to the actual file and processed it correctly. The command did what it was suppose to do, but it printed an error. For the BSD case, it created a backup file using "-e" as the suffix, but it went ahead and interpreted the sed command string as a command string, and properly processed the file. In both cases, the end goal was accomplished, but with unintended side effects.

Corner cases: the bane of programmers everywhere.

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