MirBSD manpage: 10.edadv(USD)

Advanced Editing on UNIX                            USD:10-1

                  Advanced Editing on UNIX

                     Brian W. Kernighan

                      Murray Hill, NJ

            (Updated for 4.3BSD by Mark Seiden)


          This paper is meant to help secretaries, typ-
     ists  and programmers to make effective use of the
     UNIX- facilities for preparing and  editing  text.
     It provides explanations and examples of

     +    special characters, line addressing, and glo-
          bal commands in the editor ed;

     +    commands for ``cut and paste'' operations  on
          files  and  parts of files, including the mv,
          cp, cat, and rm commands, and the  r,  w,  m,
          and t commands of the editor;

     +    editing  scripts  and  editor-based  programs
          like grep and sed.

          Although  the  treatment  is  aimed  at  non-
     programmers,  new  UNIX  users with any background
     should find helpful hints on how to get their jobs
     done more easily.


     Although UNIX provides remarkably effective  tools  for
text  editing,  that by itself is no guarantee that everyone
will automatically make the most effective use of  them.  In
particular,  people  who are not computer specialists - typ-
ists, secretaries, casual users - often use the system  less
effectively  than they might. (There is a good argument that
new users would better use their  time  learning  a  display
editor,  like  vi, or perhaps a version of emacs, like jove,
- UNIX is a registered trademark of AT&T  Bell  Labora-
tories in the USA and other countries.

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rather than an editor as ignorant of  display  terminals  as

     This document is intended as a  sequel  to  A  Tutorial
Introduction to the UNIX Text Editor [1], providing explana-
tions and examples of how to edit using ed with less effort.
(You  should  also be familiar with the material in UNIX For
Beginners [2].) Further information  on  all  commands  dis-
cussed here can be found in section 1 of the The UNIX User's
Manual [3].

     Examples are based on observations  of  users  and  the
difficulties  they encounter. Topics covered include special
characters  in  searches  and  substitute   commands,   line
addressing,  the  global commands, and line moving and copy-
ing. There are also brief discussions of  effective  use  of
related  tools,  like those for file manipulation, and those
based on ed, like grep and sed.

     A word of caution. There is only one way  to  learn  to
use  something, and that is to use it. Reading a description
is no substitute for trying something. A paper like this one
should give you ideas about what to try, but until you actu-
ally try something, you will not learn it.


     The editor ed is the primary interface  to  the  system
for  many people, so it is worthwhile to know how to get the
most out of ed for the least effort.

     The next few sections will discuss shortcuts and labor-
saving devices. Not all of these will be instantly useful to
any one person, of course, but a few will be, and the others
should  give  you ideas to store away for future use. And as
always,  until  you  try  these  things,  they  will  remain
theoretical knowledge, not something you have confidence in.

The List command `l'

     ed provides two commands for printing the  contents  of
the  lines  you're editing. Most people are familiar with p,
in combinations like


to print all the lines you're editing, or


to change `abc' to `def' on the current line. Less  familiar
is the list command l (the letter `l'), which gives slightly
more information than p.  In  particular,  l  makes  visible
characters that are normally invisible, such as tabs. If you

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list a line that contains tabs, l will print each tab as \t.
This makes it much easier to correct the sort of typing mis-
take that inserts extra spaces adjacent to tabs, or  inserts
a backspace followed by a space.

     The l command also `folds' long lines  for  printing  -
any  line  that exceeds 72 characters is printed on multiple
lines; each printed line except the last is terminated by  a
backslash  \,  so you can tell it was folded. This is useful
for printing long lines on short terminals.

     Occasionally the l command  will  print  in  a  line  a
string  of  numbers  preceded by a backslash, such as \07 or
\16. These combinations are used to make visible  characters
that normally don't print, like form feed or vertical tab or
bell. Each such combination is a single character. When  you
see  such  characters,  be  wary  - they may have surprising
meanings when printed on some terminals. Often  their  pres-
ence  means  that your finger slipped while you were typing;
you almost never want them.

The Substitute Command `s'

     Most of the next few sections will be taken up  with  a
discussion  of  the  substitute command s. Since this is the
command for changing the contents of  individual  lines,  it
probably  has the most complexity of any ed command, and the
most potential for effective use.

     As the simplest place to begin, recall the meaning of a
trailing g after a substitute command. With




the first one replaces the first `this'  on  the  line  with
`that'.  If  there  is more than one `this' on the line, the
second form with the trailing g changes all of them.

     Either form of the s command can be followed by p or  l
to  `print' or `list' (as described in the previous section)
the contents of the line:


are all legal, and mean slightly different things. Make sure
you know what the differences are.

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     Of course, any s command can be preceded by one or  two
`line  numbers'  to specify that the substitution is to take
place on a group of lines. Thus


changes the first occurrence of `mispell' to  `misspell'  on
every line of the file. But


changes every occurrence in every line  (and  this  is  more
likely to be what you wanted in this particular case).

     You should also notice that if you add a p or l to  the
end  of any of these substitute commands, only the last line
that got changed will be printed, not all the lines. We will
talk  later about how to print all the lines that were modi-

The Undo Command `u'

     Occasionally you will make a substitution  in  a  line,
only  to realize too late that it was a ghastly mistake. The
`undo' command u lets you `undo' the last substitution:  the
last line that was substituted can be restored to its previ-
ous state by typing the command


The Metacharacter `.'

     As you have undoubtedly noticed when you use  ed,  cer-
tain  characters have unexpected meanings when they occur in
the left side of a substitute command, or in a search for  a
particular  line. In the next several sections, we will talk
about these  special  characters,  which  are  often  called

     The first one is the period `.'. On the left side of  a
substitute  command, or in a search with `/.../', `.' stands
for any single character. Thus the search


finds any line where `x' and `y' occur separated by a single
character, as in


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and so on. (We will use ] to stand for a space  whenever  we
need to make it visible.)

     Since `.' matches a single character, that gives you  a
way  to deal with funny characters printed by l. Suppose you
have a line that, when printed with the l  command,  appears

      ....   th\07is   ....

and you want to get rid of the  \07  (which  represents  the
bell character, by the way).

     The most obvious solution is to try


but this will fail. (Try  it.)  The  brute  force  solution,
which  most  people would now take, is to re-type the entire
line. This is guaranteed, and is actually quite a reasonable
tactic if the line in question isn't too big, but for a very
long line, re-typing is a bore. This is where the  metachar-
acter  `.'  comes  in handy. Since `\07' really represents a
single character, if we say


the job is done. The `.' matches  the  mysterious  character
between the `h' and the `i', whatever it is.

     Bear in mind that since `.' matches any single  charac-
ter, the command


converts the first character on a line  into  a  `,',  which
very often is not what you intended.

     As is true of  many  characters  in  ed,  the  `.'  has
several  meanings, depending on its context. This line shows
all three:


The first `.' is a line number, the number of  the  line  we
are  editing,  which  is called `line dot'. (We will discuss
line dot more in Section 3.) The second `.' is a metacharac-
ter  that  matches  any  single  character on that line. The
third `.' is the only one that really is an  honest  literal
period. On the right side of a substitution, `.' is not spe-
cial. If you apply this command to the line

     Now is the time.

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the result will be

     .ow is the time.

which is probably not what you intended.

The Backslash `\'

     Since a period  means  `any  character',  the  question
naturally  arises  of  what  to  do  when  you really want a
period. For example, how do you convert the line

     Now is the time.


     Now is the time?

The backslash `\' does the job. A backslash  turns  off  any
special  meaning that the next character might have; in par-
ticular, `\.' converts the `.' from a `match anything'  into
a period, so you can use it to replace the period in

     Now is the time.

like this:


The pair of characters `\.' is considered by ed to be a sin-
gle real period.

     The backslash can also be used when searching for lines
that  contain  a  special character. Suppose you are looking
for a line that contains


The search


isn't adequate, for it will find a line like


because the `.' matches the letter `A'. But if you say


you will find only lines that contain `.PP'.

     The backslash can also be  used  to  turn  off  special
meanings   for  characters  other  than  `.'.  For  example,

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consider finding a  line  that  contains  a  backslash.  The


won't work, because the `\' isn't a literal `\', but instead
means that the second `/' no longer delimits the search. But
by preceding a backslash with another one,  you  can  search
for a literal backslash. Thus


does work. Similarly, you can search for a forward slash `/'


The backslash turns off the meaning of the immediately  fol-
lowing  `/' so that it doesn't terminate the /.../ construc-
tion prematurely.

     As an exercise, before reading further, find  two  sub-
stitute commands each of which will convert the line


into the line


     Here are several solutions; verify that each  works  as


     A couple of miscellaneous notes about  backslashes  and
special characters. First, you can use any character to del-
imit the pieces of an s command:  there  is  nothing  sacred
about slashes. (But you must use slashes for context search-
ing.) For instance, in a line that contains a lot of slashes
already, like

     //exec //sys.fort.go // etc...

you could use a colon as the delimiter - to delete  all  the
slashes, type


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     Second, if # and @ are your character  erase  and  line
kill  characters,  you  have to type \# and \@; this is true
whether you're talking to ed or any other program.

     When you are adding text with a or i or c, backslash is
not  special,  and  you should only put in one backslash for
each one you really want.

The Dollar Sign `$'

     The next metacharacter, the `$', stands for `the end of
the  line'.  As  its  most obvious use, suppose you have the

     Now is the

and you wish to add the word `time' to the end.  Use  the  $
like this:


to get

     Now is the time

Notice that a space is needed before `time' in  the  substi-
tute command, or you will get

     Now is thetime

     As another example, replace the  second  comma  in  the
following line with a period without altering the first:

     Now is the time, for all good men,

The command needed is


The $ sign here provides  context  to  make  specific  which
comma  we  mean.  Without it, of course, the s command would
operate on the first comma to produce

     Now is the time. for all good men,

     As another example, to convert

     Now is the time.


     Now is the time?

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as we did earlier, we can use


     Like `.', the `$' has multiple  meanings  depending  on
context. In the line


the first `$' refers to the  last  line  of  the  file,  the
second  refers  to  the end of that line, and the third is a
literal dollar sign, to be added to that line.

The Circumflex `^'

     The circumflex (or hat or caret)  `^'  stands  for  the
beginning  of the line. For example, suppose you are looking
for a line that begins with `the'. If you simply say


you will in all likelihood find several lines  that  contain
`the' in the middle before arriving at the one you want. But


you narrow the context, and thus arrive at the  desired  one
more easily.

     The other use of `^' is of  course  to  enable  you  to
insert something at the beginning of a line:


places a space at the beginning of the current line.

     Metacharacters can be combined. To search  for  a  line
that contains only the characters


you can use the command


The Star `*'

     Suppose you have a line that looks like this:

     text  x                y  text

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where text stands for lots  of  text,  and  there  are  some
indeterminate number of spaces between the x and the y. Sup-
pose the job is to replace all the spaces between x and y by
a  single  space.  The line is too long to retype, and there
are too many spaces to count. What now?

     This is where the metacharacter `*' comes in  handy.  A
character  followed by a star stands for as many consecutive
occurrences of that character as possible. To refer  to  all
the spaces at once, say


The construction `]*' means `as many  spaces  as  possible'.
Thus  `x]*y' means `an x, as many spaces as possible, then a

     The star can be  used  with  any  character,  not  just
space. If the original example was instead

     text  x--------y  text

then all `-' signs can be replaced by a  single  space  with
the command


     Finally, suppose that the line was

     text  x..................y  text

Can you see what trap lies in wait for the  unwary?  If  you
blindly type


what will happen? The answer, naturally, is that it depends.
If  there  are  no other x's or y's on the line, then every-
thing works, but  it's  blind  luck,  not  good  management.
Remember  that  `.'  matches any single character? Then `.*'
matches as many single characters as  possible,  and  unless
you're  careful,  it  can eat up a lot more of the line than
you expected. If the line was, for example, like this:

     text  x  text   x................y   text  y  text

then saying


will take everything from the first `x'  to  the  last  `y',
which, in this example, is undoubtedly more than you wanted.

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     The solution, of course, is to  turn  off  the  special
meaning of `.' with `\.':


Now everything works, for `\.*' means `as  many  periods  as

     There are times when the pattern `.*' is  exactly  what
you want. For example, to change

     Now is the time for all good men ....


     Now is the time.

use `.*' to eat up everything after the `for':


     There are a couple of  additional  pitfalls  associated
with  `*'  that  you should be aware of. Most notable is the
fact that `as many as possible' means zero or more. The fact
that  zero  is  a legitimate possibility is sometimes rather
surprising. For example, if our line contained

     text  xy  text  x             y  text

and we said


the first `xy' matches this pattern, for it consists  of  an
`x',  zero spaces, and a `y'. The result is that the substi-
tute acts on the first `xy', and does not  touch  the  later
one that actually contains some intervening spaces.

     The way around this, if it matters,  is  to  specify  a
pattern like


which says `an x, a space, then as many more spaces as  pos-
sible, then a y', in other words, one or more spaces.

The Brackets `[ ]'

     Suppose that you want to delete any numbers that appear
at  the  beginning  of  all lines of a file. You might first
think of trying a series of commands like

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and so on, but this is clearly going to take forever if  the
numbers  are at all long. Unless you want to repeat the com-
mands over and over until finally all numbers are gone,  you
must  get all the digits on one pass. This is the purpose of
the brackets [ and ].

     The construction


matches any single digit -  the  whole  thing  is  called  a
`character  class'. With a character class, the job is easy.
The pattern `[0123456789]*' matches zero or more digits  (an
entire number), so


deletes all digits from the beginning of all lines.

     Any characters can appear within a character class, and
just  to  confuse the issue there are essentially no special
characters inside the brackets; even the  backslash  doesn't
have  a  special  meaning. To search for special characters,
for example, you can say


Within [...], the `[' is not special. To get a  `]'  into  a
character class, make it the first character.

     It's a nuisance to have to spell out the digits, so you
can  abbreviate  them  as [0-9]; similarly, [a-z] stands for
the lower case letters, and [A-Z] for upper case.

     As a final frill on character classes, you can  specify
a  class that means `none of the following characters'. This
is done by beginning the class with a `^':


stands for `any character except a digit'.  Thus  you  might
find  the  first line that doesn't begin with a tab or space
by a search like


     Within a character class, the circumflex has a  special
meaning only if it occurs at the beginning. Just to convince

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yourself, verify that


finds a line that doesn't begin with a circumflex.

The Ampersand `&'

     The ampersand `&' is used  primarily  to  save  typing.
Suppose you have the line

     Now is the time

and you want to make it

     Now is the best time

Of course you can always say

     s/the/the best/

but it seems silly to have to repeat the `the'. The  `&'  is
used  to  eliminate  the  repetition. On the right side of a
substitute, the ampersand means `whatever was just matched',
so you can say

     s/the/& best/

and the `&' will stand for `the'. Of course this isn't  much
of a saving if the thing matched is just `the', but if it is
something truly long or awful, or if it  is  something  like
`.*'  which matches a lot of text, you can save some tedious
typing. There is also much less chance of  making  a  typing
error  in the replacement text. For example, to parenthesize
a line, regardless of its length,


     The ampersand can occur more than  once  on  the  right

     s/the/& best and & worst/


     Now is the best and the worst time


     s/.*/&? &!!/

converts the original line into

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     Now is the time? Now is the time!!

     To get a literal ampersand, naturally the backslash  is
used to turn off the special meaning:


converts the word into the symbol. Notice that  `&'  is  not
special  on the left side of a substitute, only on the right

Substituting Newlines

     ed provides a facility for splitting a single line into
two or more shorter lines by `substituting in a newline'. As
the simplest example, suppose a line has gotten unmanageably
long  because  of editing (or merely because it was unwisely
typed). If it looks like

     text    xy   text

you can break it between the `x' and the `y' like this:


This is actually a single command, although it is  typed  on
two  lines. Bearing in mind that `\' turns off special mean-
ings, it seems relatively intuitive that a `\' at the end of
a line would make the newline there no longer special.

     You can in fact make a single line into  several  lines
with  this  same  mechanism.  As  a  large example, consider
underlining the word `very' in  a  long  line  by  splitting
`very' onto a separate line, and preceding it by the roff or
nroff formatting command `.ul'.

     text  a very big  text

The command


converts the line into four  shorter  lines,  preceding  the
word  `very'  by  the line `.ul', and eliminating the spaces
around the `very', all at the same time.

     When a newline is substituted in, dot is left  pointing
at the last line created.

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Joining Lines

     Lines may also be joined together,  but  this  is  done
with the j command instead of s. Given the lines

     Now is
     ]the time

and supposing that dot is set to the first of them, then the


joins them together. No blanks are added, which  is  why  we
carefully  showed  a  blank  at  the beginning of the second

     All by itself, a j  command  joins  line  dot  to  line
dot+1,  but  any contiguous set of lines can be joined. Just
specify the starting and ending line numbers. For example,


joins all the lines into one big one and prints it. (More on
line numbers in Section 3.)

Rearranging a Line with \( ... \)

     (This section should  be  skipped  on  first  reading.)
Recall  that `&' is a shorthand that stands for whatever was
matched by the left side of an s command. In much  the  same
way you can capture separate pieces of what was matched; the
only difference is that you have to specify on the left side
just what pieces you're interested in.

     Suppose, for instance, that you have a  file  of  lines
that consist of names in the form

     Smith, A. B.
     Jones, C.

and so on, and you want the initials to precede the name, as

     A. B. Smith
     C. Jones

It is possible to do this with a series of editing commands,
but  it  is  tedious  and error-prone. (It is instructive to
figure out how it is done, though.)

     The alternative is to `tag' the pieces of  the  pattern
(in  this  case,  the last name, and the initials), and then
rearrange the pieces. On the left side of a substitution, if

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part  of the pattern is enclosed between \( and \), whatever
matched that part is remembered, and available  for  use  on
the right side. On the right side, the symbol `\1' refers to
whatever matched the first \(...\) pair, `\2' to the  second
\(...\), and so on.

     The command


although hard to read,  does  the  job.  The  first  \(...\)
matches  the last name, which is any string up to the comma;
this is referred to on the right side with `\1'. The  second
\(...\) is whatever follows the comma and any spaces, and is
referred to as `\2'.

     Of course, with any editing sequence this  complicated,
it's  foolhardy  to  simply run it and hope. The global com-
mands g and v discussed in section 4 provide a way  for  you
to print exactly those lines which were affected by the sub-
stitute command, and thus verify that it did what you wanted
in all cases.


     The next general area we will discuss is that  of  line
addressing in ed, that is, how you specify what lines are to
be affected by editing commands. We have already  used  con-
structions like


to specify a change on all lines. And most  users  are  long
since  familiar  with  using a single newline (or return) to
print the next line, and with


to  find  a  line  that  contains  `thing'.  Less  familiar,
surprisingly enough, is the use of


to scan backwards for the previous  occurrence  of  `thing'.
This is especially handy when you realize that the thing you
want to operate on is back up the page from  where  you  are
currently editing.

     The slash and question mark are the only characters you
can  use  to  delimit  a  context search, though you can use
essentially any character in a substitute command.

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Address Arithmetic

     The next step is to combine the line numbers like  `.',
`$', `/.../' and `?...?' with `+' and `-'. Thus


is a command to print the next to last line of  the  current
file  (that  is,  one line before line `$'). For example, to
recall how far you got in a previous editing session,


prints the last six lines. (Be sure you understand why  it's
six,  not  five.) If there aren't six, of course, you'll get
an error message.

     As another example,


prints from three lines before where you are  now  (at  line
dot) to three lines after, thus giving you a bit of context.

     Another area in which you can  save  typing  effort  in
specifying  lines  is  to use `-' and `+' as line numbers by


by itself is a command to move back up one line in the file.
In fact, you can string several minus signs together to move
back up that many lines:


moves up three lines, as does `-3'. Thus


is also identical to the examples above.

     Since `-' is shorter than `.-1', constructions like


are useful. This changes `bad' to  `good'  on  the  previous
line and on the current line.

     `+' and `-' can be used in  combination  with  searches
using `/.../' and `?...?', and with `$'. The search


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finds the line containing `thing',  and  positions  you  two
lines before it.

Repeated Searches

     Suppose you ask for the search

     /horrible thing/

and when the line is printed you discover that it isn't  the
horrible thing that you wanted, so it is necessary to repeat
the search again. You don't have to re-type the search,  for
the construction


is a shorthand for `the previous  thing  that  was  searched
for', whatever it was. This can be repeated as many times as
necessary. You can also go backwards:


searches for the same thing, but in the reverse direction.

     Not only can you repeat the search,  but  you  can  use
`//'  as the left side of a substitute command, to mean `the
most recent pattern'.

     /horrible thing/
      .... ed prints line with `horrible thing' ...

To go backwards and change a line, say


Of course, you can still use the `&' on the right hand  side
of a substitute to stand for whatever got matched:


finds the next occurrence of whatever you searched for last,
replaces  it  by  two copies of itself, then prints the line
just to verify that it worked.

Default Line Numbers and the Value of Dot

     One of the most effective ways to speed up your editing
is  always  to know what lines will be affected by a command
if you don't specify the lines it is to act on, and on  what
line  you will be positioned (i.e., the value of dot) when a
command  finishes.  If  you  can  edit  without   specifying
unnecessary line numbers, you can save a lot of typing.

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     As the most obvious example, if you issue a search com-
mand like


you are  left  pointing  at  the  next  line  that  contains
`thing'. Then no address is required with commands like s to
make a substitution on that line, or p to print it, or l  to
list it, or d to delete it, or a to append text after it, or
c to change it, or i to insert text before it.

     What happens if there was no `thing'? Then you are left
right  where  you were - dot is unchanged. This is also true
if you were sitting on the only `thing' when you issued  the
command.  The same rules hold for searches that use `?...?';
the only difference is the direction in which you search.

     The delete command d leaves dot pointing  at  the  line
that  followed  the  last  deleted  line. When line `$' gets
deleted, however, dot points at the new line `$'.

     The line-changing commands a, c, and i by  default  all
affect  the  current  line - if you give no line number with
them, a appends text after the current line, c  changes  the
current line, and i inserts text before the current line.

     a, c, and i behave identically in one  respect  -  when
you  stop  appending,  changing, or inserting, dot points at
the last line entered. This is exactly  what  you  want  for
typing and editing on the fly. For example, you can say

      ... text ...
      ... botch ... (minor error)
     s/botch/correct/(fix botched line)
      ... more text ...

without specifying any line number for the  substitute  com-
mand or for the second append command. Or you can say

   ... text ...
   ... horrible botch ...(major error)
  c              (replace entire line)
   ... fixed up line ...

     You should experiment to determine what happens if  you
add no lines with a, c, or i.

     The r command will read a  file  into  the  text  being

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edited,  either  at the end if you give no address, or after
the specified line if you do. In either case, dot points  at
the  last line read in. Remember that you can even say 0r to
read a file in at the beginning of the text. (You  can  also
say 0a or 1i to start adding text at the beginning.)

     The w command writes out the entire file. If  you  pre-
cede  the  command by one line number, that line is written,
while if you precede it by two line numbers, that  range  of
lines  is  written.  The  w command does not change dot: the
current line remains the same, regardless of what lines  are
written. This is true even if you say something like

     /^\.AB/,/^\.AE/w abstract

which involves a context search.

     Since the w command is so easy to use, you should  save
what  you are editing regularly as you go along just in case
the system crashes, or in case  you  do  something  foolish,
like clobbering what you're editing.

     The least intuitive behavior, in a sense,  is  that  of
the  s command. The rule is simple - you are left sitting on
the last line that got changed. If there  were  no  changes,
then dot is unchanged.

     To illustrate, suppose that there are  three  lines  in
the buffer, and you are sitting on the middle one:


Then the command


prints the third line, which is the last one changed. But if
the three lines had been


and the same command had been issued while  dot  pointed  at
the  second  line,  then  the  result would be to change and
print only the first line, and that is where  dot  would  be

Semicolon `;'

     Searches with `/.../' and `?...?' start at the  current
line  and  move  forward or backward respectively until they

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either find the pattern or get back  to  the  current  line.
Sometimes  this is not what is wanted. Suppose, for example,
that the buffer contains lines like this:


Starting at line 1, one would expect that the command


prints all the lines from the `ab' to  the  `bc'  inclusive.
Actually  this  is  not what happens. Both searches (for `a'
and for `b') start from the same point, and thus  they  both
find  the  line that contains `ab'. The result is to print a
single line. Worse, if there had been a line with a  `b'  in
it  before the `ab' line, then the print command would be in
error, since the second line number would be less  than  the
first,  and  it  is illegal to try to print lines in reverse

     This is because the comma separator  for  line  numbers
doesn't  set  dot  as each address is processed; each search
starts from the same place. In ed, the semicolon `;' can  be
used just like comma, with the single difference that use of
a semicolon forces dot to be set at that point as  the  line
numbers  are  being  evaluated.  In  effect,  the  semicolon
`moves' dot. Thus in our example above, the command


prints the range of lines from `ab' to `bc',  because  after
the  `a'  is found, dot is set to that line, and then `b' is
searched for, starting beyond that line.

     This property is most often useful  in  a  very  simple
situation. Suppose you want to find the second occurrence of
`thing'. You could say


but this prints the first occurrence as well as the  second,
and  is  a  nuisance when you know very well that it is only
the second one you're interested in. The solution is to say

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This says to find the first occurrence of `thing',  set  dot
to that line, then find the second and print only that.

     Closely related is searching for  the  second  previous
occurrence of something, as in


Printing the third or fourth or ... in either  direction  is
left as an exercise.

     Finally, bear in mind that if  you  want  to  find  the
first  occurrence  of  something  in  a file, starting at an
arbitrary place within the file, it is not sufficient to say


because this fails if `thing' occurs on line 1.  But  it  is
possible to say


(one of the few places where 0 is a legal line number),  for
this starts the search at line 1.

Interrupting the Editor

     As a final note on what dot gets set to, you should  be
aware  that  if you hit the interrupt or delete or rubout or
break key while ed is doing a command, things are  put  back
together  again and your state is restored as much as possi-
ble to what it was before the command began. Naturally, some
changes  are  irrevocable  - if you are reading or writing a
file or making substitutions or deleting lines,  these  will
be stopped in some clean but unpredictable state in the mid-
dle (which is why it is not usually wise to stop them).  Dot
may or may not be changed.


     The global commands g and v are used to perform one  or
more  editing  commands on all lines that either contain (g)
or don't contain (v) a specified pattern.

     As the simplest example, the command


prints all lines that contain the word `UNIX'.  The  pattern
that  goes between the slashes can be anything that could be
used in a line search or in a  substitute  command;  exactly

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the same rules and limitations apply.

     As another example, then,


prints all the formatting commands in  a  file  (lines  that
begin with `.').

     The v  command  is  identical  to  g,  except  that  it
operates  on those line that do not contain an occurrence of
the pattern. (Don't look too hard for mnemonic  significance
to the letter `v'.) So


prints all the lines that don't begin with `.' - the  actual
text lines.

     The command that follows g or v can be anything:


deletes all lines that begin with `.', and


deletes all empty lines.

     Probably the most useful command that can follow a glo-
bal  is the substitute command, for this can be used to make
a change and print each affected line for verification.  For
example,  we  could  change the word `Unix' to `UNIX' every-
where, and verify that it really worked, with


Notice that we used `//' in the substitute command  to  mean
`the  previous pattern', in this case, `Unix'. The p command
is done on every line that matches  the  pattern,  not  just
those on which a substitution took place.

     The global command operates by making two  passes  over
the  file.  On the first pass, all lines that match the pat-
tern are marked. On the second pass,  each  marked  line  in
turn  is  examined, dot is set to that line, and the command
executed. This means that it is  possible  for  the  command
that  follows a g or v to use addresses, set dot, and so on,
quite freely.


prints the line that follows each `.PP' command (the  signal
for  a  new paragraph in some formatting packages). Remember

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that `+' means `one line past dot'. And


searches for each line that contains  `topic',  scans  back-
wards  until  it  finds  a line that begins `.SH' (a section
heading) and prints the line that follows that, thus showing
the  section  headings  under  which  `topic'  is mentioned.


prints all the lines that lie between lines  beginning  with
`.EQ' and `.EN' formatting commands.

     The g and v commands  can  also  be  preceded  by  line
numbers,  in which case the lines searched are only those in
the range specified.

Multi-line Global Commands

     It is possible to do more than one  command  under  the
control  of  a  global  command,  although  the  syntax  for
expressing  the  operation  is  not  especially  natural  or
pleasant.  As  an example, suppose the task is to change `x'
to `y' and `a' to `b' on all  lines  that  contain  `thing'.


is sufficient. The `\' signals the g command that the set of
commands  continues  on  the next line; it terminates on the
first line that does not end with `\'. (As a minor  blemish,
you  can't  use  a  substitute  command  to insert a newline
within a g command.)

     You should watch out for this problem: the command


does not work as you expect. The remembered pattern  is  the
last  pattern  that  was  actually executed, so sometimes it
will be `x' (as expected), and sometimes it will be `a' (not
expected). You must spell it out, like this:


     It is also possible to execute a,  c,  and  i  commands
under  a  global command; as with other multi-line construc-
tions, all that is needed is to add a `\' at the end of each

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line  except the last. Thus to add a `.nf' and `.sp' command
before each `.EQ' line, type


There is no need for a final line containing a `.'  to  ter-
minate  the  i  command,  unless  there are further commands
being done under the global. On the other hand, it  does  no
harm to put it in either.


     One editing area in which non-programmers seem not very
confident  is in what might be called `cut and paste' opera-
tions - changing the name of a file, making a copy of a file
somewhere else, moving a few lines from one place to another
in a file, inserting one file  in  the  middle  of  another,
splitting a file into pieces, and splicing two or more files

     Yet most of these operations are actually  quite  easy,
if  you keep your wits about you and go cautiously. The next
several sections talk about cut and  paste.  We  will  begin
with  the UNIX commands for moving entire files around, then
discuss ed commands for operating on pieces of files.

Changing the Name of a File

     You have a file named `memo' and  you  want  it  to  be
called `paper' instead. How is it done?

     The UNIX program that renames files is called  mv  (for
`move');  it `moves' the file from one name to another, like

     mv  memo  paper

That's all there is to it: mv from the old name to  the  new

     mv  oldname  newname

Warning: if there is already a  file  around  with  the  new
name, its present contents will be silently clobbered by the
information from the other file. The one exception  is  that
you can't move a file to itself -

     mv  x  x

is illegal.

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Making a Copy of a File

     Sometimes what you want is  a  copy  of  a  file  -  an
entirely  fresh  version.  This might be because you want to
work on a file, and yet save a copy in case  something  gets
fouled up, or just because you're paranoid.

     In any case, the way to do it is with the  cp  command.
(cp  stands for `copy'; the UNIX system is big on short com-
mand names, which are appreciated by heavy users, but  some-
times  a strain for novices.) Suppose you have a file called
`good' and you want to save a  copy  before  you  make  some
dramatic  editing  changes. Choose a name - `savegood' might
be acceptable - then type

     cp  good  savegood

This copies `good' onto `savegood', and  you  now  have  two
identical  copies  of the file `good'. (If `savegood' previ-
ously contained something, it gets overwritten.)

     Now if you decide at some time that  you  want  to  get
back to the original state of `good', you can say

     mv  savegood  good

(if you're not interested in `savegood' any more), or

     cp  savegood  good

if you still want to retain a safe copy.

     In summary, mv just renames a file; cp makes  a  dupli-
cate  copy.  Both  of  them  clobber the `target' file if it
already exists, so you had better be sure  that's  what  you
want to do before you do it.

Removing a File

     If you decide you are really done with a file  forever,
you can remove it with the rm command:

     rm  savegood

throws away (irrevocably) the file called `savegood'.

Putting Two or More Files Together

     The next step is the familiar one of collecting two  or
more  files into one big one. This will be needed, for exam-
ple, when the author of a paper decides  that  several  sec-
tions  need  to be combined into one. There are several ways
to do it, of which the cleanest, once you get used to it, is
a program called cat. (Not all UNIX programs have two-letter

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names.) cat is short for  `concatenate',  which  is  exactly
what we want to do.

     Suppose the job is to combine  the  files  `file1'  and
`file2' into a single file called `bigfile'. If you say

     cat  file

the contents of `file' will get printed on your terminal. If
you say

     cat  file1  file2

the contents of `file1' and then  the  contents  of  `file2'
will both be printed on your terminal, in that order. So cat
combines the files, all right, but it's  not  much  help  to
print them on the terminal - we want them in `bigfile'.

     Fortunately, there is a way. You can  tell  the  system
that instead of printing on your terminal, you want the same
information put in a file. The way to do it is to add to the
command  line the character > and the name of the file where
you want the output to go. Then you can say

     cat  file1  file2  >bigfile

and the job is done. (As with  cp  and  mv,  you're  putting
something  into  `bigfile',  and  anything  that was already
there is destroyed.)

     This ability to `capture' the output of  a  program  is
one  of  the  most  useful  aspects of the UNIX system. For-
tunately it's not limited to the cat program - you  can  use
it  with any program that prints on your terminal. We'll see
some more uses for it in a moment.

     Naturally, you can combine several files, not just two:

     cat  file1  file2  file3  ...  >bigfile

collects a whole bunch.

     Question: is there any difference between

     cp  good  savegood


     cat  good  >savegood

Answer: for most purposes, no. You might reasonably ask  why
there  are two programs in that case, since cat is obviously
all you need. The answer is that cp can do some other things
as  well,  which you can investigate for yourself by reading

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the manual. For now we'll stick to simple usages.

Adding Something to the End of a File

     Sometimes you want to  add  one  file  to  the  end  of
another.  We have enough building blocks now that you can do
it; in fact before reading further it would be  valuable  if
you  figured  out how. To be specific, how would you use cp,
mv and/or cat to add the file `good1' to the end of the file

     You could try

     cat  good  good1  >temp
     mv  temp  good

which is probably most direct. You  should  also  understand

     cat  good  good1  >good

doesn't work. (Don't practice with a good `good'!)

     The easy way is to use a variant of >,  called  >>.  In
fact, >> is identical to > except that instead of clobbering
the old file, it simply tacks stuff on at the end. Thus  you
could say

     cat  good1  >>good

and `good1' is added to the end of `good'.  (And  if  `good'
didn't exist, this makes a copy of `good1' called `good'.)


     Now we move on to manipulating pieces of files -  indi-
vidual  lines or groups of lines. This is another area where
new users seem unsure of themselves.


     The first step is to ensure that you know the  ed  com-
mands  for reading and writing files. Of course you can't go
very far without knowing r and w. Equally useful,  but  less
well known, is the `edit' command e. Within ed, the command

     e  newfile

says `I want to edit a  new  file  called  newfile,  without
leaving  the editor.' The e command discards whatever you're
currently working  on  and  starts  over  on  newfile.  It's
exactly the same as if you had quit with the q command, then
re-entered ed with a new file name, except that if you  have
a  pattern  remembered,  then  a  command like // will still

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     If you enter ed with the command

     ed  file

ed remembers the name of the file, and any subsequent e,  r,
or  w  commands  that don't contain a filename will refer to
this remembered file. Thus

  ed  file1
   ... (editing) ...
  w    (writes back in file1)
  e  file2(edit new file, without leaving editor)
   ... (editing on file2) ...
  w    (writes back on file2)

(and so on) does a series of edits on various files  without
ever leaving ed and without typing the name of any file more
than once. (As an aside, if you examine the sequence of com-
mands  here,  you  can  see why many UNIX systems use e as a
synonym for ed.)

     You can find out the remembered file name at  any  time
with the f command; just type f without a file name. You can
also change the name of the remembered file name with  f;  a
useful sequence is

     ed  precious
     f  junk
      ... (editing) ...

which gets a copy of a precious file, then uses f to guaran-
tee that a careless w command won't clobber the original.

Inserting One File into Another

     Suppose you have a file called `memo', and you want the
file  called `table' to be inserted just after the reference
to Table 1. That is, in `memo' somewhere is a line that says

     Table 1 shows that ...

and the data contained in `table' has to go there,  probably
so  it  will  be  formatted  properly by nroff or troff. Now

     This one is easy. Edit `memo', find `Table 1', and  add
the file `table' right there:

     ed  memo
     /Table 1/
     Table 1 shows that ... [response from ed]
     .r  table

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The critical line is the last one. As we said earlier, the r
command  reads  a  file; here you asked for it to be read in
right after line dot. An r command without any address  adds
lines at the end, so it is the same as $r.

Writing out Part of a File

     The other side of the coin is writing out part  of  the
document you're editing. For example, maybe you want to copy
out into a separate file that table from the previous  exam-
ple,  so  it can be formatted and tested separately. Suppose
that in the file being edited we have

      ...[lots of stuff]

which is the way a table is set up for the tbl  program.  To
isolate  the  table in a separate file called `table', first
find the start of the table (the `.TS' line), then write out
the interesting part:

     .TS  [ed prints the line it found]
     .,/^\.TE/w table

and the job is done. If you are confident, you can do it all
at once with

     /^\.TS/;/^\.TE/w table

and now you have two copies, one in the  file  you're  still
editing, one in the file `table' you've just written.

     The point is that the w command can write out  a  group
of  lines, instead of the whole file. In fact, you can write
out a single line if you like: just  give  one  line  number
instead of two. For example, if you have just typed a horri-
bly complicated line and you know that it (or something like
it)  is  going  to be needed later, then save it - don't re-
type it. In the editor, say

     ...lots of stuff...
     ...horrible line...
     .w  temp
     ...more stuff...
     .r temp
     ...more stuff...

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This last example is worth studying, to be sure you appreci-
ate what's going on.

Moving Lines Around

     Suppose you want to move a paragraph from  its  present
position  in  a  paper to the end. How would you do it? As a
concrete example, suppose each paragraph in the paper begins
with  the formatting command `.PP'. Think about it and write
down the details before reading on.

     The brute force way (not necessarily bad) is  to  write
the  paragraph  onto  a  temporary  file, delete it from its
current position, then read in the  temporary  file  at  the
end. Assuming that you are sitting on the `.PP' command that
begins the paragraph, this is the sequence of commands:

     .,/^\.PP/-w temp
     $r temp

That is, from where you are now (`.') until one line  before
the  next  `.PP' (`/^\.PP/-') write onto `temp'. Then delete
the same lines. Finally, read `temp' at the end.

     As we said, that's the brute force way. The easier  way
(often)  is  to use the move command m that ed provides - it
lets you do the  whole  set  of  operations  at  one  crack,
without any temporary file.

     The m command is like many other ed commands in that it
takes  up  to two line numbers in front that tell what lines
are to be affected. It is also followed  by  a  line  number
that tells where the lines are to go. Thus

     line1, line2 m line3

says to move all the lines between `line1' and `line2' after
`line3'.  Naturally,  any  of  `line1' etc., can be patterns
between slashes, $ signs, or other ways to specify lines.

     Suppose again that you're sitting at the first line  of
the paragraph. Then you can say


That's all.

     As another example of a  frequent  operation,  you  can
reverse  the order of two adjacent lines by moving the first
one to after the second. Suppose that you are positioned  at
the first. Then


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does it. It says to move line dot to after  one  line  after
line dot.

     As you can see, the m  command  is  more  succinct  and
direct  than writing, deleting and re-reading. When is brute
force better anyway? This is a matter of personal taste - do
what  you  have most confidence in. The main difficulty with
the m command is that if you use patterns  to  specify  both
the  lines  you  are moving and the target, you have to take
care that you specify them properly, or  you  may  well  not
move  the lines you thought you did. The result of a botched
m command can be a ghastly mess. Doing the job a step  at  a
time makes it easier for you to verify at each step that you
accomplished what you wanted to. It's also a  good  idea  to
issue a w command before doing anything complicated; then if
you goof, it's easy to back up to where you were.


     ed provides a facility for marking a line with  a  par-
ticular  name  so you can later reference it by name regard-
less of its actual line number. This can be handy for moving
lines, and for keeping track of them even after they've been
moved. The mark command is k; the command


marks the current line with the name `x'. If a  line  number
precedes  the k, that line is marked. (The mark name must be
a single lower case letter.) Now you can refer to the marked
line with the address


     Marks are most useful for moving  things  around.  Find
the  first  line  of the block to be moved, and mark it with
ka. Then find the last line and mark it with kb.  Now  posi-
tion yourself at the place where the stuff is to go and say


     Bear in mind that only one line can have  a  particular
mark name associated with it at any given time.

Copying Lines

     We mentioned earlier the idea of saving a line that was
hard  to  type  or  used  often, so as to cut down on typing
time. Of course this could be more than one line;  then  the
saving is presumably even greater.

     ed provides another command, called t (for  `transfer')

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for  making  a  copy  of a group of one or more lines at any
point. This is often easier than writing and reading.

     The t command is identical to  the  m  command,  except
that  instead  of  moving lines it simply duplicates them at
the place you named. Thus


duplicates the entire contents that you are editing. A  more
common  use  for  t  is  for creating a series of lines that
differ only slightly. For example, you can say

     ..........  x  ......... (long line)
     t.        (make a copy)
     s/x/y/    (change it a bit)
     t.        (make third copy)
     s/y/z/    (change it a bit)

and so on.

The Temporary Escape `!'

     Sometimes it is convenient to be  able  to  temporarily
escape  from  the  editor  to  do  some  other UNIX command,
perhaps one of the file copy or move commands  discussed  in
section  5, without leaving the editor. The `escape' command
! provides a way to do this.

     If you say

     !any UNIX command

your current editing state is suspended, and the  UNIX  com-
mand  you  asked for is executed. When the command finishes,
ed will signal you by printing another !; at that point  you
can resume editing.

     You can really do any UNIX command,  including  another
ed.  (This  is quite common, in fact.) In this case, you can
even do another !.

     On Berkeley UNIX systems, there is an  additional  (and
preferable)  mechanism  called  job  control  which lets you
suspend your edit session (or, for  that  matter,  any  pro-
gram),  return to the shell from which you invoked that pro-
gram, and issue any commands, then resume the  program  from
the  point where it was stopped.  See An Introduction to the
C Shell for more details.

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     There are several tools and techniques  that  go  along
with  the  editor, all of which are relatively easy once you
know how ed works, because they are all based on the editor.
In this section we will give some fairly cursory examples of
these tools, more to indicate their existence than  to  pro-
vide  a  complete  tutorial. More information on each can be
found in [3].


     Sometimes you want to find all occurrences of some word
or  pattern  in a set of files, to edit them or perhaps just
to verify their presence or absence. It may be  possible  to
edit  each  file  separately  and  look  for  the pattern of
interest, but if there are many  files  this  can  get  very
tedious, and if the files are really big, it may be impossi-
ble because of limits in ed.

     The program grep was invented to get around these limi-
tations.  The  search patterns that we have described in the
paper are often called  `regular  expressions',  and  `grep'
stands for


That describes exactly what grep does - it prints every line
in a set of files that contains a particular pattern. Thus

     grep  'thing'  file1  file2  file3  ...

finds `thing'  wherever  it  occurs  in  any  of  the  files
`file1', `file2', etc. grep also indicates the file in which
the line was found, so you can later edit it if you like.

     The pattern represented by `thing' can be  any  pattern
you can use in the editor, since grep and ed use exactly the
same mechanism for pattern searching. It is wisest always to
enclose  the  pattern  in the single quotes '...' if it con-
tains any non-alphabetic characters, since many such charac-
ters  also mean something special to the UNIX command inter-
preter (the `shell'). If you don't quote them,  the  command
interpreter  will  try  to interpret them before grep gets a

     There is also a way to find lines that don't contain  a

     grep  -v  'thing'  file1  file2  ...

finds all lines that don't contains  `thing'.  The  -v  must
occur  in  the position shown. Given grep and grep -v, it is
possible to do things like selecting all lines that  contain

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Advanced Editing on UNIX                           USD:10-35

some  combination of patterns. For example, to get all lines
that contain `x' but not `y':

     grep  x  file...  |  grep  -v  y

(The notation | is a `pipe', which causes the output of  the
first command to be used as input to the second command; see

Editing Scripts

     If a fairly complicated set of editing operations is to
be  done on a whole set of files, the easiest thing to do is
to make up a `script', i.e., a file that contains the opera-
tions  you  want  to perform, then apply this script to each
file in turn.

     For example, suppose you want to change every `Unix' to
`UNIX'  and  every  `Gcos'  to  `GCOS'  in a large number of
files. Then put into the file `script' the lines


Now you can say

     ed file1 <script
     ed file2 <script

This causes ed  to  take  its  commands  from  the  prepared
script.  Notice  that  the  whole  job  has to be planned in

     And of course by using the  UNIX  command  interpreter,
you  can  cycle  through  a set of files automatically, with
varying degrees of ease.


     sed (`stream editor') is a version of the  editor  with
restricted  capabilities  but which is capable of processing
unlimited amounts of input. Basically sed copies  its  input
to its output, applying one or more editing commands to each
line of input.

     As an example, suppose that we want to do the `Unix' to
`UNIX'  part of the example given above, but without rewrit-
ing the files. Then the command

     sed  's/Unix/UNIX/g'  file1  file2  ...

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USD:10-36                           Advanced Editing on UNIX

applies  the  command  `s/Unix/UNIX/g'  to  all  lines  from
`file1',  `file2', etc., and copies all lines to the output.
The advantage of using sed in such a case is that it can  be
used  with  input too large for ed to handle. All the output
can be collected in one place, either in a file  or  perhaps
piped into another program.

     If the editing transformation is  so  complicated  that
more  than  one  editing  command is needed, commands can be
supplied from a  file,  or  on  the  command  line,  with  a
slightly  more complex syntax. To take commands from a file,
for example,

     sed  -f  cmdfile  input-files...

     sed has  further  capabilities,  including  conditional
testing  and  branching,  which  we cannot go into here, but
which are described in detail in  Sed  -  A  Non-interactive
Text Editor.


     I am grateful to Ted Dolotta for  his  careful  reading
and valuable suggestions.


[1]  Brian W. Kernighan, A Tutorial Introduction to the UNIX
     Text Editor, Bell Laboratories internal memorandum. The
     09.edtut(USD) paper.

[2]  Brian W. Kernighan, UNIX For  Beginners,  Bell  Labora-
     tories internal memorandum.

[3]  Ken  L.  Thompson  and  Dennis  M.  Ritchie,  The  UNIX
     Programmer's Manual. Bell Laboratories.

 *   The ed(1) manual page.

 *   The re-format(7) manual page.

                     December 24, 2022

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