LFCS #1: How to Use ‘sed’ Command to Create, Edit, and Manipulate Files in Linux

The Linux Foundation announced the LFCS (Linux Foundation Certified Sysadmin) certification, a new program that aims at helping individuals all over the world to get certified in basic to intermediate system administration tasks for Linux systems.

This includes supporting running systems and services, along with first-hand troubleshooting and analysis, and smart decision-making to escalate issues to engineering teams.

As of the last revision on August 11, 2023, we have meticulously accounted for the domains and competencies, aligning with the effective date of May 11, 2023, as officially declared by the Linux Foundation.

The series will be titled Preparation for the LFCS (Linux Foundation Certified Sysadmin) Parts 1 through 33 and cover the following topics:

No. Title
Part 1 How to Use ‘Sed’ Command to Manipulate Files in Linux
Part 2 How to Install and Use Vi/Vim in Linux
Part 3 How to Compress Files & Directoires and Finding Files in Linux
Part 4 Partitioning Storage Devices, Formatting Filesystems, and Configuring Swap Partition
Part 5 Mount/Unmount Local and Network (Samba & NFS) Filesystems in Linux
Part 6 Assembling Partitions as RAID Devices – Creating & Managing System Backups
Part 7 Managing System Startup Process and Services (SysVinit, Systemd, and Upstart
Part 8 How to Manage User & Groups, File Permissions and Sudo Access
Part 9 Linux Package Management with Yum, RPM, Apt, Dpkg, Aptitude, and Zypper
Part 10 Learning Basic Shell Scripting and Filesystem Troubleshooting
Part 11 How to Manage and Create LVM Using vgcreate, lvcreate, and lvextend Commands
Part 12 How to Explore Linux with Installed Help Documentations and Tools
Part 13 How to Configure and Troubleshoot Grand Unified Bootloader (GRUB)
Part 14 Monitor Linux Processes Resource Usage and Set Process Limits on a Per-User Basis
Part 15 How to Set or Modify Kernel Runtime Parameters in Linux Systems
Part 16 Implementing Mandatory Access Control with SELinux or AppArmor in Linux
Part 17 How to Set Access Control Lists (ACLs) and Disk Quotas for Users and Groups
Part 18 Installing Network Services and Configuring Automatic Startup at Boot
Part 19 An Ultimate Guide to Setting Up FTP Server to Allow Anonymous Logins
Part 20 Setup a Basic Recursive Caching DNS Server and Configure Zones for Domain
Part 21 How to Install, Secure, and Performance Tuning of MariaDB Database Server
Part 22 How to Install and Configure NFS Server for File System Sharing
Part 23 How to Setup Apache with Name-Based Virtual Hosting with SSL Certificate
Part 24 How To Setup an Iptables Firewall to Enable Remote Access to Services in Linux
Part 25 How to Turn a Linux into a Router to Handle Traffic Statically and Dynamically
Part 26 How to Setup Encrypted Filesystems and Swap Using Cryptsetup Tool
Part 27 How to Monitor System Usage, Outages, and Troubleshoot Linux Servers
Part 28 How to Setup a Network Repository to Install or Update Packages
Part 29 How to Audit Network Performance, Security, and Troubleshooting
Part 30 How to Install and Manage Virtual Machines and Containers
Part 31 Learn the Basics of Git to Manage Projects Efficiently
Part 32 A Beginner’s Guide to Configuring IPv4 and IPv6 Addresses in Linux
Part 33 A Beginner’s Guide to Creating Network Bonding and Bridging in Ubuntu

This post is Part 1 of a 33-tutorial series, which will cover the necessary domains and competencies that are required for the LFCS certification exam. That being said, fire up your terminal, and let’s start.

Processing Text Streams in Linux

Linux treats the input to and the output from programs as streams (or sequences) of characters. To begin understanding redirection and pipes, we must first understand the three most important types of I/O (Input and Output) streams, which are in fact special files (by convention in UNIX and Linux, data streams and peripherals, or device files, are also treated as ordinary files).

The difference between > (redirection operator) and | (pipeline operator) is that while the first connects a command with a file, the latter connects the output of a command with another command.

# command > file
# command1 | command2

Since the redirection operator creates or overwrites files silently, we must use it with extreme caution, and never mistake it with a pipeline.

One advantage of pipes on Linux and UNIX systems is that there is no intermediate file involved with a pipe – the stdout of the first command is not written to a file and then read by the second command.

For the following practice exercises, we will use the poem “A happy child” (anonymous author).

cat command
cat command example

Using sed Command

The name sed is short for stream editor. For those unfamiliar with the term, a stream editor is used to perform basic text transformations on an input stream (a file or input from a pipeline).

Change Lowercase to Uppercase in File

The most basic (and popular) usage of sed is the substitution of characters. We will begin by changing every occurrence of the lowercase y to UPPERCASE Y and redirecting the output to ahappychild2.txt.

The g flag indicates that sed should perform the substitution for all instances of term on every line of the file. If this flag is omitted, sed will replace only the first occurrence of the term on each line.

Sed Basic Syntax:
# sed ‘s/term/replacement/flag’ file
Our Example:
# sed ‘s/y/Y/g’ ahappychild.txt > ahappychild2.txt
sed command
sed command example

Search and Replace Word in File

Should you want to search for or replace a special character (such as /, \, &) you need to escape it, in the term or replacement strings, with a backward slash.

For example, we will substitute the word and for an ampersand. At the same time, we will replace the word I with You when the first one is found at the beginning of a line.

# sed 's/and/\&/g;s/^I/You/g' ahappychild.txt
sed replace string
sed replace string

In the above command, a ^ (caret sign) is a well-known regular expression that is used to represent the beginning of a line.

As you can see, we can combine two or more substitution commands (and use regular expressions inside them) by separating them with a semicolon and enclosing the set inside single quotes.

Print Selected Lines from a File

Another use of sed is showing (or deleting) a chosen portion of a file. In the following example, we will display the first 5 lines of /var/log/messages from Jun 8.

# sed -n '/^Jun  8/ p' /var/log/messages | sed -n 1,5p

Note that by default, sed prints every line. We can override this behavior with the -n option and then tell sed to print (indicated by p) only the part of the file (or the pipe) that matches the pattern (Jun 8 at the beginning of the line in the first case and lines 1 through 5 inclusive in the second case).

Finally, it can be useful while inspecting scripts or configuration files to inspect the code itself and leave out comments. The following sed one-liner deletes (d) blank lines or those starting with # (the | character indicates a boolean OR between the two regular expressions).

# sed '/^#\|^$/d' apache2.conf
sed match string
sed match string

uniq Command

The uniq command allows us to report or remove duplicate lines in a file, writing to stdout by default. We must note that uniq does not detect repeated lines unless they are adjacent.

Thus, uniq is commonly used along with a preceding sort (which is used to sort lines of text files). By default, sort takes the first field (separated by spaces) as a key field. To specify a different key field, we need to use the -k option.

Uniq Command Examples

The du -sch /path/to/directory/* command returns the disk space usage per subdirectories and files within the specified directory in human-readable format (also shows a total per directory), and does not order the output by size, but by subdirectory and file name.

We can use the following command to sort by size.

# du -sch /var/* | sort –h
sort command
sort command example

You can count the number of events in a log by date by telling uniq to perform the comparison using the first 6 characters (-w 6) of each line (where the date is specified), and prefixing each output line by the number of occurrences (-c) with the following command.

# cat /var/log/mail.log | uniq -c -w 6
Count Numbers in File
Count Numbers in File

Finally, you can combine sort and uniq (as they usually are). Consider the following file with a list of donors, donation date, and amount. Suppose we want to know how many unique donors there are.

We will use the following cat command to cut the first field (fields are delimited by a colon), sort by name, and remove duplicate lines.

# cat sortuniq.txt | cut -d: -f1 | sort | uniq
Find Unique Records in File
Find Unique Records in File

grep Command

The grep command searches text files or (command output) for the occurrence of a specified regular expression and outputs any line containing a match to standard output.

Grep Command Examples

Display the information from /etc/passwd for user gacanepa, ignoring case.

# grep -i gacanepa /etc/passwd
grep Command
grep command example

Show all the contents of /etc whose name begins with rc followed by any single number.

# ls -l /etc | grep rc[0-9]
List Content Using grep
List Content Using grep

tr Command Usage

The tr command can be used to translate (change) or delete characters from stdin, and write the result to stdout.

Change all lowercase to uppercase in the sortuniq.txt file.

# cat sortuniq.txt | tr [:lower:] [:upper:]
Sort Strings in File
Sort Strings in File

Squeeze the delimiter in the output of ls –l to only one space.

# ls -l | tr -s ' '
Squeeze Delimiter
Squeeze Delimiter

Cut Command Usage

The cut command extracts portions of input lines (from stdin or files) and displays the result on standard output, based on the number of bytes (-b option), characters (-c), or fields (-f).

In this last case (based on fields), the default field separator is a tab, but a different delimiter can be specified by using the -d option.

Cut Command Examples

Extract the user accounts and the default shells assigned to them from /etc/passwd (the –d option allows us to specify the field delimiter and the –f switch indicates which field(s) will be extracted.

# cat /etc/passwd | cut -d: -f1,7
Extract User Accounts
Extract User Accounts

Summing up, we will create a text stream consisting of the first and third non-blank files of the output of the last command. We will use grep as a first filter to check for sessions of user gacanepa, then squeeze delimiters to only one space (tr -s ‘ ‘).

Next, we’ll extract the first and third fields with cut, and finally sort by the second field (IP addresses in this case) showing unique.

# last | grep gacanepa | tr -s ' ' | cut -d' ' -f1,3 | sort -k2 | uniq
last command
last command example

The above command shows how multiple commands and pipes can be combined so as to obtain filtered data according to our desires. Feel free to also run it by parts, to help you see the output that is pipelined from one command to the next (this can be a great learning experience, by the way!).


Although this example (along with the rest of the examples in the current tutorial) may not seem very useful at first sight, they are a nice starting point to begin experimenting with commands that are used to create, edit, and manipulate files from the Linux command line.

Feel free to leave your questions and comments below – they will be much appreciated!

The LFCS eBook is available now for purchase. Order your copy today and start your journey to becoming a certified Linux system administrator!

Product Name Price Buy
The Linux Foundation’s LFCS Certification Preparation Guide $19.99 [Buy Now]

Last, but not least, please consider buying your exam voucher using the following links to earn us a small commission, which will help us keep this book updated.

Gabriel Cánepa
Gabriel Cánepa is a GNU/Linux sysadmin and web developer from Villa Mercedes, San Luis, Argentina. He works for a worldwide leading consumer product company and takes great pleasure in using FOSS tools to increase productivity in all areas of his daily work.

Each tutorial at TecMint is created by a team of experienced Linux system administrators so that it meets our high-quality standards.

Join the TecMint Weekly Newsletter (More Than 156,129 Linux Enthusiasts Have Subscribed)
Was this article helpful? Please add a comment or buy me a coffee to show your appreciation.

Got Something to Say? Join the Discussion...

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. We appreciate your decision to leave a comment and value your contribution to the discussion. It's important to note that we moderate all comments in accordance with our comment policy to ensure a respectful and constructive conversation.

Rest assured that your email address will remain private and will not be published or shared with anyone. We prioritize the privacy and security of our users.