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BASH: Prepend A Text / Lines To a File

I am a new Unix system user with a bash as a default shell. I can append text to a file using >> operator but how do I prepend a text to a file? I want the opposite operation of >>. How can I prepend some data to a text file?

Linux and Unix command to prepend text to a file

As far as I know there is no prepend operator on a bash or any other shell, however there are many ways to do the same. You can use ed, sed, perl, awk and so on.

Prepend a text using a temporary file

Here is simple solution using a temporary file to prepend text:

echo 'line 1' > /tmp/newfile
echo 'line 2' >> /tmp/newfile
cat yourfile >> /tmp/newfile
cp /tmp/newfile yourfile

Here is one line solution:

echo "text"|cat - yourfile > /tmp/out && mv /tmp/out yourfile

Using bash only solution

No need to create a temp file:

echo -e "DATA-Line-1\n$(cat input)" > input
cat input

To add multiple lines:

echo -e "DATA-Line-1\nDATA-Line-2\n$(cat input)" > input
cat input

Use sed command to prepend data to a text file

The syntax is:

sed  '1s;^;DATA-Line-1\n;' input > output
## OR ##
sed -i '1s;^;DATA-Line-1\n;' input
## verify it ##
cat input

Here is a sample input file:

$ cat input.txt
This is a test file.
I love Unix.

Next prepend two lines (make sure you add \n):

$ sed -i '1s;^;Force-1\nForce-2\n;' input.txt
$ cat input.txt
This is a test file.
I love Unix.

How do I prepend a string to the beginning of each line in a file?

The awk syntax is:

awk '{print "Line-1" $0}' file

The sed syntax is:

sed -i -e 's/^/Line-1/' file


Here is our sample file:

$ cat data.txt
Maybe I'm crazy
Maybe you're crazy
Maybe we're crazy

Use the sed or awk as follows:

$ sed -i -e 's/^/DATA-Here/' data.txt
$ cat data.txt
DATA-HereMaybe I'm crazy
DATA-HereMaybe you're crazy
DATA-HereMaybe we're crazy

See sed,awk, and bash command man pages for more info.

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{ 38 comments… add one }
  • Sean August 23, 2008, 2:11 pm

    perl -p -i -e ‘BEGIN { print “First line\n” }’ originalfile

    should work without needing an explicit temp file

    If you’re going to use these commands in a script, though, “man mktemp” first.


  • Professor Fapsanders August 23, 2008, 7:19 pm

    Even simpler would be:
    sed -i ‘1i Prepended line’ /tmp/newfile

    • A.Lepe July 28, 2011, 1:49 am

      +1 This works very nice and without using temporally files.

      • Sigurt Bladt Dinesen January 29, 2013, 2:54 pm

        Works, but it _does_ use a temporary file behind the covers.
        The following is from the info document:
        This option specifies that files are to be edited in-place. GNU
        `sed’ does this by creating a temporary file and sending output to
        this file rather than to the standard output.(1).

    • nikolocalhost August 1, 2011, 9:28 pm

      That works on linux but not in solaris (unless you install gsed package), because de solaris sed command doesnt support “in place option” -i.

      In that case

      echo “text”|cat – yourfile > /tmp/out && mv /tmp/out yourfile

      works for me

      Thanks for help :)

      • Craig June 12, 2013, 6:00 am

        Yes it does. The `-i` option is a mandatory part of POSIX, so it will work on any UNIX that takes itself seriously, Solaris included.

        It just works differently, i.e. GNU sed allows you to omit the argument of the `-i` flag, as was done in the example, whereas most other seds require it.


        sed -i.bak ‘1i Prepended line’ /tmp/newfile

        Now hang your head in shame.

        • Craig June 12, 2013, 6:03 am

          Ok, I was wrong on the POSIX part, I will hang my head in shame.

          ..but the missing flag argument is probably still the reason the example didn’t work on Solaris.

    • Paul Pignon September 8, 2012, 8:41 am

      Yes, that worked very nicely for me in Linux armel 2.6.32-rc5, sed is great but if you don’t use it regularly for a month it’s RTFM every time. Thanks.

    • felipe1982 March 27, 2013, 4:54 am

      Excellent suggestion with `sed` very good.

  • mike August 24, 2008, 5:51 pm

    You can also use tac (cat backwards) to make it work. It will print the file from end to beginning.

  • bc December 29, 2008, 4:15 am

    Thread’s old, I know, but I wanted to note that tac — at least in the version I have in Cygwin, is not fully “cat in reverse” alas.

    As you say, it’ll print from the end — but it won’t take an argument like this:

    tac >> somefilethatyouwanttoPREPENDtextto

    Just thought I’d note that for others who might be searching the same issue as the OP.
    This seems like such an obviously useful utility it’s unbelievable what a pita it is.

  • nairbv August 17, 2009, 10:57 am

    I tried the perl command (same one suggested to me by someone on IRC) and it didn’t work. It just printed to stdout and left the file unchanged. I’m kind of surprised two different people suggested the exact same non-working command, so I must be doing something wrong. What could I be doing wrong though??

    I like the sed command, but I needed to add more than one line (and my text contained special characters).

    This worked for me:

    sed -i ‘1{h; r headerfile.txt
    2{x; G; }
    ‘ filetoedit.txt

    I’m not even really sure how it works, I just combined bits of code from a couple of random scripts I saw elsewhere. I should learn more sed :-P

    this also worked:

    for FILE in `find . -iname “*.php”`
    cat header.php | cat – $FILE > /tmp/mytmpfile && mv /tmp/mytmpfile $FILE

  • Victor July 21, 2010, 4:48 pm

    tac your_file prepended_text | tac > your_new_file

  • SilversleevesX September 18, 2010, 1:10 am

    tac does not add a damn thing.
    Given this command:
    tac biglist.txt “thisistext” > biglist5.txt
    — I get the error
    tac: cannot open `thisistext’ for reading: No such file or directory.
    Considering it’s a close cousin of cat, I shouldn’t expect it to do any more, logically.
    Please do the newbie world a favour and remove any references to tac in this thread.


    • jbo5112 October 12, 2010, 4:57 pm

      You need to put your prepend data into the file “thisistext”. Also, unless you want your file to come out upside down, you’ll have to pipe the output from the first tac into a second tac before redirecting to a file.

    • jbo5112 October 12, 2010, 5:49 pm

      With a little creative use of shell commands, you can avoid needing a second input file. Passing ‘-‘ as an argument tells most tools to use standard input or output (whichever applies) as a file.

      echo “my_prepend_text_goes_here” | tac biglist.txt – | tac > biglist5.txt

      There are a couple of tricks where you can avoid needing to create biglist5.txt in the process (storing results to a variable or using “tee” to write your output), but I can’t find anything that will work on large files.

      • Ladd June 17, 2011, 4:28 pm

        This is clever; even simpler, you can use
        echo “prepend this” | cat – file.txt > newfile.txt

  • SilversleevesX September 18, 2010, 1:19 am

    How about a command or script to add the same text to every line OF a file, not just to the file itself???

    Believe it or not
    bash prepend same text to beginning of all lines of file
    does not have an exact match on Google. Ask.com and Yahoo! were sloppy with it (read:inexact and wide of the mark ultimately). Just more proof to my assertion that the world is going stupid.


    • Q September 21, 2010, 3:22 pm

      This can be done with sed in place (a pretty scary operation):

      sed -i -e ‘s/^/PREFIX/’ file_with_lines_to_prefix.txt

      • Mark Stafford February 8, 2011, 7:27 pm

        Thanks, Q. I’ve attempted something similar in the past without success.

  • Matt January 21, 2011, 8:16 pm

    This perl one-liner will prefix (not prepend, which isn’t a word) a line to the beginning of a file.

    perl -pi -e ‘print “Put before first line\n” if $. == 1’ inFile.txt

    (from the perl FAQ):

    • jbo5112 January 25, 2011, 5:08 pm

      You got gypped on your dictionary if it doesn’t have prepend.

      It’s also in the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary, which is more authoritative at the cost of a subscription, and it’s even a command in the popular jQuery javascript library. However, I agree prefix would be more proper English if one cares and has an educated audience that would not be confused.

      • jbo5112 January 25, 2011, 5:09 pm

        You’ll have to copy and paste the url, as the link parser cannot handle it.

      • Ladd June 17, 2011, 4:31 pm

        ‘prepend’ is a corollary to ‘append’, which is an English word.

  • niemand July 13, 2011, 9:51 am

    Ugh, my original message totally got garbled…

    What the above SHOULD look like:

    From http://sed.sourceforge.net/grabbag/tutorials/sedfaq.txt:

    sed '1{h; r file_to_prepend.txt
    D; }
    2{x; G; }' < file_to_be_prepended

    This can be used to insert a file into any line but the last one into a second file. For instance, to insert file1 into file2 at line 10:

    sed '10{h; r file1
    D; }
    11{x; G; }' <file2

    Edited by Admin – added formatting html tags

  • jbo5112 July 29, 2011, 12:32 am

    You could generate a patch file and use patch.

    diff -u <(head myfile) mypatch; patch mypatch

    • jbo5112 July 29, 2011, 12:33 am

      That got completely mangled. Is there any way to protect my comments?

      • jbo5112 July 29, 2011, 12:46 am

        My finally correct version (may I request a preview feature?):

        diff -u <(head myfile) <(echo -e "my data goes here and ends at the period.\n`head myfile`") > mypatch; patch mypatch
    • jbo5112 July 29, 2011, 12:41 am

      Let’s try again.

      diff -u <(head myfile)  mypatch; patch mypatch
    • jbo5112 July 29, 2011, 12:44 am
      diff -u <(head -n 50 votd) <(echo -e "my data goes here and ends at the period.\n`head -n 50 votd`") > mypatch; patch mypatch
  • jbo5112 July 29, 2011, 12:39 am

    Another method is using ed:

    echo -e “0a\nmy data goes here and ends at the period.\n.\n,wq” | ed myfile

    • niemand September 10, 2011, 11:50 am

      A variation on this is:

      echo “0r header.txt
      w” | ed myfile.txt

  • Muhammad El-Sergani October 14, 2011, 9:20 am

    Thanks, works well…

  • mariomaric October 22, 2011, 3:14 pm

    This is the best (sed) one-liner that I found for this problem:

    sed -i -e ‘1i TEXT’ FILE

    Above command will insert string TEXT into the first line of the file FILE.

  • ladistec September 20, 2012, 4:45 pm

    echo “MAINCARD_MSISDN,SUB_SOC,EXPIRY_DATE,S,U,” | cat – $spoolFile > /tmp/out && mv /tmp/out $spoolFile

    that line above works for. problem is if a have to run the script more than once. it will insert the same line again.. Any way to stop it?


    • jbo5112 January 8, 2013, 8:09 pm

      if ! head -n 1 “$spoolFile” | fgrep “$myString” &>/dev/null; then
      echo “$myString” | cat – “$spoolFile” > /tmp/out && mv /tmp/out “$spoolFile”

  • nick November 2, 2016, 5:54 pm

    Its worth mentioning that

    echo -e “DATA-Line-1\n$(cat input)” > input

    Is very ineficient and works only for small files, the larger files (e.g. 800Mb) crash the terminal and leave the file empty.

  • sas December 30, 2016, 2:54 pm

    echo -e "DATA-Line-1\n$(cat input)" > input

    dose not always work

    bash-4.1$ cat fish
    bash-4.1$ echo -e "DATA-Line-1\n$(cat fish)" > fish
    bash-4.1$ cat fish
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