sed Case Insensitive Search Matching and Replacement

How do I perform a case-insensitive search using sed under macOS, UNIX-like or Linux operating system? I would like to match all combination of word – foo, FOO, FoO and so on while replacing or performing other operations using sed command.

Tutorial details
Difficulty level Easy
Root privileges No
Requirements GNU/sed or BSD/sed
Est. reading time 4 minutes
GNU sed and other version does support a case-insensitive search using I flag after /regex/. Let us see how to use sed for case insensitive search and replace under Linux or Unix-like systems including macOS.
sed Case Insensitive Search

UNIX / Linux: sed Case Insensitive Search and Replace

Replacing or substituting string is simple. The below example replaces the word wiwek with vivek in the file:
sed 's/wiwek/vivek/' names.txt
# The g flag applies the replacement to all matches to the regexp, not just the first. #
sed 's/wiwek/vivek/g' names.txt

In the above example the “s” specifies the substitution operation. The “/” are delimiters. The mispelling “wiwek” is the search pattern (more like word in this case) and the “vivek” is the replacement string. By default, sed is case-sensitive. You can add an “i” OR “I” flag at the end of the substitution to change this. To perform a case-insensitive search, enter:

cat file.txt | sed -e 's/find-word/replace-word/gI' 
cat file.txt | sed -e 's/find-word/replace-word/gI' > output.txt
sed 's/find-word/replace-word/gI' input.txt > output.txt
sed -i 's/Unix/Linux/gi' input

If you are using older sed version try,

sed 's/[wW][oO][rR][dD]/replace-word/g' input.txt > output.txt

It is easy to match first few characters, for example match both Linux and linux word:

sed 's/[Ll]inux/Unix/g' input.txt > output.txt

A note about GNU sed version

The syntax is pretty simple
The -i option edit and update file in place.

The BSD implementation of sed does NOT support case-insensitive matching

Please note that macOS comes with BSD version of sed which does not support case-insensitive matching. Hence, if you are on macOS install GNU sed using the following brew command. First, install Homebrew on macOS and then type the following brew command:
$ brew install gnu-sed
Sample outputs:

Updating Homebrew...
==> Auto-updated Homebrew!
Updated 1 tap (homebrew/core).
No changes to formulae.
==> Downloading
Already downloaded: /Users/veryv/Library/Caches/Homebrew/gnu-sed-4.4.sierra.bottle.tar.gz
==> Pouring gnu-sed-4.4.sierra.bottle.tar.gz
==> Using the sandbox
==> Caveats
The command has been installed with the prefix "g".
If you do not want the prefix, install using the "with-default-names" option.
If you need to use these commands with their normal names, you
can add a "gnubin" directory to your PATH from your bashrc like:
Additionally, you can access their man pages with normal names if you add
the "gnuman" directory to your MANPATH from your bashrc as well:
==> Summary
?  /usr/local/Cellar/gnu-sed/4.4: 12 files, 491KB

Now use gsed command as follows:

cat file.txt | gsed -e 's/find-word/replace-word/gI' 
cat file.txt | gsed -e 's/find-word/replace-word/gI' > output.txt
gsed 's/find-word/replace-word/gI' input.txt > output.txt

Onec gsed installed, create the alias as follows:
alias sed='gsed'
Now we can use the sed command as follows:
sed -i 's/Unix/Linux/gI' file

A note about Perl for case-insensitive search and replace instead of sed

Another option is to use the perl tool for case-insensitive search & replace as follows:

## find foo and replace with bar case-insensitive ##
perl -pi -e 's/old_word/new_word/gi' file
perl -pi -e 's/SEARCH/REPLACE/gi' filename.txt
perl -pi -e 's/foo/bar/gi' input.txt

Use the cat command to verify changes:
cat input.txt
We can replace a single word in a large number of files in Unix or Linux using the Perl as follows:
perl -pi -e 's/cyberciti/nixcraft/gi' *.txt
Perl would change every instance of “cyberciti” it found into “nixcraft.


You learned about case-insensitive search and replace with sed under Linux, macOS and Unix-like systems. See sed command man page here for more info or type the following command at the shell promot:
man sed

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🐧 8 comments so far... add one

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8 comments… add one
  • Ni2 Dec 21, 2009 @ 7:48

    $ echo Cool | sed -n "/cool/Ip"

  • Ni2 Dec 21, 2009 @ 7:53

    sed version 4.1.5.

    Thanks for the tip. This is exactly what I was looking for.

  • skymaster Sep 26, 2013 @ 10:14

    sed -n -e '/patternmatch/Ip' filetosearchin

  • arun Jan 1, 2017 @ 12:39

    Printing with case sensitive is not working, as suggested by you. Could you check once again.

    [root@localhost ~]# yum install sed
    Loaded plugins: refresh-packagekit, rhnplugin
    Setting up Install Process
    Package sed-4.2.1-5.el6.x86_64 already installed and latest version
    Nothing to do

    [root@localhost ~]# sed -n ‘/oracle/’p passwd
    40 oracle:x:508:510::/home/oracle:/bin/bash
    41 Oracle:x:508:510::/home/oracle:/bin/bash

    [root@localhost ~]# sed -n ‘/oracle/’Ip passwd
    40 oracle:x:508:510::/home/oracle:/bin/bash
    41 Oracle:x:508:510::/home/oracle:/bin/bash

  • Jonas Steinberg Dec 15, 2017 @ 2:19

    You don’t need to cat-pipe the file to sed as sed natively takes a file as its second positional parameter, i.e. sed -i s’/replace/this/gI’ my_file.txt.

  • fodormik Oct 31, 2020 @ 13:10

    Didn’t you miss a ‘g’ in the example at the beginning of the article?
    Replacing or substituting string is simple. The below example replaces the word wiwek with vivek in the file:
    sed 's/wiwek/vivek/' names.txt

    For me it works only with sed 's/wiwek/vivek/g' names.txt

    • 🐧 Vivek Gite Oct 31, 2020 @ 17:13

      Both syntax are valid, but the g flag applies the replacement to all matches to the regexp, not just the first one. Nevertheless, I added a small note.

  • Joel Bruner Apr 7, 2021 @ 21:28

    I am on a Mac and out of curiosity I tried the i flag and it turns out the version of sed on macOS Big Sur (text_cmds-106) does support the flag now (and it is still the BSD version). Catalina and under do not. Using the what command I was able to get the versions. Thanks for your write-up on this Vivek!

    #11 (Bug Sur) DOES respect the i flag
    % what /usr/bin/sed
    	PROGRAM:sed  PROJECT:text_cmds-106
    #10.15 (Catalina) does not respect i flag
    % what /usr/bin/sed
    	PROGRAM:sed  PROJECT:text_cmds-101.40.1

    Sources available here:

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