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I have a file whose content is as follows:

[many lines here]


[many lines here]

where TAG1, TAG2, TAG3 and TAG4 are fixed strings and alfa, bravo and charlie change time to time, and I want to extract:


What is the precise sed command I have to use? I do not know how to work with multi-line pattern. :(

P.S.: I'm using sed for windows.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

This works with gnu sed, I don't think it relies on any gnu-specific extensions but I don't know.

echo "$yourdata" | sed -ne '1{h;d}; /^TAG1$/ {n; /^TAG2$/{n;N;N; /\nTAG3$/ {s///; H; n;N;N; /\nTAG4$/ {s///; H; g; s/\n\n/-/gp; q; } } } }'

Result: alfa-bravo-charlie

How does it work? First we tell sed "-n" we want not to print anything unless we specifically say [p]rint.

The first block of the sed expression is "1{h;d}". This says when we read line 1, stash that line in the [h]old buffer then [d]elete it from the working buffer so that we'll read the next line and pass it through the sed expression from the start.

When reading subsequent lines the "1{...}" block will be skipped.

We don't match anything further until we hit the line TAG1. At this point we execute the long {...} block. This says first read the [n]ext line, overwriting the TAG1 line which was in the buffer. If the buffer now is TAG2, then we execute the next inner {...} block. That first reads the [n]ext line, overwriting what's already in the buffer. The next two commands are "N;N". This means read the next 2 lines but append them to the work buffer, rather than overwriting it. If the work buffer now matches /\nTAG3$/, then we execute the next inner {...} block. That says first "s///", in other words substitute the empty string for the most-recently matched expression. This deletes the "\nTAG3" from the end of the working buffer, leaving "\nbravo". Then we do [H], which appends that to the hold buffer. ([h] overwrites the hold buffer, [H] appends to it). So now the hold buffer contains the first line "alfa", then the next line "\nbravo". These are joined by a newline, so we've really got "alfa\n\nbravo." We'll take care of the two newlines later.

We keep going until we've got "alfa\n\nbravo\n\ncharly" in the hold buffer. Then we say [g]et the hold buffer (overwriting whatever is in the working buffer). We do a "s/\n\n/-/" on this to turn the double newlines into dashes. We add "g" and "p" flags to the end of the [s] command so that the substitution works globally (i.e. doesn't just do one substitution then stop) and that the result after substitution is [p]rinted.

Then we [q]uit, we don't need to read the rest of the input stream.

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It's not clear from your example exactly what you're trying to do. It sounds like you're trying to discard the entire contents of the file other than a set of three markers, which you want to join together. You don't need sed for this, you can just type:

echo alfa-bravo-charlie

And you've accomplished your goal. If you simply want to remove the content between "alfa" and "charlie", you could use a sed script like this:

/charlie/ a\
/alfa/,/charlie/ d

If this isn't what you want to do, it might help if you were to clarify your example.

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Thank you, I think now my question is better explained. – Toc Dec 14 '09 at 15:43

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