How do I remove empty/blank (including spaces only) lines in a file in Unix/Linux using the command line?

contents of file.txt


output desired


10 Answers 10


This sed line should do the trick:

sed -i '/^$/d' file.txt

The -i means it will edit the file in-place.

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Simple solution is by using grep (GNU or BSD) command as below.

  • Remove blank lines (not including lines with spaces).

    grep . file.txt
  • Remove completely blank lines (including lines with spaces).

    grep "\S" file.txt

Note: If you get unwanted colors, that means your grep is aliases to grep --color=auto (check by type grep). In that case, you can add --color=none parameter, or just run the command as \grep (which ignores the alias).


Similar with ripgrep (suitable for much larger files).

Remove blank lines not including lines with spaces:

rg -N . file.txt

or including lines with spaces:

rg -N "\S" file.txt

See also:

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  • 2
    grep . seems to be the simplest solution. – Leo Mar 21 '18 at 21:36
  • The downside of grep . compared to the other solutions is that it will highlight all the text in red. The other solutions can preserve the original colors. Compare unbuffer apt search foo | grep . to unbuffer apt search foo | grep -v ^$ – wisbucky Apr 25 '19 at 23:09
  • 2
    @wisbucky You see colors, because grep is aliased to grep --color=auto on your system (check by: type grep). You can run it as \grep or use --color=none parameter. – kenorb Apr 25 '19 at 23:26
  • @kenorb If you use grep --color=none ., you will get all white text, which overrides the color formatting of the original command (example: apt search foo) – wisbucky Apr 26 '19 at 2:01
  • grep . will match lines containing only spaces, which the OP says is not desired. – Jim L. Jul 19 '19 at 21:53
sed '/^$/d' file.txt

d is the sed command to delete a line. ^$ is a regular expression matching only a blank line, a line start followed by a line end.

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  • +1 for the explanation – Alex Raj Kaliamoorthy Feb 17 '18 at 10:26
  • This command does not produce the same output as OP requested (it produces 5 lines, not 4). – kenorb Jul 22 '19 at 9:31

You can use the -v option with grep to remove the matching empty lines.

Like this

grep -Ev "^$" file.txt
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  • 4
    I don't believe you need the -E, at least not with GNU grep, but apart from that I'm so pleased to see this done with grep! It's what I reach for in preference to sed, every time; in-line filters seem to me to be better than in-line editors. – MadHatter Mar 28 '11 at 22:45
  • If you want to skip the commented and blank lines, especially while dealing with conf files use grep -Ev '^#|^$' file.txt – Govind Kailas Mar 7 '19 at 4:11

Here is an awk solution:

awk NF file.txt

With Awk, NF only set on non-blank lines. When this condition match, Awk default action is to print the whole line.

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To remove empty lines, you could squeeze new line repeats with tr:

cat file.txt | tr -s '\n' '\n'
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  • This produces 6 lines, not 4 as OP requested. – kenorb Jul 22 '19 at 9:34

xargs if you dont mind stripping leading whitespace

$ docker run -it --rm alpine sh
/ # cat <<eof > /tmp/file
> one
>   two
> three
>   four
> eof
/ # cat /tmp/file


/ # cat /tmp/file | xargs -n1
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Here is the method using ex editor (part of Vim):

ex -s +'v/\S/d' -cwq test.txt

For multiple files (edit in-place):

ex -s +'bufdo!v/\S/d' -cxa *.txt

Note: The :bufdo command is not POSIX.

Without modifying the file (just print on the standard output):

cat test.txt | ex -s +'v/\S/d' +%p +q! /dev/stdin
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For me @martigin-heemels command was throwing error this fixed it (ie a dummy param to i),

sed -i '' '/^$/d' file.txt

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Probably the easiest way to remove blank lines (without spaces) is to use cat -s:

$ cat -s file
$ some-command | cat -s

At least if you don't want to edit a file in-place but for example write to the terminal instead. Also, it doesn't involve any funny regex business so it's super easy to remember even for non-RE-friendly people.

From man cat:

-s, --squeeze-blank never more than one single blank line

Might be different on different OSes but was present on a few Linuxes and OpenBSD last time I checked.

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