(autoconf.info)Limitations of Usual Tools

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10.13 Limitations of Usual Tools

The small set of tools you can expect to find on any machine can still
include some limitations you should be aware of.

     Don't leave white space before the opening parenthesis in a user
     function call.  Posix does not allow this and GNU Awk rejects it:

          $ gawk 'function die () { print "Aaaaarg!"  }
                  BEGIN { die () }'
          gawk: cmd. line:2:         BEGIN { die () }
          gawk: cmd. line:2:                      ^ parse error
          $ gawk 'function die () { print "Aaaaarg!"  }
                  BEGIN { die() }'

     Posix says that if a program contains only `BEGIN' actions, and
     contains no instances of `getline', then the program merely
     executes the actions without reading input.  However, traditional
     Awk implementations (such as Solaris 10 `awk') read and discard
     input in this case.  Portable scripts can redirect input from
     `/dev/null' to work around the problem.  For example:

          awk 'BEGIN {print "hello world"}' </dev/null

     Posix says that in an `END' action, `$NF' (and presumably, `$1')
     retain their value from the last record read, if no intervening
     `getline' occurred.  However, some implementations (such as
     Solaris 10 `/usr/bin/awk', `nawk', or Darwin `awk') reset these
     variables.  A workaround is to use an intermediate variable prior
     to the `END' block.  For example:

          $ cat end.awk
          { tmp = $1 }
          END { print "a", $1, $NF, "b", tmp }
          $ echo 1 | awk -f end.awk
          a   b 1
          $ echo 1 | gawk -f end.awk
          a 1 1 b 1

     If you want your program to be deterministic, don't depend on `for'
     on arrays:

          $ cat for.awk
          END {
            arr["foo"] = 1
            arr["bar"] = 1
            for (i in arr)
              print i
          $ gawk -f for.awk </dev/null
          $ nawk -f for.awk </dev/null

     Some Awk implementations, such as HP-UX 11.0's native one,
     mishandle anchors:

          $ echo xfoo | $AWK '/foo|^bar/ { print }'
          $ echo bar | $AWK '/foo|^bar/ { print }'
          $ echo xfoo | $AWK '/^bar|foo/ { print }'
          $ echo bar | $AWK '/^bar|foo/ { print }'

     Either do not depend on such patterns (i.e., use `/^(.*foo|bar)/',
     or use a simple test to reject such implementations.

     On `ia64-hp-hpux11.23', Awk mishandles `printf' conversions after

          $ awk 'BEGIN { printf "%u %d\n", 0, -1 }'
          0 0

     AIX version 5.2 has an arbitrary limit of 399 on the length of
     regular expressions and literal strings in an Awk program.

     Traditional Awk implementations derived from Unix version 7, such
     as Solaris `/bin/awk', have many limitations and do not conform to
     Posix.  Nowadays `AC_PROG_AWK' (Note: Particular Programs) finds
     you an Awk that doesn't have these problems, but if for some
     reason you prefer not to use `AC_PROG_AWK' you may need to address

     Traditional Awk does not support multidimensional arrays or
     user-defined functions.

     Traditional Awk does not support the `-v' option.  You can use
     assignments after the program instead, e.g., `$AWK '{print v $1}'
     v=x'; however, don't forget that such assignments are not
     evaluated until they are encountered (e.g., after any `BEGIN'

     Traditional Awk does not support the keywords `delete' or `do'.

     Traditional Awk does not support the expressions `A?B:C', `!A',
     `A^B', or `A^=B'.

     Traditional Awk does not support the predefined `CONVFMT' variable.

     Traditional Awk supports only the predefined functions `exp',
     `index', `int', `length', `log', `split', `sprintf', `sqrt', and

     Traditional Awk `getline' is not at all compatible with Posix;
     avoid it.

     Traditional Awk has `for (i in a) ...' but no other uses of the
     `in' keyword.  For example, it lacks `if (i in a) ...'.

     In code portable to both traditional and modern Awk, `FS' must be a
     string containing just one ordinary character, and similarly for
     the field-separator argument to `split'.

     Traditional Awk has a limit of 99 fields in a record.  Since some
     Awk implementations, like Tru64's, split the input even if you
     don't refer to any field in the script, to circumvent this
     problem, set `FS' to an unusual character and use `split'.

     Traditional Awk has a limit of at most 99 bytes in a number
     formatted by `OFMT'; for example, `OFMT="%.300e"; print 0.1;'
     typically dumps core.

     The original version of Awk had a limit of at most 99 bytes per
     `split' field, 99 bytes per `substr' substring, and 99 bytes per
     run of non-special characters in a `printf' format, but these bugs
     have been fixed on all practical hosts that we know of.

     Not all hosts have a working `basename'.  You can use `expr'

     Don't rely on any option.

     The command `cc -c foo.c' traditionally produces an object file
     named `foo.o'.  Most compilers allow `-c' to be combined with `-o'
     to specify a different object file name, but Posix does not
     require this combination and a few compilers lack support for it.
     Note: C Compiler, for how GNU Make tests for this feature with

     When a compilation such as `cc -o foo foo.c' fails, some compilers
     (such as CDS on Reliant Unix) leave a `foo.o'.

     HP-UX `cc' doesn't accept `.S' files to preprocess and assemble.
     `cc -c foo.S' appears to succeed, but in fact does nothing.

     The default executable, produced by `cc foo.c', can be

        * `a.out' -- usual Posix convention.

        * `b.out' -- i960 compilers (including `gcc').

        * `a.exe' -- DJGPP port of `gcc'.

        * `a_out.exe' -- GNV `cc' wrapper for DEC C on OpenVMS.

        * `foo.exe' -- various MS-DOS compilers.

     The C compiler's traditional name is `cc', but other names like
     `gcc' are common.  Posix 1003.1-2001 specifies the name `c99', but
     older Posix editions specified `c89' and anyway these standard
     names are rarely used in practice.  Typically the C compiler is
     invoked from makefiles that use `$(CC)', so the value of the `CC'
     make variable selects the compiler name.

     Avoid usages like `chmod -w file'; use `chmod a-w file' instead,
     for two reasons.  First, plain `-w' does not necessarily make the
     file unwritable, since it does not affect mode bits that
     correspond to bits in the file mode creation mask.  Second, Posix
     says that the `-w' might be interpreted as an
     implementation-specific option, not as a mode; Posix suggests
     using `chmod -- -w file' to avoid this confusion, but unfortunately
     `--' does not work on some older hosts.

     `cmp' performs a raw data comparison of two files, while `diff'
     compares two text files.  Therefore, if you might compare DOS
     files, even if only checking whether two files are different, use
     `diff' to avoid spurious differences due to differences of newline

     Avoid the `-r' option, since Posix 1003.1-2004 marks it as
     obsolescent and its behavior on special files is
     implementation-defined.  Use `-R' instead.  On GNU hosts the two
     options are equivalent, but on Solaris hosts (for example) `cp -r'
     reads from pipes instead of replicating them.

     Some `cp' implementations (e.g., BSD/OS 4.2) do not allow trailing
     slashes at the end of nonexistent destination directories.  To
     avoid this problem, omit the trailing slashes.  For example, use
     `cp -R source /tmp/newdir' rather than `cp -R source /tmp/newdir/'
     if `/tmp/newdir' does not exist.

     The ancient SunOS 4 `cp' does not support `-f', although its `mv'

     Traditionally, file timestamps had 1-second resolution, and `cp
     -p' copied the timestamps exactly.  However, many modern file
     systems have timestamps with 1-nanosecond resolution.
     Unfortunately, `cp -p' implementations truncate timestamps when
     copying files, so this can result in the destination file
     appearing to be older than the source.  The exact amount of
     truncation depends on the resolution of the system calls that `cp'
     uses; traditionally this was `utime', which has 1-second
     resolution, but some newer `cp' implementations use `utimes',
     which has 1-microsecond resolution.  These newer implementations
     include GNU Core Utilities 5.0.91 or later, and Solaris 8 (sparc)
     patch 109933-02 or later.  Unfortunately as of January 2006 there
     is still no system call to set timestamps to the full nanosecond

     Bob Proulx notes that `cp -p' always _tries_ to copy ownerships.
     But whether it actually does copy ownerships or not is a system
     dependent policy decision implemented by the kernel.  If the
     kernel allows it then it happens.  If the kernel does not allow it
     then it does not happen.  It is not something `cp' itself has
     control over.

     In Unix System V any user can chown files to any other user, and
     System V also has a non-sticky `/tmp'.  That probably derives from
     the heritage of System V in a business environment without hostile
     users.  BSD changed this to be a more secure model where only root
     can `chown' files and a sticky `/tmp' is used.  That undoubtedly
     derives from the heritage of BSD in a campus environment.

     GNU/Linux and Solaris by default follow BSD, but can be configured
     to allow a System V style `chown'.  On the other hand, HP-UX
     follows System V, but can be configured to use the modern security
     model and disallow `chown'.  Since it is an
     administrator-configurable parameter you can't use the name of the
     kernel as an indicator of the behavior.

     Some versions of `date' do not recognize special `%' directives,
     and unfortunately, instead of complaining, they just pass them
     through, and exit with success:

          $ uname -a
          OSF1 medusa.sis.pasteur.fr V5.1 732 alpha
          $ date "+%s"

     Option `-u' is nonportable.

     Some implementations, such as Tru64's, fail when comparing to
     `/dev/null'.  Use an empty file instead.

     Not all hosts have a working `dirname', and you should instead use
     `AS_DIRNAME' (Note: Programming in M4sh).  For example:

          dir=`dirname "$file"`       # This is not portable.
          dir=`AS_DIRNAME(["$file"])` # This is more portable.

     Posix 1003.1-2001 no longer requires `egrep', but many hosts do
     not yet support the Posix replacement `grep -E'.  Also, some
     traditional implementations do not work on long input lines.  To
     work around these problems, invoke `AC_PROG_EGREP' and then use

     Portable extended regular expressions should use `\' only to escape
     characters in the string `$()*+.?[\^{|'.  For example, `\}' is not
     portable, even though it typically matches `}'.

     The empty alternative is not portable.  Use `?' instead.  For
     instance with Digital Unix v5.0:

          > printf "foo\n|foo\n" | $EGREP '^(|foo|bar)$'
          > printf "bar\nbar|\n" | $EGREP '^(foo|bar|)$'
          > printf "foo\nfoo|\n|bar\nbar\n" | $EGREP '^(foo||bar)$'

     `$EGREP' also suffers the limitations of `grep'.

     No `expr' keyword starts with `X', so use `expr X"WORD" :
     'XREGEX'' to keep `expr' from misinterpreting WORD.

     Don't use `length', `substr', `match' and `index'.

`expr' (`|')
     You can use `|'.  Although Posix does require that `expr '''
     return the empty string, it does not specify the result when you
     `|' together the empty string (or zero) with the empty string.  For

          expr '' \| ''

     Posix 1003.2-1992 returns the empty string for this case, but
     traditional Unix returns `0' (Solaris is one such example).  In
     Posix 1003.1-2001, the specification was changed to match
     traditional Unix's behavior (which is bizarre, but it's too late
     to fix this).  Please note that the same problem does arise when
     the empty string results from a computation, as in:

          expr bar : foo \| foo : bar

     Avoid this portability problem by avoiding the empty string.

`expr' (`:')
     Portable `expr' regular expressions should use `\' to escape only
     characters in the string `$()*.0123456789[\^n{}'.  For example,
     alternation, `\|', is common but Posix does not require its
     support, so it should be avoided in portable scripts.  Similarly,
     `\+' and `\?' should be avoided.

     Portable `expr' regular expressions should not begin with `^'.
     Patterns are automatically anchored so leading `^' is not needed

     The Posix standard is ambiguous as to whether `expr 'a' : '\(b\)''
     outputs `0' or the empty string.  In practice, it outputs the
     empty string on most platforms, but portable scripts should not
     assume this.  For instance, the QNX 4.25 native `expr' returns `0'.

     One might think that a way to get a uniform behavior would be to
     use the empty string as a default value:

          expr a : '\(b\)' \| ''

     Unfortunately this behaves exactly as the original expression; see
     the `expr' (`|') entry for more information.

     Some ancient `expr' implementations (e.g., SunOS 4 `expr' and
     Solaris 8 `/usr/ucb/expr') have a silly length limit that causes
     `expr' to fail if the matched substring is longer than 120 bytes.
     In this case, you might want to fall back on `echo|sed' if `expr'
     fails.  Nowadays this is of practical importance only for the rare
     installer who mistakenly puts `/usr/ucb' before `/usr/bin' in

     On Mac OS X 10.4, `expr' mishandles the pattern `[^-]' in some
     cases.  For example, the command
          expr Xpowerpc-apple-darwin8.1.0 : 'X[^-]*-[^-]*-\(.*\)'

     outputs `apple-darwin8.1.0' rather than the correct `darwin8.1.0'.
     This particular case can be worked around by substituting `[^--]'
     for `[^-]'.

     Don't leave, there is some more!

     The QNX 4.25 `expr', in addition of preferring `0' to the empty
     string, has a funny behavior in its exit status: it's always 1
     when parentheses are used!

          $ val=`expr 'a' : 'a'`; echo "$?: $val"
          0: 1
          $ val=`expr 'a' : 'b'`; echo "$?: $val"
          1: 0

          $ val=`expr 'a' : '\(a\)'`; echo "?: $val"
          1: a
          $ val=`expr 'a' : '\(b\)'`; echo "?: $val"
          1: 0

     In practice this can be a big problem if you are ready to catch
     failures of `expr' programs with some other method (such as using
     `sed'), since you may get twice the result.  For instance

          $ expr 'a' : '\(a\)' || echo 'a' | sed 's/^\(a\)$/\1/'

     outputs `a' on most hosts, but `aa' on QNX 4.25.  A simple
     workaround consists of testing `expr' and using a variable set to
     `expr' or to `false' according to the result.

     Tru64 `expr' incorrectly treats the result as a number, if it can
     be interpreted that way:

          $ expr 00001 : '.*\(...\)'

     Posix 1003.1-2001 no longer requires `fgrep', but many hosts do
     not yet support the Posix replacement `grep -F'.  Also, some
     traditional implementations do not work on long input lines.  To
     work around these problems, invoke `AC_PROG_FGREP' and then use

     The option `-maxdepth' seems to be GNU specific.  Tru64 v5.1,
     NetBSD 1.5 and Solaris `find' commands do not understand it.

     The replacement of `{}' is guaranteed only if the argument is
     exactly _{}_, not if it's only a part of an argument.  For
     instance on DU, and HP-UX 10.20 and HP-UX 11:

          $ touch foo
          $ find . -name foo -exec echo "{}-{}" \;

     while GNU `find' reports `./foo-./foo'.

     Portable scripts can rely on the `grep' options `-c', `-l', `-n',
     and `-v', but should avoid other options.  For example, don't use
     `-w', as Posix does not require it and Irix 6.5.16m's `grep' does
     not support it.  Also, portable scripts should not combine `-c'
     with `-l', as Posix does not allow this.

     Some of the options required by Posix are not portable in practice.
     Don't use `grep -q' to suppress output, because many `grep'
     implementations (e.g., Solaris) do not support `-q'.  Don't use
     `grep -s' to suppress output either, because Posix says `-s' does
     not suppress output, only some error messages; also, the `-s'
     option of traditional `grep' behaved like `-q' does in most modern
     implementations.  Instead, redirect the standard output and
     standard error (in case the file doesn't exist) of `grep' to
     `/dev/null'.  Check the exit status of `grep' to determine whether
     it found a match.

     Some traditional `grep' implementations do not work on long input
     lines.  On AIX the default `grep' silently truncates long lines on
     the input before matching.

     Also, many implementations do not support multiple regexps with
     `-e': they either reject `-e' entirely (e.g., Solaris) or honor
     only the last pattern (e.g., IRIX 6.5 and NeXT).  To work around
     these problems, invoke `AC_PROG_GREP' and then use `$GREP'.

     Another possible workaround for the multiple `-e' problem is to
     separate the patterns by newlines, for example:

          grep 'foo
          bar' in.txt

     except that this fails with traditional `grep' implementations and
     with OpenBSD 3.8 `grep'.

     Traditional `grep' implementations (e.g., Solaris) do not support
     the `-E' or `-F' options.  To work around these problems, invoke
     `AC_PROG_EGREP' and then use `$EGREP', and similarly for
     `AC_PROG_FGREP' and `$FGREP'.  Even if you are willing to require
     support for Posix `grep', your script should not use both `-E' and
     `-F', since Posix does not allow this combination.

     Portable `grep' regular expressions should use `\' only to escape
     characters in the string `$()*.0123456789[\^{}'.  For example,
     alternation, `\|', is common but Posix does not require its
     support in basic regular expressions, so it should be avoided in
     portable scripts.  Solaris and HP-UX `grep' do not support it.
     Similarly, the following escape sequences should also be avoided:
     `\<', `\>', `\+', `\?', `\`', `\'', `\B', `\b', `\S', `\s', `\W',
     and `\w'.

     Posix does not specify the behavior of `grep' on binary files.  An
     example where this matters is using BSD `grep' to search text that
     includes embedded ANSI escape sequences for colored output to
     terminals (`\033[m' is the sequence to restore normal output); the
     behavior depends on whether input is seekable:

          $ printf 'esc\033[mape\n' > sample
          $ grep . sample
          Binary file sample matches
          $ cat sample | grep .

     Solaris 8 `join' has bugs when the second operand is standard
     input, and when standard input is a pipe.  For example, the
     following shell script causes Solaris 8 `join' to loop forever:

          cat >file <<'EOF'
          1 x
          2 y
          cat file | join file -

     Use `join - file' instead.

     Don't rely on `ln' having a `-f' option.  Symbolic links are not
     available on old systems; use `$(LN_S)' as a portable substitute.

     For versions of the DJGPP before 2.04, `ln' emulates symbolic links
     to executables by generating a stub that in turn calls the real
     program.  This feature also works with nonexistent files like in
     the Posix spec.  So `ln -s file link' generates `link.exe', which
     attempts to call `file.exe' if run.  But this feature only works
     for executables, so `cp -p' is used instead for these systems.
     DJGPP versions 2.04 and later have full support for symbolic links.

     The portable options are `-acdilrtu'.  Current practice is for
     `-l' to output both owner and group, even though ancient versions
     of `ls' omitted the group.

     On ancient hosts, `ls foo' sent the diagnostic `foo not found' to
     standard output if `foo' did not exist.  Hence a shell command
     like `sources=`ls *.c 2>/dev/null`' did not always work, since it
     was equivalent to `sources='*.c not found'' in the absence of `.c'
     files.  This is no longer a practical problem, since current `ls'
     implementations send diagnostics to standard error.

     No `mkdir' option is portable to older systems.  Instead of `mkdir
     -p FILE-NAME', you should use `AS_MKDIR_P(FILE-NAME)' (*note
     Programming in M4sh::) or `AC_PROG_MKDIR_P' (Note: Particular

     Combining the `-m' and `-p' options, as in `mkdir -m go-w -p DIR',
     often leads to trouble.  FreeBSD `mkdir' incorrectly attempts to
     change the permissions of DIR even if it already exists.  HP-UX
     11.23 and IRIX 6.5 `mkdir' often assign the wrong permissions to
     any newly-created parents of DIR.

     Posix does not clearly specify whether `mkdir -p foo' should
     succeed when `foo' is a symbolic link to an already-existing
     directory.  The GNU Core Utilities 5.1.0 `mkdir' succeeds, but
     Solaris `mkdir' fails.

     Traditional `mkdir -p' implementations suffer from race conditions.
     For example, if you invoke `mkdir -p a/b' and `mkdir -p a/c' at
     the same time, both processes might detect that `a' is missing,
     one might create `a', then the other might try to create `a' and
     fail with a `File exists' diagnostic.  The GNU Core Utilities
     (`fileutils' version 4.1), FreeBSD 5.0, NetBSD 2.0.2, and OpenBSD
     2.4 are known to be race-free when two processes invoke `mkdir -p'
     simultaneously, but earlier versions are vulnerable.  Solaris
     `mkdir' is still vulnerable as of Solaris 10, and other
     traditional Unix systems are probably vulnerable too.  This
     possible race is harmful in parallel builds when several Make
     rules call `mkdir -p' to construct directories.  You may use
     `install-sh -d' as a safe replacement, provided this script is
     recent enough; the copy shipped with Autoconf 2.60 and Automake
     1.10 is OK, but copies from older versions are vulnerable.

     Shell scripts can use temporary files safely with `mktemp', but it
     does not exist on all systems.  A portable way to create a safe
     temporary file name is to create a temporary directory with mode
     700 and use a file inside this directory.  Both methods prevent
     attackers from gaining control, though `mktemp' is far less likely
     to fail gratuitously under attack.

     Here is sample code to create a new temporary directory safely:

          # Create a temporary directory $tmp in $TMPDIR (default /tmp).
          # Use mktemp if possible; otherwise fall back on mkdir,
          # with $RANDOM to make collisions less likely.
          : ${TMPDIR=/tmp}
              (umask 077 && mktemp -d "$TMPDIR/fooXXXXXX") 2>/dev/null
            ` &&
            test -n "$tmp" && test -d "$tmp"
          } || {
            (umask 077 && mkdir "$tmp")
          } || exit $?

     The only portable options are `-f' and `-i'.

     Moving individual files between file systems is portable (it was
     in Unix version 6), but it is not always atomic: when doing `mv
     new existing', there's a critical section where neither the old
     nor the new version of `existing' actually exists.

     On some systems moving files from `/tmp' can sometimes cause
     undesirable (but perfectly valid) warnings, even if you created
     these files.  This is because `/tmp' belongs to a group that
     ordinary users are not members of, and files created in `/tmp'
     inherit the group of `/tmp'.  When the file is copied, `mv' issues
     a diagnostic without failing:

          $ touch /tmp/foo
          $ mv /tmp/foo .
          error-->mv: ./foo: set owner/group (was: 100/0): Operation not permitted
          $ echo $?
          $ ls foo

     This annoying behavior conforms to Posix, unfortunately.

     Moving directories across mount points is not portable, use `cp'
     and `rm'.

     DOS variants cannot rename or remove open files, and do not
     support commands like `mv foo bar >foo', even though this is
     perfectly portable among Posix hosts.

     In Mac OS X 10.3, `od' does not support the standard Posix options
     `-A', `-j', `-N', or `-t', or the XSI option `-s'.  The only
     supported Posix option is `-v', and the only supported XSI options
     are those in `-bcdox'.  The BSD `hexdump' program can be used

     This problem no longer exists in Mac OS X 10.4.3.

     The `-f' and `-r' options are portable.

     It is not portable to invoke `rm' without operands.  For example,
     on many systems `rm -f -r' (with no other arguments) silently
     succeeds without doing anything, but it fails with a diagnostic on
     NetBSD 2.0.2.

     A file might not be removed even if its parent directory is
     writable and searchable.  Many Posix hosts cannot remove a mount
     point, a named stream, a working directory, or a last link to a
     file that is being executed.

     DOS variants cannot rename or remove open files, and do not
     support commands like `rm foo >foo', even though this is perfectly
     portable among Posix hosts.

     Patterns should not include the separator (unless escaped), even
     as part of a character class.  In conformance with Posix, the Cray
     `sed' rejects `s/[^/]*$//': use `s,[^/]*$,,'.

     Avoid empty patterns within parentheses (i.e., `\(\)').  Posix does
     not require support for empty patterns, and Unicos 9 `sed' rejects

     Unicos 9 `sed' loops endlessly on patterns like `.*\n.*'.

     Sed scripts should not use branch labels longer than 7 characters
     and should not contain comments.  HP-UX sed has a limit of 99
     commands (not counting `:' commands) and 48 labels, which can not
     be circumvented by using more than one script file.  It can
     execute up to 19 reads with the `r' command per cycle.  Solaris
     `/usr/ucb/sed' rejects usages that exceed an limit of about 6000
     bytes for the internal representation of commands.

     Avoid redundant `;', as some `sed' implementations, such as NetBSD
     1.4.2's, incorrectly try to interpret the second `;' as a command:

          $ echo a | sed 's/x/x/;;s/x/x/'
          sed: 1: "s/x/x/;;s/x/x/": invalid command code ;

     Input should not have unreasonably long lines, since some `sed'
     implementations have an input buffer limited to 4000 bytes.

     Portable `sed' regular expressions should use `\' only to escape
     characters in the string `$()*.0123456789[\^n{}'.  For example,
     alternation, `\|', is common but Posix does not require its
     support, so it should be avoided in portable scripts.  Solaris
     `sed' does not support alternation; e.g., `sed '/a\|b/d'' deletes
     only lines that contain the literal string `a|b'.  Similarly, `\+'
     and `\?' should be avoided.

     Anchors (`^' and `$') inside groups are not portable.

     Nested parentheses in patterns (e.g., `\(\(a*\)b*)\)') are quite
     portable to current hosts, but was not supported by some ancient
     `sed' implementations like SVR3.

     Some `sed' implementations, e.g., Solaris, restrict the special
     role of the asterisk to one-character regular expressions.  This
     may lead to unexpected behavior:

          $ echo '1*23*4' | /usr/bin/sed 's/\(.\)*/x/g'
          $ echo '1*23*4' | /usr/xpg4/bin/sed 's/\(.\)*/x/g'

     The `-e' option is mostly portable.  However, its argument cannot
     start with `a', `c', or `i', as this runs afoul of a Tru64 5.1 bug.
     Also, its argument cannot be empty, as this fails on AIX 5.3.
     Some people prefer to use `-e':

          sed -e 'COMMAND-1' \
              -e 'COMMAND-2'

     as opposed to the equivalent:

          sed '

     The following usage is sometimes equivalent:

          sed 'COMMAND-1;COMMAND-2'

     but Posix says that this use of a semicolon has undefined effect if
     COMMAND-1's verb is `{', `a', `b', `c', `i', `r', `t', `w', `:',
     or `#', so you should use semicolon only with simple scripts that
     do not use these verbs.

     Commands inside { } brackets are further restricted.  Posix says
     that they cannot be preceded by addresses, `!', or `;', and that
     each command must be followed immediately by a newline, without any
     intervening blanks or semicolons.  The closing bracket must be
     alone on a line, other than white space preceding or following it.

     Contrary to yet another urban legend, you may portably use `&' in
     the replacement part of the `s' command to mean "what was
     matched".  All descendants of Unix version 7 `sed' (at least; we
     don't have first hand experience with older `sed' implementations)
     have supported it.

     Posix requires that you must not have any white space between `!'
     and the following command.  It is OK to have blanks between the
     address and the `!'.  For instance, on Solaris:

          $ echo "foo" | sed -n '/bar/ ! p'
          error-->Unrecognized command: /bar/ ! p
          $ echo "foo" | sed -n '/bar/! p'
          error-->Unrecognized command: /bar/! p
          $ echo "foo" | sed -n '/bar/ !p'

     Posix also says that you should not combine `!' and `;'.  If you
     use `!', it is best to put it on a command that is delimited by
     newlines rather than `;'.

     Also note that Posix requires that the `b', `t', `r', and `w'
     commands be followed by exactly one space before their argument.
     On the other hand, no white space is allowed between `:' and the
     subsequent label name.

     If a sed script is specified on the command line and ends in an
     `a', `c', or `i' command, the last line of inserted text should be
     followed by a newline.  Otherwise some `sed' implementations
     (e.g., OpenBSD 3.9) do not append a newline to the inserted text.

     Many `sed' implementations (e.g., MacOS X 10.4, OpenBSD 3.9,
     Solaris 10 `/usr/ucb/sed') strip leading white space from the text
     of `a', `c', and `i' commands.  Prepend a backslash to work around
     this incompatibility with Posix:

          $ echo flushleft | sed 'a\
          >    indented
          > '
          $ echo foo | sed 'a\
          > \   indented
          > '

     Posix requires that with an empty regular expression, the last
     non-empty regular expression from either an address specification
     or substitution command is applied.  However, busybox 1.6.1
     complains when using a substitution command with a replacement
     containing a back-reference to an empty regular expression; the
     workaround is repeating the regular expression.

          $ echo abc | busybox sed '/a\(b\)c/ s//\1/'
          sed: No previous regexp.
          $ echo abc | busybox sed '/a\(b\)c/ s/a\(b\)c/\1/'

`sed' (`t')
     Some old systems have `sed' that "forget" to reset their `t' flag
     when starting a new cycle.  For instance on MIPS RISC/OS, and on
     IRIX 5.3, if you run the following `sed' script (the line numbers
     are not actual part of the texts):

          s/keep me/kept/g  # a
          t end             # b
          s/.*/deleted/g    # c
          :end              # d


          delete me         # 1
          delete me         # 2
          keep me           # 3
          delete me         # 4

     you get

          delete me

     instead of


     Why?  When processing line 1, (c) matches, therefore sets the `t'
     flag, and the output is produced.  When processing line 2, the `t'
     flag is still set (this is the bug).  Command (a) fails to match,
     but `sed' is not supposed to clear the `t' flag when a
     substitution fails.  Command (b) sees that the flag is set,
     therefore it clears it, and jumps to (d), hence you get `delete me'
     instead of `deleted'.  When processing line (3), `t' is clear, (a)
     matches, so the flag is set, hence (b) clears the flags and jumps.
     Finally, since the flag is clear, line 4 is processed properly.

     There are two things one should remember about `t' in `sed'.
     Firstly, always remember that `t' jumps if _some_ substitution
     succeeded, not only the immediately preceding substitution.
     Therefore, always use a fake `t clear' followed by a `:clear' on
     the next line, to reset the `t' flag where needed.

     Secondly, you cannot rely on `sed' to clear the flag at each new

     One portable implementation of the script above is:

          t clear
          s/keep me/kept/g
          t end

     If you specify the desired timestamp (e.g., with the `-r' option),
     `touch' typically uses the `utime' or `utimes' system call, which
     can result in the same kind of timestamp truncation problems that
     `cp -p' has.

     On ancient BSD systems, `touch' or any command that results in an
     empty file does not update the timestamps, so use a command like
     `echo' as a workaround.  Also, GNU `touch' 3.16r (and presumably
     all before that) fails to work on SunOS 4.1.3 when the empty file
     is on an NFS-mounted 4.2 volume.  However, these problems are no
     longer of practical concern.

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