When I run grep on a text file, I get nonsense results. It seems as if the whole file is printed out but on one line overwriting itself. I read that on the Mac, text files use \r instead of the normal \n as a line ending. That would explain it, but how to make grep treat \r as if it were \n?

I'm using Snow Leopard OS X, and am quite new to using Apple anything, but a long-time Linux programmer.

2 Answers 2


You can't change grep's behavior, but you can change the file it sees:

tr '\r' '\n' <file | grep foo

Also, \r line endings are legacy these days; OS X officially uses \n, although there are still things that haven't been updated. In particular, AppleScript still hasn't quite caught up, which also shows in its using pre-OS X file paths by default and requiring POSIX file to indicate OS X native paths; also, many Carbon applications still use \r, Carbon being a transition framework from Mac OS 9 to OS X.

  • Good to know \n is 'in' now. So I just need to convert the few existing files with \r to use \n.
    – DarenW
    Jun 29, 2011 at 17:20
  • Your answer has also doubled my knowledge of what "Carbon" is!
    – DarenW
    Jun 29, 2011 at 17:21
  • 1
    If you don't want to actually change the content of the source files themselves, this answer is better as it does the translation in-stream rather than hack the original file. Nice! Jun 29, 2011 at 17:34
  • I wonder if it would be wise to create an alias for grep that includes the tr piece?
    – DarenW
    Jul 5, 2011 at 16:43
  • That's up to you; aliases are per user. If you need it a lot then it's probably worthwhile.
    – geekosaur
    Jul 5, 2011 at 16:47

A common legacy utility for handling line endings is flip. It does in-place transformation for files between Unix, DOS/Windows, legacy Mac line-end formats, and can also sample a file to let you know what type it currently thinks it is. It doesn't ship with OSX, but you can get binaries from the link as well as source.

In this case, you can first flip -u yourFile.txt to make sure it's using newlines and not linefeeds to demarcate lines, and then use grep on it.

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