expand - macOS


The expand command in macOS is used to convert tabs in each file to spaces, writing to standard output. It is particularly useful in text processing scripts and environments where uniform spacing is required for alignment purposes, such as in programming or when preparing data for tabulation.


The basic syntax of the expand command is:

expand [OPTION]... [FILE]...
  • [OPTION]: One or more options to modify the behavior of the command.
  • [FILE]: One or more files to process. If no file is specified, or if the file is -, expand reads from the standard input.


Here are the options available with expand:

  • -t, --tabs=LIST: Set tab stops. LIST can be a single number, indicating tab size, or a comma-separated list specifying specific positions. If omitted, default tab stops are set at every 8 positions.
  • -i, --initial: Do not convert tabs after non-blanks, preserving alignment of initial tabs.
  • --help: Display a help message and exit.
  • --version: Output version information and exit.


  • Convert tabs to spaces in a file using default tab stops:

    expand file.txt
  • Convert tabs to spaces with a tab size of 4:

    expand -t 4 file.txt
  • Convert tabs to spaces but preserve initial indentation in each line:

    expand -i file.txt
  • Set custom tab stops at specific column positions:

    expand -t 2,8,10 file.txt

Common Issues

  • Missing Tab Stops: Not setting the -t option will result in default tab stops, which might not align text as expected. Ensure correct tab stops are set as per your requirements.
  • Mixed Tabs and Spaces: If a file contains both tabs and spaces for layout, expand could alter intended formatting. Using the -i option might help in such cases.


Combine expand with other commands to facilitate text processing workflows:

  • Count the number of characters in each line after expansion:

    expand file.txt | wc -c
  • Convert tabs to spaces and then sort the output:

    expand file.txt | sort > sorted_file.txt
  • unexpand: Converts spaces to tabs.
  • sort: Used to sort lines of text in files.
  • wc: A word, line, character, and byte count utility.

For more information on using expand, consult the macOS reference manuals or other resources such as online tutorials and community forums.