exploding string into individual characters using a shell script
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I like this!
But you're (unknowingly) pointing at something I've always wondered: If you write a sed rule like 's|(\something\)|\1 something|g' (note that something is *after* the \1, and the 'g' option), is there a risk on any platform, that sed will apply the same rule to the something that is after \1? Or will parsing go on with what is after the initial \(something\) consistently on all platforms?
In short, is there a risk to write a rule that will infinitely recurse?
Well, If such a bug existed, it would have manifested itself since 1978, where the first sed was made available (Unix version 7), and I'm not aware of that.
Another side note, both my answer and yours are in fact non portable, as they use a gnu extension allowing \n to be present in the replacement string.
With standard Unix sed, one should use something like:
echo "$URL" | sed 's/./&\^J/g'
Where ^J is a real newline, entered as is or with the sequence control-V control-J.