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Introduction

The Unix sort  command sorts ASCII files. This is a very old utility and its options are obscure. Specifying delimiters and sorting keys can be a nightmare. It reflects state of the art of crating a set of options in early 70th of the last century :-).

For small sets a good alternative is Perl sort  function which is more modern and more flexible. I would say that in case of complex keys and for small files Perl-based solution is almost always superior. But for large files (for example logs) Unix sort  command might be the only tool that is able to handle jobs.

Unix sort  can sort very large files. I successfully sorted proxy log files with the size over 10G using Solaris 9 sort implementation on a pretty old V210 with 80G 10RPM drives and single 1.34GHz CPU.

Lines need not to have the same length or the number of fields to be sorted successfully. All you need is the presence of the key.

The input can be from files or the standard input. In case of files Unix sort can accept as input one or several files. In the latter case all input files are merged. As for output, there is always a single file to be written -- sorted sequence of all input records:

The output can be a file or the standard output. In case of single file sort can process file "in place".

Sorting can be controlled by several option:

New-style sort keys definitions

By default fields in each record (by default lines of input, but you can redefine input report separator) are delimited by blanks, but you can specify a different delimiter using option -t.  You can also sort character columns (see below).

You can select and of them or several of them as key with the option -k

-k field_start [type] [,field_end [type] ]

where:

When multiple key fields are defined, later keys are compared only after all earlier keys compare equal.

Except when the -u option is specified, lines that otherwise compare equal are ordered as if none of the options -d, -f, -i, -n or -k were present (but with -r still in effect, if it was specified) and with all bytes in the lines significant to the comparison.

The notation:

-k field_start[type][,field_end[type]]

defines a key field that begins at field_start and ends at field_end inclusive, unless field_start falls beyond the end of the line or after field_end, in which case the key field is empty. A missing field_end means the last character of the line.

There can be multiple -k definitions each define one sorting field.

A field comprises a maximal sequence of non-separating characters and, in the absence of option -t, any preceding field separator.

The field_start portion of the keydef option-argument has the form:

field_number[.first_character]

Fields and characters within fields are numbered starting with 1. field_number and first_character, interpreted as positive decimal integers, specify the first character to be used as part of a sort key. If .first_character is omitted, it refers to the first character of the field.

The field_end portion of the keydef option-argument has the form:

field_number[.last_character]

The field_number is as described above for field_start. last_character, interpreted as a non-negative decimal integer, specifies the last character to be used as part of the sort key. If last_character evaluates to zero or .last_character is omitted, it refers to the last character of the field specified by field_number.

If the -b option or b  type modifier is in effect, characters within a field are counted from the first non-blank character in the field. (This applies separately to first_character and last_character.)

There is also so called "old style" key definitions -- see UNIX sort old style keys definition.

Common mistakes

Selection of sorting keys is similar to selection of fields in cut and is extremely obscure. Be careful and always test your sorting keys on small sample before sorting a large file. As a rule of thump you can assume that no specification works from the first time. So testing it on a small sample is of paramount importance.

 Be careful and always make backup and  test your sorting keys on small sample before sorting a large file. While Unix sort is non-destructive, it does rearrange records with identical keys. In other words it is not stable (if implemented via quicksort)

The most common mistake is to forget to use -n  option for sorting numeric fields. Also specifying delimiter (option -t) with an unquoted character after it can be a source of problems; it's better to use single quotes around the character that you plan to use as a delimiter. for example -t ':'

The most common mistake is to forget to use -n option for sorting numeric fields

Some simple examples

Here is a standard example of usage of the sort utility, sorting /etc/passwd file (user database) by UID (the third colon-separated field in the passwd  file structure):

sort -t ':' -k 2,2 /etc/passwd # incorrect result, the field is numeric

sort -n -t ':' -k 2,2 /etc/passwd  # order of the numbers is now correct

sort -t ':' -k 3,3n /etc/passwd

Similary you can sort /etc/group file

sort -n -t ':' -k 3,3 /etc/group
sort -t ':' -k 3,3n /etc/group

See Sorting key definitions and Examples for more details. Generally you will be surprised how often the result is not what you want due to the obscurity of the definitions

Be careful and always test your sorting keys on a small sample before sorting the whole file.
 You will be surprised how often the result is not what you want.

By default sort sorts the file in ascending order using the entire line as a sorting key. Please note that a lot of WEB resources interpret this sort utility behavior incorrectly (most often they state that by default sorting is performed on the first key).

The most important options of Unix sort are

For example:

Sort the entire lines as a key: sort
Sort in numeric order: sort -n

Comparisons are based on one or more sort keys extracted from each line of input. Again, please remember that by default, there is one sort key, the entire input line.

Lines are ordered according to the collating sequence of the current locale. By changing locale you can change the behavior of the sort.

In Solaris there are two variants of sort: System V version and BSD version. Both have identical options:

More examples

The sort  command can (and should) be used in pipes or have its output redirected as desired. Here are some practically important examples that illustrates using of this utility (for more examples please look into our sort examples collection page):

  1. Sort the file and display the sorted file, one page at a time. (If you prefer the standard command "more", you can use this instead of "less". "less" is an enhanced version of "more" - for example, it allows you to move backwards and forwards in the file; to exit "less" , use "q".)

    sort file | less

  2. Read and sorts infile and display the result on standard output, which has been redirected to outfile:
    sort infile > outfile  # sorts infile and writes the results to outfile
  3. Write sorted output directly to outfile.

    sort -o outfile infile # same as in 1, but using an option -o
  4. Read and sort infile "in place" writing to the same file

    sort -o infile infile # sort file "in place"
  5. Sort the file and pipe it to uniq command with the number of identical keys counter printed (-c option in uniq)

    sort infile | uniq -c 
  6. Pipe the output of the who command to the input of the sort command:

    who | sort
  7. Classic "number of instances" analysis of log files:

    cat messages | awk '{"select the keywords"}' | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr

    In simple cases cut can be used instead of AWK. For example the following example couts distinc visitors from HTTP logs (assuming this is the first field in the logs):

    cat http.log | cut -d " " -f 1 | sort | uniq -c | sort -nr

  8. Sort the file, then prepend line numbers to each line (not many Unix adminitrators know that cat can be used to number lines):

    sort -n file | cat -n

    This can be useful if you want to count the number of lines in which the first entry is in a given range: simply subtract the line numbers corresponding to the beginning and end of the range.

As I mentioned about by default the sort  command uses entire lines as a key. It compares the characters starting with the first, until non-matching character or the end of the shortest line. Leading blanks (spaces and tabs) are considered valid characters to compare. Thus a line beginning with a space precedes a line beginning with the letter A. If you do not want this effect you need to delete leading spaces beforehand.

Multiple sort keys may be used on the same command line. If two lines have the same value in the same field, sort uses the next set of sort keys to resolve the equal comparison. For example,

     sort -k 5,5 -k 2,2 infile

means to sort based on field 5. If two lines have the same value in field 5, sort those two lines based on field 2.

Beside sorting Unix sort is useful for merging files (option -m). It can also checked whether the file is sorted or not (option -c). It can also suppress duplicates (option -u):

In case Unix sort does not produce the required results you might want to look into Perl built-in function. If it is too slow more memory can be specified on invocation.

The most important options

The following list describes the options and their arguments that may be used to control how sort  functions.

Ordering Options

Old-style Sort Key Options

+pos1 Specifies the beginning position of the input line used for field comparison. If pos1 is not specified then comparison begins at the beginning of the line. The pos1 position has the notation of f.c. The f specifies the number of fields to skip. The suffix .c specifies the number of characters to skip. For example, 3.2 is interpreted as skip three fields and two characters before performing comparisons. Omitting the .c portion is equivalent to specifying .0. Field one is referred to as position 0. If f is set to 0 then character positions are used for comparison.
-pos2 Specifies the ending position of the input line used for field comparison. If pos2 is not specified then comparison is done through the end of the line. The pos2 position has the notation of f.c. The f specifies to compare through field f. The c specifies the number of characters to compare through after field f. For example, -4.3 is interpreted as compare through three characters after the end of field four. Omitting the .c portion is equivalent to specifying .0.

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[Jul 24, 2017] My SysAd Blog -- UNIX Sort Files by Their Filesizes

Jul 14, 2007

Here's a convenient way of finding those space hogs in your home directory (can be any directory). For me, those large files are usually a result of mkfile event (testing purposes) and can be promptly deleted. Here's an example of its use.

#cd /export/home/esofthub
#ls -l | sort +4n | awk '{print $5 "\t" $9}'

Find recursively (a little awkward)
#ls -lR | sort +4n | awk '{print $5 "\t" $9}' | more

docs.sun.com man pages section 1 User Commands

In the following examples, first the preferred and then the obsolete way of specifying sort keys are given as an aid to understanding the relationship between the two forms.

Example 1 Sorting with the second field as a sort key

Either of the following commands sorts the contents of infile with the second field as the sort key:

example% sort -k 2,2 infile
example%
sort +1 -2 infile

Example 2 Sorting in reverse order

Either of the following commands sorts, in reverse order, the contents of infile1 and infile2, placing the output in outfile and using the second character of the second field as the sort key (assuming that the first character of the second field is the field separator):

example% sort -r -o outfile -k 2.2,2.2 infile1 infile2
example%
sort -r -o outfile +1.1 -1.2 infile1 infile2

Example 3 Sorting using a specified character in one of the files

Either of the following commands sorts the contents of infile1 and infile2 using the second non-blank character of the second field as the sort key:

example% sort -k 2.2b,2.2b infile1 infile2
example%
sort +1.1b -1.2b infile1 infile2

Example 4 Sorting by numeric user ID

Either of the following commands prints the passwd(4) file (user database) sorted by the numeric user ID (the third colon-separated field):

example% sort -t : -k 3,3n /etc/passwd
example%
sort -t : +2 -3n /etc/passwd

Example 5 Printing sorted lines excluding lines that duplicate a field

Either of the following commands prints the lines of the already sorted file infile, suppressing all but one occurrence of lines having the same third field:

example% sort -um -k 3.1,3.0 infile 
example% sort -um +2.0 -3.0 infile 
Example 6 Sorting by host IP address

Either of the following commands prints the hosts(4) file (IPv4 hosts database), sorted by the numeric IP address (the first four numeric fields):

example$ sort -t . -k 1,1n -k 2,2n -k 3,3n -k 4,4n /etc/hosts
example$
sort -t . +0 -1n +1 -2n +2 -3n +3 -4n /etc/hosts

Since '.' is both the field delimiter and, in many locales, the decimal separator, failure to specify both ends of the field will lead to results where the second field is interpreted as a fractional portion of the first, and so forth.

GNU Core-utils Operating on sorted files

Here are some examples to illustrate various combinations of options.

LINUX FOCUS lf131, UNIX Basics GNU file utilities by Manuel Muriel Cordero

Let´s assume that we want to sort /etc/passwd using the geco field. To achieve this, we will use sort, the unix sorting tool

$ sort -t: +4 /etc/passwd
murie:x:500:500:Manuel Muriel Cordero:/home/murie:/bin/bash
practica:x:501:501:Usuario de practicas para Ksh:/home/practica:/bin/ksh
wizard:x:502:502:Wizard para nethack:/home/wizard:/bin/bash
root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash

It is very easy to see that the file has been sorted, but using the ASCII table order. If we don´t want to make a difference among capital letter, we can use:

$ sort -t: +4f  /etc/passwd
murie:x:500:500:Manuel Muriel Cordero:/home/murie:/bin/bash
root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash
practica:x:501:501:Usuario de practicas para Ksh:/home/practica:/bin/ksh
wizard:x:502:502:Wizard para nethack:/home/wizard:/bin/bash

-t is the option to select the field separator. +4 stands for the number of field to jump before ordering the lines, and f means to sort regardless of upper and lowercase.

A much more complicated sort can be achieved. For example, we can sort using the shell in a first step then sort using the geco:

$ sort -t: +6r +4f /etc/passwd
practica:x:501:501:Usuario de practicas para Ksh:/home/practica:/bin/ksh
murie:x:500:500:Manuel Muriel Cordero:/home/murie:/bin/bash
root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash
wizard:x:502:502:Wizard para nethack:/home/wizard:/bin/bash

You have a file with some people you lend money and the amount of money you gave them. Take ´deudas.txt´ as an example:

Son Goku:23450
Son Gohan:4570
Picolo:356700
Ranma 1/2:700

If you want to know the first one to ´visit´, you need a sorted list.
Just type

$ sort +1 deudas
Ranma 1/2:700
Son Gohan:4570
Son Goku:23450
Picolo:356700
which is not the desired result because the number of fields is not the same across the file. The solution is the ´n´ option:
$ sort +1n deudas
Picolo:356700
Son Goku:23450
Son Gohan:4570
Ranma 1/2:700

Basic options for sort are
+n.m jumps over the first n fields and the next m characters before begin the sort
-n.m stops the sorting when arriving to the m-th character of the n-th field

The following are modification parameters:
-b jumps over leading whitespaces
-d dictionary sort (just using letters, numbers and whitespace)
-f ignores case distinction
-n sort numerically
-r reverse order

CS307, Practicum in Unix Sort Page 1 The sort utility The term ...

The sort utility practicum from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

The term sorting, strictly speaking, really means to separate things into different categories. For example, you might sort clothes for washing into light and dark colors.

In computer jargon, though, when we say we are sorting data, we really mean that we are ordering it, that is, putting records in order according to their contents. For example, we might write a program to sort the entries in an address book into alphabetical order.

The sort utility reads a stream of records and outputs the records in order according to one or more sort keys, that is, according to part or all of the contents of each record.

Input and output streams If sort is executed without any arguments, it reads a stream of lines from its standard input, sorts them in order by the ASCII codes of all the characters from left to right, and writes the sorted stream to the standard output.

You may also specify one or more input files as arguments to sort. This example would sort three files named moe, larry and curly, and call the output file stooges:

% sort moe larry curly > stooges

You can ask sort to write to a specific file by using the -o option, followed by a space and then the name of the desired output file. This command would work just like the previous example:

% sort moe larry curly -o stooges

Fields and keys A field is some part of a record. For example, a file containing records describing your grocery list might have two fields, one for the item, and another for the quantity needed:

eggplant 2 chicken 1# apples 8

A field separator is some character you put between fields in a record. In the above example, spaces are used as field separators. If you don't specify otherwise, the sort utility assumes that space is the field separator.

A different grocery list might use, for example, comma as a field separator. This would allow you to have blanks within a field:

scallion, 3 bunches

CS307, Practicum in Unix Sort Page 2

ground pork, 1.5 lbs garlic, 10 heads

A sort key is the field (or fields) used in ordering records. If you want to sort on a certain field, use the +n option to sort, where n is the number of fields to be skipped. Thus, sort +0 means to sort on the first field, sort +1 means to sort on the second field, and so on.

For example, here is a file describing mineral specimens. Each record has three fields--the type of mineral, the price, and the place it was collected.

% cat minerals quartz 0.30 Georgetown feldspar 0.50 Riley shale 0.42 Floydada

To sort this file by place (the third field), we use:

% sort +2 minerals shale 0.42 Floydada quartz 0.30 Georgetown feldspar 0.50 Riley

Sometimes you want to sort a file on more than one key. For example, suppose you want to sort a list of students by grade and name: you want all the A's together, and all the B's, but within each grade you want the students in alphabetical order. The most important key is called the major key. If two records have the same value in their major key field, sort can then use another field (sometimes called the minor key) as a tie-breaker.

You can have any number of keys. For example, if you specify seven sort keys, and two given records have identical values for the first six keys, but different values for the seventh key, those two records will be ordered according to their seventh key.

To specify multiple keys to sort, use +m and -n options in pairs. A pair of arguments of the form +m -n tells sort to use fields (m \Gamma 1) through n, inclusive, as keys. If a +m option isn't followed by a -n option, sort uses all the fields through the end of the record as keys. Thus, sort +3 would use all fields from the fourth through the last.

For example, suppose you have a file named x of records with ten keys each, and you want to sort on the third, fourth, fifth, ninth, and first fields, in that order. Here is the correct command:

% sort +2 -5 +8 -9 +0 -1 x

Sort options Here is the full syntax of the sort command, taken from the man page:

% sort [-mcubfdinrt] [+m [-n]]... [-o outfile] [-T directory] [ infile ]...

This command syntax is typical of Unix utilities: there are a group of letters (-mcubfdinrt) that must be preceded by a hyphen. These "dash options" change the way that files are sorted.

The -m option selects merging instead of sorting. Merging produces a single sorted file by putting together two or more files that are already sorted by the same criteria. More than one infile must be specified. If the input files are not already sorted, sort will not produce sorted output, and it won't warn you either.

The -c option causes the input to be checked to see if it is sorted; it won't actually sort anything. If the input file is correctly sorted according to the selected keys, there will be no output. (The man page doesn't say what will be output in case sort errors are found.)

The -u option stands for unique. With this option, whenever two records compare equal in all keys (not necessarily in other fields), sort will throw away one of them. The output of sort -u will thus contain only one of each set of key values.

The -b option instructs sort to ignore leading blanks while sorting. Compare these examples:

% cat leaders

rat bat cat % sort leaders

rat bat cat % sort -b leaders

bat cat

rat

The -f option stands for "fold," which means that uppercase letters should be treated the same as lowercase. In the ASCII character set, normally all capital letters sort before all lowercases letters.

% cat cases purple brown MacGillivray's % sort cases MacGillivray's brown purple % sort -f cases brown MacGillivray's purple

The -d option selects "dictionary"-style comparisons. Punctuation marks (actually, anything but letters, digits and blanks) are ignored:

% cat irish O'Donahue O'Dell Odets

% sort irish O'Dell O'Donahue Odets % sort -df irish O'Dell Odets O'Donahue

The -i option makes sort ignore non-ASCII characters during key comparisons. The -n option specifies that a sort key is a number, and should be sorted by its numeric value, not its string value. Compare these two examples:

% cat numbers 0.03 159.7 96.3 87334 % sort numbers 0.03 159.7 87334 96.3 % sort -n numbers 0.03 96.3 159.7 87334

The -r option reverses the sort order from ascending to descending:

% sort -nr numbers 87334 159.7 96.3 0.03 % sort -r presidents Reagan, Ronald Carter, Jimmy Bush, George

Finally, the -t option allows you to specify a field separator. The t stands for "tab character," another name for the field separator character, but this is confusing because there is an ASCII character called tab, which may or may not be used as a field separator. The t must be followed immediately by the character to be used as field separator:

% cat grocery scallion, 3 bunches

ground pork, 1.5 lbs garlic, 10 heads % sort -nt, +1 grocery ground pork, 1.5 lbs scallion, 3 bunches garlic, 10 heads

If you use a field separator that has some special meaning to the shell, you should enclose it in apostrophes:

% sort -t'--' infile -o outfile

The -T option may be necessary if you are sorting large files; it tells sort to use a specified directory for its scratch area while sorting. The -T must be followed by one space, then the pathname of a directory.

For example, I was sorting a 5-megabyte file once and sort bombed out due to lack of space. I found out that it uses the root directory (/ ) as its default scratch directory, and at that time the root directory only had 3 megabytes of space left. I found that the /tmp directory had 100 megabytes left (the df command will tell you how much space is left on every disc on the system), and used this command:

% sort -T /tmp !other options?...

Key offsets It is possible to use part of a field as a sort key. You may specify that the nth character of a field be the beginning or end of a sort key.

The +m.a and -n.b options are used for this key specification. In this syntax, the a and b numbers give the offsets into the fields where the key begins, that is, it specifies the number of characters into the field.

For example, let us suppose that the first field on a line has the form aannnn, where the aa portion is a letter code and the nnnn portion is a string of digits. If you want to sort on the digit portion, ignoring the letters, use:

% sort +0.2

that is, use the first field starting at the third character. Here is an example of a key offset. You are given a file containing people's Social Security Numbers of the form aaabbcccc, and you want to sort on the bb section as the major key, and the aaa and cccc sections as minor keys. Colon (: ) is used as the field separator.

[Jul 14, 2007] My SysAd Blog -- UNIX Sort Files by Their Filesizes

Here's a convenient way of finding those space hogs in your home directory (can be any directory). For me, those large files are usually a result of mkfile event (testing purposes) and can be promptly deleted. Here's an example of its use.

#cd /export/home/esofthub
#ls -l | sort +4n | awk '{print $5 "\t" $9}'

Find recursively (a little awkward)
#ls -lR | sort +4n | awk '{print $5 "\t" $9}' | more

[Jul 14, 2007] Learn Unix The sort command

ps -ef | sort

This command pipeline sorts the output of the "ps -ef" command. Because no arguments are supplied to the sort command, the output is sorted in alphabetic order by the first column of the ps -ef output (i.e., the output is sorted alphabetically by username).

ls -al | sort +4n

This command performs a numeric sort on the fifth column of the "ls -al" output. This results in a file listing where the files are listed in ascending order, from smallest in size to largest in size.

ls -al | sort +4n | more

The same command as the previous, except the output is piped into the more command. This is useful when the output will not all fit on one screen.

ls -al | sort +4nr

This command reverses the order of the numeric sort, so files are listed in descending order of size, with the largest file listed first, and the smallest file listed last.

[Feb 15, 2007] UNIX Disk Usage Simplifying Analysis with sort

The output of du has been very informative, but it's difficult to scan a listing to ascertain the four or five largest directories, particularly as more and more directories and files are included in the output. The good news is that the Unix sort utility is just the tool we need to sidestep this problem.

# du -s * | sort -nr
13984 Lynx
10464 IBM
3092 Gator
412 bin
196 DEMO
84 etcpasswd
76 CBO_MAIL
48 elance
36 CraigsList
16 Exchange
4 gettermsheet.sh
4 getstocks.sh
4 getmodemdriver.sh
4 buckaroo
4 browse.sh
4 badjoke.rot13
4 badjoke
0 gif.gif

One final concept and we're ready to move along. If you want to only see the five largest files or directories in a specific directory, all that you'd need to do is pipe the command sequence to head:
# du -s * | sort -nr | head -5
13984  Lynx
10464  IBM
3092   Gator
412    bin
196    DEMO

[Feb 14, 2007] UNIX Power Tools, 3rd Edition Examples!

The ! command (pronounced "bang") creates a temporary file to be used with a program that requires a filename in its command line. This is useful with shells that don't support process substitution. For example, to diff two files after sorting them, you might do:

diff `! sort file1` `! sort file2`

commer

commer is a shell script that uses comm to compare two sorted files; it processes comm's output to make it easier to read. (See article 11.9.)
[Overview] [List]

lensort

lensort sorts lines from shortest to longest. (See article 22.7.)
[Overview] [List]

namesort

The namesort program sorts a list of names by the last name. (See article 22.8.) See also namesort.pl.
[Overview] [List]

namesort.pl

The namesort.pl script uses the Perl module Lingua::EN::NameParse to sort a list of names by the last name. (See article 22.8.) See also namesort.
[Overview] [List]

[Feb 11, 2007] Learn Unix The sort command

This command pipeline sorts the output of the "ps -ef" command. Because no arguments are supplied to the sort command, the output is sorted in alphabetic order by the first column of the ps -ef output (i.e., the output is sorted alphabetically by username).

ls -al | sort +4n

This command performs a numeric sort on the fifth column of the "ls -al" output. This results in a file listing where the files are listed in ascending order, from smallest in size to largest in size.

ls -al | sort +4n | more

The same command as the previous, except the output is piped into the more command. This is useful when the output will not all fit on one screen.

ls -al | sort +4nr

This command reverses the order of the numeric sort, so files are listed in descending order of size, with the largest file listed first, and the smallest file listed last.

[Feb 10, 2007] using -t option with unix sort

Daniel Malaby dan at malaby.com
Thu Jul 14 08:02:47 GMT 2005
Hi All,

I am trying to sort a tab delimited file with sort. The problem I am
having is with the -t option. I do not know how to pass a tab.

Things I have tried:

sort -t \t
sort -t '\t'
sort -t "\t"
sort -t 0x09
sort -t '0x09'
sort -t "0x09"
sort -t ^I
sort -t '^I'
sort -t "^I"

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thanks


Daniel Malaby dan at malaby.com 
Thu Jul 14 17:48:05 GMT 2005 
Nelis Lamprecht wrote:
> On 7/14/05, Nelis Lamprecht <nlamprecht at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
>>On 7/14/05, Daniel Malaby <dan at malaby.com> wrote:
>>
>>>Hi All,
>>>
>>>I am trying to sort a tab delimited file with sort. The problem I am
>>>having is with the -t option. I do not know how to pass a tab.
>>
>><snip>
>>
>>>sort -t \t
>>
>></snip>
>>
>>>Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
>>
>>remove the space between -t and \t and it should work
> 
> 
> actually scratch that, it works either way. can you give a sample of the data ?
> 
> Regards,
> Nelis

The sample data has 9 fields, I am trying to sort on the fifth field, 
here is what I have tried.

sort -t\t +4 -5 -o test.txt sample.txt

I did try removing the space and it did not work, I have also tried 
removing the -5. I think the spaces in the third field are confusing sort.

BTW this is being done on a PC running FBSD 4.11 prerelease #1

Thanks for your help and suggestions.

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[Jan 30, 2007] lf131, UNIX Basics GNU file utilities

Let´s assume that we want to sort /etc/passwd using the geco field. To achieve this, we will use sort, the unix sorting tool

$ sort -t: +4 /etc/passwd
murie:x:500:500:Manuel Muriel Cordero:/home/murie:/bin/bash
practica:x:501:501:Usuario de practicas para Ksh:/home/practica:/bin/ksh
wizard:x:502:502:Wizard para nethack:/home/wizard:/bin/bash
root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash

It is very easy to see that the file has been sorted, but using the ASCII table order. If we don´t want to make a difference among capital letter, we can use:

$ sort -t: +4f  /etc/passwd
murie:x:500:500:Manuel Muriel Cordero:/home/murie:/bin/bash
root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash
practica:x:501:501:Usuario de practicas para Ksh:/home/practica:/bin/ksh
wizard:x:502:502:Wizard para nethack:/home/wizard:/bin/bash

-t is the option to select the field separator. +4 stands for the number of field to jump before ordering the lines, and f means to sort regardless of upper and lowercase.

A much more complicated sort can be achieved. For example, we can sort using the shell in a first step then sort using the geco:

$ sort -t: +6r +4f /etc/passwd
practica:x:501:501:Usuario de practicas para Ksh:/home/practica:/bin/ksh
murie:x:500:500:Manuel Muriel Cordero:/home/murie:/bin/bash
root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash
wizard:x:502:502:Wizard para nethack:/home/wizard:/bin/bash

You have a file with some people you lend money and the amount of money you gave them. Take ´deudas.txt´ as an example:

Son Goku:23450
Son Gohan:4570
Picolo:356700
Ranma 1/2:700

If you want to know the first one to ´visit´, you need a sorted list.
Just type

$ sort +1 deudas
Ranma 1/2:700
Son Gohan:4570
Son Goku:23450
Picolo:356700
which is not the desired result because the number of fields is not the same across the file. The solution is the ´n´ option:
$ sort +1n deudas
Picolo:356700
Son Goku:23450
Son Gohan:4570
Ranma 1/2:700

Basic options for sort are
+n.m jumps over the first n fields and the next m characters before begin the sort
-n.m stops the sorting when arriving to the m-th character of the n-th field

The following are modification parameters:

-b jumps over leading whitespaces
-d dictionary sort (just using letters, numbers and whitespace)
-f ignores case distinction
-n sort numerically
-r reverse order

[Jan 22, 2007] Oracle UNIX pipe command

For example, suppose we want to list the distinct file owners in a directory. To do this, we must perform three discrete tasks:

1. We must list all files in the directory (ls –al)
2. We must parse this output and extract the file owner from the fourth column of the output. (awk ‘{ print $3 }’)
3. We must then take the list of file owners and remove duplicate entries (sort –u)
Using the pipe command, we can tie these three functions together into a single UNIX command, piping the output from one command as sending it as input to the next UNIX command:

root> ls -al|awk '{ print $3 }'|sort -u

marion
oracle
root

[Jul 3, 2005] anagram -- an interesting use of sort (sorting letters)

% awk '{ print NF " " $0}' < out | sort -n | tail

[Sep 16 2004] loganalysis 2004-09 Re [logs] Faster unix 'sort' replacement

From: Ed Schmollinger (schmolli@private)
Date: Thu Sep 16 2004 - 09:14:32 PDT

On Thu, Sep 16, 2004 at 12:33:12AM +0200, Mike Blomgren wrote:
> I'm having trouble with 'sort' taking alot of cpu-time on a Solaris machine,
> and I'm wondering if anyone knows of a replacement for the gnu 'sort'
> command, which is faster and will compile on Solaris and preferably Linux
> too?
> 
> I'm using sort in the standard 'cat <file> | awk '{"compute..."}' | sort |
> uniq -c | sort -n -r' type analysis.

You can get rid of the multiple sorts/uniq thing by doing it all at
once:

--- CUT HERE ---
#!/usr/bin/perl -wT

use strict;

my %msg = ();

while (<>) { chomp; $msg{$_} = $msg{$_} ? $msg{$_} + 1 : 1; }

for(sort { $msg{$a} <=> $msg{$b} } keys %msg) { print "$msg{$_}\t$_\n"; }
--- CUT HERE ---

I've found that for my datasets, the awk/sed stage is what constitues
the bulk of the bottleneck.  You may want to look at optimizing that
part as well.

-- 
Ed Schmollinger - schmolli@private

[Sep 20, 2004] Faster unix 'sort' replacement

Russell Fulton r.fulton at auckland.ac.nz
Mon Sep 20 13:13:59 MDT 2004

On Fri, 2004-09-17 at 05:59, Mike Blomgren wrote:
> Thanks for the tip -  I'll have to try that one with perl doing the sort
> instead of gnu sort. I have been somewhat reluctant to use perl since I find
> it has a severe performance impact in some cases - but that may be related
> to my regexp's and not the sorting. For a fact though, I do know that using
> associative arrays is a good way to consume memory in a hurry. And thus
> causing the os to start swapping memory to disk, which is not very
> beneficial for speed, to say the least...

If you are short of memory sort may be swapping stuff out to disk and
hence your performance problems.  It depends on the implementations but
some sorts are smart enough to work out how much memory is really
available and then do sort & merges with in this. This is much better
than sorts that simply assume that virtual memory is endless and cause
the OS to thrash madly but is much slower than doing the whole thing in
memory.

This will not show up as OS level swapping though, just as lots of disk
activity during the sort.

--
Russell Fulton, Information Security Officer, The University of Auckland
New Zealand

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Internal

External

GNU sort command options

Write sorted concatenation of all FILE(s) to standard output.

Mandatory arguments to long options are mandatory for short options
too. Ordering options:

-b, --ignore-leading-blanks
ignore leading blanks

-d, --dictionary-order
consider only blanks and alphanumeric characters

-f, --ignore-case
fold lower case to upper case characters

-g, --general-numeric-sort
compare according to general numerical value

-i, --ignore-nonprinting
consider only printable characters

-M, --month-sort
compare (unknown) < `JAN' < ... < `DEC'

-n, --numeric-sort
compare according to string numerical value

-r, --reverse
reverse the result of comparisons

Other options:

-c, --check
check whether input is sorted; do not sort

-k, --key=POS1[,POS2]
start a key at POS1, end it at POS2 (origin 1)

-m, --merge
merge already sorted files; do not sort

-o, --output=FILE write result to FILE instead of standard output

-s, --stable stabilize sort by disabling last-resort comparison

-S, --buffer-size=SIZE use SIZE for main memory buffer

-t, --field-separator=SEP use SEP instead of non-blank to blank transition

-T, --temporary-directory=DIR use DIR for temporaries, not $TMPDIR or /tmp; multiple options
specify multiple directories

-u, --unique with -c, check for strict ordering; without -c, output only the
first of an equal run

-z, --zero-terminated end lines with 0 byte, not newline

--help display this help and exit

--version output version information and exit

POS is F[.C][OPTS], where F is the field number and C the character
position in the field. OPTS is one or more single-letter ordering
options, which override global ordering options for that key. If no
key is given, use the entire line as the key.

SIZE may be followed by the following multiplicative suffixes: % 1% of
memory, b 1, K 1024 (default), and so on for M, G, T, P, E, Z, Y.

With no FILE, or when FILE is -, read standard input.

*** WARNING *** The locale specified by the environment affects sort
order. Set LC_ALL=C to get the traditional sort order that uses native
byte values.

Solaris sort command options

The following options alter the default behavior:

/usr/bin/sort

-c
Check that the single input file is ordered as specified by the arguments and the collating sequence of the current locale. The exit code is set and no output is produced unless the file is out of sort.
/usr/xpg4/bin/sort
-c
Same as /usr/bin/sort except no output is produced under any circumstances.
-m
Merge only. The input files are assumed to be already sorted.
-u
Unique: suppress all but one in each set of lines having equal keys. If used with the -c option, check that there are no lines with duplicate keys in addition to checking that the input file is sorted.
-o output
Specify the name of an output file to be used instead of the standard output. This file can be the same as one of the input files.
-T directory
The directory argument is the name of a directory in which to place temporary files.
-y kmem
The amount of main memory initially used by sort. If this option is omitted, sort begins using a system default memory size, and continues to use more space as needed. If kmem is present, sort will start using that number of Kbytes of memory, unless the administrative minimum or maximum is exceeded, in which case the corresponding extremum will be used. Thus, -y 0 is guaranteed to start with minimum memory. -y with no kmem argument starts with maximum memory.
-z recsz
(obsolete). This option was used to prevent abnormal termination when lines longer than the system-dependent default buffer size are encountered. Because sort automatically allocates buffers large enough to hold the longest line, this option has no effect.
Ordering Options
The following options override the default ordering rules. When ordering options appear independent of any key field specifications, the requested field ordering rules are applied globally to all sort keys. When attached to a specific key (see Sort Key Options), the specified ordering options override all global ordering options for that key. In the obsolescent forms, if one or more of these options follows a +pos1 option, it will affect only the key field specified by that preceding option.
-d
``Dictionary'' order: only letters, digits, and blanks (spaces and tabs) are significant in comparisons.
-f
Fold lower-case letters into upper case.
-i
Ignore non-printable characters.
-M
Compare as months. The first three non-blank characters of the field are folded to upper case and compared. For example, in English the sorting order is "JAN" < "FEB" < ... < "DEC". Invalid fields compare low to "JAN". The - M option implies the -b option (see below).
-n
Restrict the sort key to an initial numeric string, consisting of optional blank characters, optional minus sign, and zero or more digits with an optional radix character and thousands separators (as defined in the current locale), which will be sorted by arithmetic value. An empty digit string is treated as zero. Leading zeros and signs on zeros do not affect ordering.
-r
Reverse the sense of comparisons.
Field Separator Options
The treatment of field separators can be altered using the following options:
-b
Ignore leading blank characters when determining the starting and ending positions of a restricted sort key. If the -b option is specified before the first sort key option, it is applied to all sort key options. Otherwise, the -b option can be attached independently to each -k field_start, field_end, or +pos1 or -pos2 option-argument (see below).
-t char
Use char as the field separator character. char is not considered to be part of a field (although it can be included in a sort key). Each occurrence of char is significant (for example, <char><char> delimits an empty field). If - t is not specified, blank characters are used as default field separators; each maximal non-empty sequence of blank characters that follows a nonblank character is a field separator.
Sort Key Options

Sort keys can be specified using the options:
-k keydef
The keydef argument is a restricted sort key field definition. The format of this definition is: -k field_start [ type ] [ ,field_end [ type ] ] where:
field_start and field_end
define a key field restricted to a portion of the line.
type
is a modifier from the list of characters bdfiMnr. The b modifier behaves like the -b option, but applies only to the field_start or field_end to which it is attached and characters within a field are counted from the first nonblank character in the field. (This applies separately to first_character and last_character.) The other modifiers behave like the corresponding options, but apply only to the key field to which they are attached. They have this effect if specified with field_start, field_end or both. If any modifier is attached to a field_start or to a field_end, no option applies to either.
When there are multiple key fields, later keys are compared only after all earlier keys compare equal. Except when the -u option is specified, lines that otherwise compare equal are ordered as if none of the options -d, -f, -i, -n or - k were present (but with -r still in effect, if it was specified) and with all bytes in the lines significant to the comparison.

The notation:

-k field_start[type][,field_end[type]]
defines a key field that begins at field_start and ends at field_end inclusive, unless field_start falls beyond the end of the line or after field_end, in which case the key field is empty. A missing field_end means the last character of the line.

A field comprises a maximal sequence of nonseparating characters and, in the absence of option -t, any preceding field separator.

The field_start portion of the keydef optionargument has the form:

field_number[.first_character]

Fields and characters within fields are numbered starting with 1. field_number and first_character, interpreted as positive decimal integers, specify the first character to be used as part of a sort key. If .first_character is omitted, it refers to the first character of the field.

The field_end portion of the keydef optionargument has the form:

field_number[.last_character]

The field_number is as described above for field_start. last_character, interpreted as a non-negative decimal integer, specifies the last character to be used as part of the sort key. If last_character evaluates to zero or .last_character is omitted, it refers to the last character of the field specified by field_number.

If the -b option or b type modifier is in effect, characters within a field are counted from the first non-blank character in the field. (This applies separately to first_character and last_character.)

[+pos1[-pos2]]
(obsolete). Provide functionality equivalent to the -k keydef option.

pos1 and pos2 each have the form m.n optionally followed by one or more of the flags bdfiMnr. A starting position specified by +m.n is interpreted to mean the n+1st character in the m+1st field. A missing .n means .0, indicating the first character of the m+1st field. If the b flag is in effect n is counted from the first non-blank in the m+1st field; +m.0b refers to the first nonblank character in the m+1st field.

A last position specified by -m.n is interpreted to mean the nth character (including separators) after the last character of the mth field. A missing .n means .0, indicating the last character of the mth field. If the b flag is in effect n is counted from the last leading blank in the m+1st field; -m.1b refers to the first non-blank in the m+1st field.

The fully specified +pos1 - pos2 form with type modifiers T and U:
+w.xT -y.zU

is equivalent to:

undefined
(z==0 & U contains b & -t is present)
-k w+1.x+1T,y.0U
(z==0 otherwise)
-k w+1.x+1T,y+1.zU
(z > 0)
Implementations support at least nine occurrences of the sort keys (the -k option and obsolescent +pos1 and -pos2) which are significant in command line order. If no sort key is specified, a default sort key of the entire line is used.

Exit status

The following exit values are returned:

Random Findings

anagram -- an interesting use of sort

% awk '{ print NF " " $0}' < out | sort -n | tail



Etc

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