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Quick Tip

Sort by Column in Bash

Learn various examples of sorting data by columns in bash scripts and Linux command line.

Sagar Sharma

Once in a while, we all encounter a situation where we have a huge text file and want to sort the data accordingly.

Especially in times when you are given data in tabular form.

Sure, if you have access to GUI, there are multiple tools that do sorting effortlessly for you but what about sorting data by columns in bash directly?

And in this guide, I will walk you through how you can sort data by column in bash.

How to sort by column in bash

Throughout this guide, I will be using the sort command to sort data by column.

To sort columns, you will have to use a -k flag followed by the number of a column you want to sort.

So the syntax to sort columns using the sort command will look like this:

sort -k [Column_number] Filename

But before going to the sorting examples, let me share how the sort command will sort the data by default:

  • Sorts data in alphabetical order
  • Numbers will always come before the alphabet
  • Lowercase letters are prioritized before the capital ones

In conclusion, It looks like this: Numbers>Lowercase>Uppercase.

And for the sake of this tutorial, I will be using a file named Students.txt which contains the basic data of 7 students as follows:

Name	Enrollment_No	City
Sagar	181240116054	Nadiad
Milan	181240116019	Aurangabad
Anurag	181240116018	Ahmedabad
Priya	181240116001	Ananad
Abhiman	181240116050	Varanasi
Aayush	181240115019	Karnataka
Ankush	181240116056	Bhubaneswar

Let's say I want to sort the 2nd column in the Student.txt file so I will be using the following:

sort -k 2 Students.txt
sort column in bash

And as you can see, the 2nd column is sorted in ascending order (the default behavior).

But what if you want to change how the data is sorted?

Sort columns by numbers in bash

You might be wondering if the numbers are sorted by default then why would I'm even writing this?

Well, the problem is the sort command by default will sort numbers from the leading characters only.

Let me share an example here. Here, I created a sample file with random numbers in one column and used the sort command without any additional options:

sort command will only sort numbers based on the first character

And as you can see, the result is messed up!

To solve this issue, you will need to use the -n flag with the existing command:

sort -n -k [Column_number] Filename
sort numbered colums in bash

Sort by columns in reverse in bash

You may encounter times when you want to sort columns in descending order.

For that purpose, you will have to utilize the -r flag:

sort -r -k [Column_number] Filename

Here, I sorted the 3rd column in reverse:

sort -r -k 3 Students.txt
sort by column in reverse in bash

And here you have it!

Sort command can do a lot more...

Sort command when used with multiple flags can do wonders for you, especially when you have multiple files to deal with.

For this purpose, we have a dedicated guide on you can use the sort command with multiple examples:

Sort Command in Linux [10 Useful Examples]
Sort command in Linux is used for sorting the contents of the text files. This tutorial shows you some basic examples of the sort command.

I hope this guide has solved the queries you had before.

And if you still have doubts, feel free to ask in the comments.