sort, merge, or sequence check text files


Sort a file in ascending order

$ sort [path/to/file]

Sort a file in descending order

$ sort -r [path/to/file]

Sort a file in case-insensitive way

$ sort --ignore-case [path/to/file]

Sort a file using numeric rather than alphabetic order

$ sort -n [path/to/file]

Sort the passwd file by the 3rd field, numerically

$ sort -t: -k 3n /etc/passwd

Sort a file preserving only unique lines

$ sort -u [path/to/file]

Sort human-readable numbers (in this case the 5th field of ls -lh)

$ ls -lh | sort -h -k 5

Sort numbers with exponents

$ sort --general-numeric-sort [path/to/file]


sort [ ][ output ][ ][ char ][ keydef ] ... [ file ... ]

sort [ ][ ][ char ][ keydef ][ file ]


This manual page is part of the POSIX Programmer's Manual. The Linux implementation of this interface may differ (consult the corresponding Linux manual page for details of Linux behavior), or the interface may not be implemented on Linux.


The sort utility shall perform one of the following functions:

" 1." 4 Sort lines of all the named files together and write the result to the specified output.

" 2." 4 Merge lines of all the named (presorted) files together and write the result to the specified output.

" 3." 4 Check that a single input file is correctly presorted.

Comparisons shall be based on one or more sort keys extracted from each line of input (or, if no sort keys are specified, the entire line up to, but not including, the terminating <newline>), and shall be performed using the collating sequence of the current locale.


If the option is in effect, the sorted input shall be written to the file output.


The notation:

field_start [ type ][ , field_end [ type ]]

shall define 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 shall mean the last character of the line.

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

The field_start portion of the keydef option-argument shall have the form:

field_number [ . first_character ]

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

The field_end portion of the keydef option-argument shall have the form:

field_number [ . last_character ]

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

If the option or b type modifier is in effect, characters within a field shall be counted from the first non- <blank> in the field. (This shall apply separately to first_character and last_character.)


The following exit values shall be returned:

" 0" 6 All input files were output successfully, or was specified and the input file was correctly sorted.

" 1" 6 Under the option, the file was not ordered as specified, or if the and options were both specified, two input lines were found with equal keys.

>1 6 An error occurred.





The default value for , <blank>, has different properties from, for example, "<space>". If a line contains:


the following treatment would occur with default separation as opposed to specifically selecting a <space>: center box tab(@); cB | cB | cB n | l | l. Field@Default@ <space> _ 1@<space><space>foo@ empty 2@ empty @ empty 3@ empty @foo

The leading field separator itself is included in a field when is not used. For example, this command returns an exit status of zero, meaning the input was already sorted:

sort 2 <<eof y<tab>b x<space>a eof

(assuming that a <tab> precedes the <space> in the current collating sequence). The field separator is not included in a field when it is explicitly set via . This is historical practice and allows usage such as:

sort |2n <<eof Atlanta|425022|Georgia Birmingham|284413|Alabama Columbia|100385|South Carolina eof

where the second field can be correctly sorted numerically without regard to the non-numeric field separator.

The wording in the OPTIONS section clarifies that the , , , , , and options have to come before the first sort key specified if they are intended to apply to all specified keys. The way it is described in this volume of POSIX.1 matches historical practice, not historical documentation. The results are unspecified if these options are specified after a option.

The option might not work as expected in locales where there is not a one-to-one mapping between an uppercase and a lowercase letter.


" 1." 4 The following command sorts the contents of infile with the second field as the sort key:

sort 2,2 infile

" 2." 4 The following command 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):

sort outfile 2.2,2.2 infile1 infile2

" 3." 4 The following command sorts the contents of infile1 and infile2 using the second non- <blank> of the second field as the sort key:

sort 2.2b,2.2b infile1 infile2

" 4." 4 The following command prints the System V password file (user database) sorted by the numeric user ID (the third <colon>-separated field):

sort : 3,3n /etc/passwd

" 5." 4 The following command prints the lines of the already sorted file infile, suppressing all but one occurrence of lines having the same third field:

sort 3.1,3.0 infile


The sort utility shall conform to the Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1 Section 12.2,Utility Syntax Guidelines, except for Guideline 9, and the keydef option should follow the , , , , , and options. In addition, ' may be recognized as an option delimiter as well as '.

The following options shall be supported:

" "10 Check that the single input file is ordered as specified by the arguments and the collating sequence of the current locale. Output shall not be sent to standard output. The exit code shall indicate whether or not disorder was detected or an error occurred. If disorder (or, with , a duplicate key) is detected, a warning message shall be sent to standard error indicating where the disorder or duplicate key was found.

" "10 Same as , except that a warning message shall not be sent to standard error if disorder or, with , a duplicate key is detected.

" "10 Merge only; the input file shall be assumed to be already sorted.

" output "10 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.

" "10 Unique: suppress all but one in each set of lines having equal keys. If used with the option, check that there are no lines with duplicate keys, in addition to checking that the input file is sorted.

The following options shall override the default ordering rules. When ordering options appear independent of any key field specifications, the requested field ordering rules shall be applied globally to all sort keys. When attached to a specific key (see ), the specified ordering options shall override all global ordering options for that key.

" "10 Specify that only <blank> characters and alphanumeric characters, according to the current setting of LC_CTYPE, shall be significant in comparisons. The behavior is undefined for a sort key to which or also applies.

" "10 Consider all lowercase characters that have uppercase equivalents, according to the current setting of LC_CTYPE, to be the uppercase equivalent for the purposes of comparison.

" "10 Ignore all characters that are non-printable, according to the current setting of LC_CTYPE. The behavior is undefined for a sort key for which also applies.

" "10 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 shall be sorted by arithmetic value. An empty digit string shall be treated as zero. Leading zeros and signs on zeros shall not affect ordering.

" "10 Reverse the sense of comparisons.

The treatment of field separators can be altered using the options:

" "10 Ignore leading <blank> characters when determining the starting and ending positions of a restricted sort key. If the option is specified before the first option, it shall be applied to all options. Otherwise, the option can be attached independently to each field_start or field_end option-argument (see below).

" char "10 Use char as the field separator character; char shall not be considered to be part of a field (although it can be included in a sort key). Each occurrence of char shall be significant (for example, < char >< char >delimits an empty field). If is not specified, <blank> characters shall be used as default field separators; each maximal non-empty sequence of <blank> characters that follows a non- <blank> shall be a field separator.

Sort keys can be specified using the options:

" keydef "10 The keydef argument is a restricted sort key field definition. The format of this definition is:

field_start [ type ][ , field_end [ type ]]

where field_start and field_end define a key field restricted to a portion of the line (see the EXTENDED DESCRIPTION section), and type is a modifier from the list of characters 'b', 'd', 'f', 'i', 'n', 'r'. The 'b' modifier shall behave like the option, but shall apply only to the field_start or field_end to which it is attached. The other modifiers shall behave like the corresponding options, but shall apply only to the key field to which they are attached; they shall 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 shall apply to either. Implementations shall support at least nine occurrences of the option, which shall be significant in command line order. If no option is specified, a default sort key of the entire line shall be used.

When there are multiple key fields, later keys shall be compared only after all earlier keys compare equal. Except when the option is specified, lines that otherwise compare equal shall be ordered as if none of the options , , , , or were present (but with still in effect, if it was specified) and with all bytes in the lines significant to the comparison. The order in which lines that still compare equal are written is unspecified.


The following operand shall be supported:

" file "10 A pathname of a file to be sorted, merged, or checked. If no file operands are specified, or if a file operand is ', the standard input shall be used.


The standard input shall be used only if no file operands are specified, or if a file operand is '. See the INPUT FILES section.


The input files shall be text files, except that the sort utility shall add a <newline> to the end of a file ending with an incomplete last line.


The following environment variables shall affect the execution of sort:

" LANG "10 Provide a default value for the internationalization variables that are unset or null. (See the Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1 Section 8.2,Internationalization Variables for the precedence of internationalization variables used to determine the values of locale categories.)

" LC_ALL "10 If set to a non-empty string value, override the values of all the other internationalization variables.

Determine the locale for ordering rules.

" LC_CTYPE "10 Determine the locale for the interpretation of sequences of bytes of text data as characters (for example, single-byte as opposed to multi-byte characters in arguments and input files) and the behavior of character classification for the , , , , and options.

Determine the locale that should be used to affect the format and contents of diagnostic messages written to standard error.

Determine the locale for the definition of the radix character and thousands separator for the option.

" NLSPATH "10 Determine the location of message catalogs for the processing of LC_MESSAGES.




Unless the or options are in effect, the standard output shall contain the sorted input.


The standard error shall be used for diagnostic messages. When is specified, if disorder is detected (or if is also specified and a duplicate key is detected), a message shall be written to the standard error which identifies the input line at which disorder (or a duplicate key) was detected. A warning message about correcting an incomplete last line of an input file may be generated, but need not affect the final exit status.


Examples in some historical documentation state that options with one input file keep the first in each set of lines with equal keys. This behavior was deemed to be an implementation artifact and was not standardized.

The option was omitted; it is not standard practice on most systems and is inconsistent with using sort to sort several files individually and then merge them together. The text concerning in historical documentation appeared to require implementations to determine the proper buffer length during the sort phase of operation, but not during the merge.

The option was omitted because of non-portability. The option, present in System V, was omitted because of non-portability in international usage.

An undocumented option exists in some implementations. It is used to specify a directory for intermediate files. Implementations are encouraged to support the use of the TMPDIR environment variable instead of adding an option to support this functionality.

The option was added to satisfy two objections. First, the zero-based counting used by sort is not consistent with other utility conventions. Second, it did not meet syntax guideline requirements.

Historical documentation indicates that ``setting implies ''. The description of already states that optional leading <blank>s are tolerated in doing the comparison. If is enabled, rather than implied, by , this has unusual side-effects. When a character offset is used in a column of numbers (for example, to sort modulo 100), that offset is measured relative to the most significant digit, not to the column. Based upon a recommendation from the author of the original sort utility, the implication has been omitted from this volume of POSIX.1 and an application wishing to achieve the previously mentioned side-effects has to code the flag explicitly.

Earlier versions of this standard allowed the option to appear after operands. Historical practice allowed all options to be interspersed with operands. This version of the standard allows implementations to accept options after operands but conforming applications should not use this form.

Earlier versions of this standard also allowed the number and number options. These options are no longer specified by POSIX.1 but may be present in some implementations.

Historical implementations produced a message on standard error when was specified and disorder was detected, and when and were specified and a duplicate key was detected. An earlier version of this standard contained wording that did not make it clear that this message was allowed and some implementations removed this message to be sure that they conformed to the standard's requirements. Confronted with this difference in behavior, interactive users that wanted to be sure that they got visual feedback instead of just exit code 1 could have used a command like:

sort file || echo disorder

whether or not the sort utility provided a message in this case. But, it was not easy for a user to find where the disorder or duplicate key occurred on implementations that do not produce a message, especially when some parts of the input line were not part of the key and when one or more of the , , , , , or r options or keydef type modifiers were in use. POSIX.1 requires a message to be produced in this case. POSIX.1 also contains the option giving users the ability to choose either behavior.

When a disorder or duplicate is found when the option is specified, some implementations print a message containing the first line that is out of order or contains a duplicate key; others print a message specifying the line number of the offending line. This standard allows either type of message.




Portions of this text are reprinted and reproduced in electronic form from IEEE Std 1003.1, 2013 Edition, Standard for Information Technology -- Portable Operating System Interface (POSIX), The Open Group Base Specifications Issue 7, Copyright (C) 2013 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc and The Open Group. (This is POSIX.1-2008 with the 2013 Technical Corrigendum 1 applied.) In the event of any discrepancy between this version and the original IEEE and The Open Group Standard, the original IEEE and The Open Group Standard is the referee document. The original Standard can be obtained online at .
Any typographical or formatting errors that appear in this page are most likely to have been introduced during the conversion of the source files to man page format. To report such errors, see .


comm, join, uniq The Base Definitions volume of POSIX.1 Chapter 8,Environment Variables, Section 12.2,Utility Syntax Guidelines The System Interfaces volume of POSIX.1 toupper ( )

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