Forcing sort ordering in Unix shell scripts
There are a number of situations in Unix shell scripts where you know
the order that the lines in your output should be in, but you can't
produce it in that order and nothing in your normal output is useful
to sort on. One common case is awk scripts that accumulate information
into arrays and then dump it out in their
END blocks with '
in array) ...'; array keys are, of course, produced in no particular
In this situation, some people go to bat against
sort with complex key
specifications and the like. I'm lazy, so my usual solution is simple:
I add an extra field at the start of the line that has a useful key
sort, sort the output, and then run the output through a second
awk script to remove the first field (and often to do the final neat
formatting of the output).
A variant of this trick can be used to re-order output lines that are easiest to produce together. A snippet from one of my shell script is perhaps the best illustration:
.... | (while read fs typ opts; do echo 0 unshare $fs echo 2 share -F $typ -o $opts $fs done; echo 1 sleep 60) | sort -n | sed 's/^ //' | ...
What this script wants to do is unshare a bunch of filesystems, wait
some time, and then reshare them all. However, it gets all of the
necessary information about each filesystem once, in a big chunk, so it
is most natural to generate both the unshare and the reshare command at
the same time. To insert a
sleep in the middle we add a hidden field
and just pick entirely artificial keys for all the lines such that sort
will put all of the
unshares first, the
sleep second, and then all
(Disclaimer: this is clearly at least related to Perl's Schwartzian transforms, although I think that they're not quite the same thing, and I probably picked up this shell idiom from somewhere.)
Comments on this page:Written on 11 October 2008.