Looping through the content of a file in Bash

Suppose you have this file:

$ cat /tmp/test.txt
Line 1
    Line 2 has leading space
Line 3 followed by blank line

Line 5 (follows a blank line) and has trailing space    
Line 6 has no ending CR

There are four elements that will alter the meaning of the file output read by many Bash solutions:

  1. The blank line 4;
  2. Leading or trailing spaces on two lines;
  3. Maintaining the meaning of individual lines (i.e., each line is a record);
  4. The line 6 not terminated with a CR.

If you want the text file line by line including blank lines and terminating lines without CR, you must use a while loop and you must have an alternate test for the final line.

Here are the methods that may change the file (in comparison to what cat returns):

1) Lose the last line and leading and trailing spaces:

$ while read -r p; do printf "%s\n" "'$p'"; done </tmp/test.txt
'Line 1'
'Line 2 has leading space'
'Line 3 followed by blank line'
''
'Line 5 (follows a blank line) and has trailing space'

(If you do while IFS= read -r p; do printf "%s\n" "'$p'"; done </tmp/test.txt instead, you preserve the leading and trailing spaces but still lose the last line if it is not terminated with CR)

2) Using process substitution with cat will reads the entire file in one gulp and loses the meaning of individual lines:

$ for p in "$(cat /tmp/test.txt)"; do printf "%s\n" "'$p'"; done
'Line 1
    Line 2 has leading space
Line 3 followed by blank line

Line 5 (follows a blank line) and has trailing space    
Line 6 has no ending CR'

(If you remove the " from $(cat /tmp/test.txt) you read the file word by word rather than one gulp. Also probably not what is intended…)


The most robust and simplest way to read a file line-by-line and preserve all spacing is:

$ while IFS= read -r line || [[ -n $line ]]; do printf "'%s'\n" "$line"; done </tmp/test.txt
'Line 1'
'    Line 2 has leading space'
'Line 3 followed by blank line'
''
'Line 5 (follows a blank line) and has trailing space    '
'Line 6 has no ending CR'

If you want to strip leading and trading spaces, remove the IFS= part:

$ while read -r line || [[ -n $line ]]; do printf "'%s'\n" "$line"; done </tmp/test.txt
'Line 1'
'Line 2 has leading space'
'Line 3 followed by blank line'
''
'Line 5 (follows a blank line) and has trailing space'
'Line 6 has no ending CR'

(A text file without a terminating \n, while fairly common, is considered broken under POSIX. If you can count on the trailing \n you do not need || [[ -n $line ]] in the while loop.)

More at the BASH FAQ

Bad Behavior has blocked 42 access attempts in the last 7 days.