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Linux Pipes: A Practical Guide

Understanding and utilizing Linux pipes effectively can drastically improve your command line prowess and productivity. Pipes, represented by the vertical bar symbol (|), allow you to send the output of one command directly to another for further processing. This powerful concept provides a means to chain commands together in a flexible and efficient manner.

What are Pipes in Linux?
In the context of Linux and Unix-like operating systems, a pipe is a method of inter-process communication (IPC). Pipes enable you to direct the standard output (stdout) of one command to the standard input (stdin) of another. This means that instead of writing the output to the console, it gets passed directly to another program.

Basic Piping
Here’s an example of basic piping:
ls | wc -l

In this example, the ls command lists all files in the current directory, and the wc -l command counts the number of lines in that output. This tells you how many files and directories exist in the current directory.

Piping with grep
Pipes are particularly useful when combined with the grep command, which is used for searching:

ls | grep "myfile.txt"

The ls command lists all the files, and grep “myfile.txt” filters that list for the file named “myfile.txt”. This is a simple way to search for a file in a directory.

Multiple Piping
You can use pipes to chain together more than two commands:

ps aux | grep firefox | awk '{print $2, $11}'

The ps aux command lists all the processes, grep firefox filters for the firefox process, and awk ‘{print $2, $11}’ prints the second and eleventh fields of the filtered output, which are the PID and the command of the process, respectively.

Piping with sort and uniq
The sort and uniq commands are often used together with pipes to sort output and remove duplicates:

ls | sort | uniq

This lists all files in a directory, sorts them alphabetically, and removes any duplicate entries.

Piping Output to a File
You can also use pipes to redirect output to a file:

ls | tee myfile.txt

The ls command lists all files, and tee myfile.txt writes that list to a file named “myfile.txt”. Unlike simple redirection, tee also displays the output on the screen.

Piping with cut and sort

If you have a CSV file and you want to sort the contents based on a particular column, you can use cut, sort, and pipe them together. Let’s say we have a CSV file where the first column is names, and we want to sort this file based on the names.

cut -d ',' -f 1 file.csv | sort

cut -d ‘,’ -f 1 file.csv cuts out the first field (column) from the file, using comma as the delimiter, and sort will sort the output.

Piping with find, xargs, and rm

Suppose you want to find and delete all .tmp files within a directory and its subdirectories. You can use find, xargs, and rm to accomplish this:

find . -name "*.tmp" | xargs rm

find . -name “*.tmp” finds all .tmp files in the current directory and its subdirectories, and xargs rm removes (deletes) these files.

Piping with ps, grep, and kill

If you want to kill a process by its name, you can use ps, grep, awk, and xargs with kill. For example, to kill all processes named “myprocess”:

ps aux | grep myprocess | awk '{print $2}' | xargs kill -9

ps aux lists all running processes, grep myprocess filters out processes named “myprocess”, awk ‘{print $2}’ prints out the PID (process ID) of these processes, and xargs kill -9 kills these processes.
Piping with ifconfig and grep: If you want to find your IP address, you can use ifconfig and grep:

ifconfig | grep "inet "

ifconfig outputs network interface information, and grep “inet ” filters out the lines containing IP addresses.


Mastering Linux pipes can save you time and make your command line experience much more efficient. They enable you to construct powerful command sequences and perform complex tasks with ease. So, practice these examples and experiment with your own combinations to unleash the full potential of Linux pipes.