How To Use cat Command In Linux / UNIX

How do I use cat command in Linux? How do I use cat command in UNIX? How can I use cat command in UNIX or Linux shell scripts?

The cat command is considered as one of the most frequently used commands on Linux or UNIX like operating systems. This page shows how to use cat command with basic examples and usage for Unix/Linux system.

It can be used for the following purposes:

  • Display text files on screen.
  • Copy text files.
  • Combine text files.
  • Create new text files.

cat command Syntax

The syntax is as follows:

cat filename
cat options filename
cat file1 file2
cat file1 file2 > newcombinedfile

Displaying The Contents of Files

To read or read the contents of files, enter:
$ cat /etc/passwd
The above command will display the contents of a file named /etc/passwd. By default cat will send output to the monitor screen. But, you can redirect from the screen to another command or file using redirection operator as follows:
$ cat /etc/passwd > /tmp/test.txt
In the above example, the output from cat command is written to /tmp/test.txt file instead of being displayed on the monitor screen. You can view /tmp/test.txt using cat command itself:
$ cat /tmp/test.txt

Concatenate files

Concatenation means putting multiple file contents together. The original file or files are not modified or deleted. In this example, cat will concatenate copies of the contents of the three files /etc/hosts, /etc/resolv.conf, and /etc/fstab:
$ cat /etc/hosts /etc/resolv.conf /etc/fstab
You can redirect the output as follows using shell standard output redirection:
$ cat /etc/hosts /etc/resolv.conf /etc/fstab > /tmp/outputs.txt
$ cat /tmp/outputs.txt

You can also use a pipe to filter data. In this example send output of cat to the less command using a shell pipe as the file is too large for all of the text to fit on the screen at a time:
$ cat /etc/passwd | less

How Do I Create a File?

To create a file called foo.txt, enter:
$ cat > foo.txt
Sample outputs:

This is a test.

To save and exit press the CONTROL and d keys (CTRL+D). Please note that if a file named foo.txt already exists, it will be overwritten. You can append the output to the same file using >> operator:
$ cat >> bar.txt
The existing bar.txt file is preserved, and any new text is added to the end of the existing file called bar.txt. To save and exit press the CONTROL and d keys (CTRL+D).

How Do I Copy File?

The cat command can also be used to create a new file and transfer to it the data from an existing file. To make copy of
$ cat oldfile.txt > newfile.txt
To output file1’s contents, then standard input, then file2’s contents, enter:
$ cat file1 - file2
A hyphen indicates that input is taken from the keyboard. In this example, to create a new file file2 that consists of text typed in from the keyboard followed by the contents of file1, enter:
$ cat - file1 > file2

cat command options

To number non-blank output lines, enter (only works with GNU cat command version):
$ cat -b /etc/passwd
Sample outputs:

     1	root:x:0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash
     2	daemon:x:1:1:daemon:/usr/sbin:/bin/sh
     3	bin:x:2:2:bin:/bin:/bin/sh
     4	sys:x:3:3:sys:/dev:/bin/sh
     5	sync:x:4:65534:sync:/bin:/bin/sync
     6	games:x:5:60:games:/usr/games:/bin/sh
     7	man:x:6:12:man:/var/cache/man:/bin/sh
     8	lp:x:7:7:lp:/var/spool/lpd:/bin/sh
     9	mail:x:8:8:mail:/var/mail:/bin/sh
    10	news:x:9:9:news:/var/spool/news:/bin/sh

To number all output lines, enter (GNU cat version only):
$ cat -n /etc/passwd
To squeeze multiple adjacent blank lines, enter (GNU cat version only):
$ cat -s /etc/passwd
To display all nonprinting characters as if they were visible, except for tabs and the end of line character, enter (GNU cat version only):
$ cat -v filename

cat Command Abuse

The main purpose of cat is to catenate files. If it’s only one file, concatenating it with nothing at all is a waste of time, and costs you a process. For example,
$ cat /proc/cpuinfo | grep model
Can be used as follows:
$ grep model /proc/cpuinfo
Another example,
cat filename | sed -e 'commands' -e 'commands2'
Can be used as follows which is cheaper:
sed sed -e 'commands' -e 'commands2' filename
See useless use of cat command for more information.

Posted by: SXI ADMIN

The author is the creator of SXI LLC and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.