22.6. Miscellaneous sort Hints
Here is a grab bag of useful, if not exactly interesting, sort features. The utility will actually do quite a bit, if you let it.
22.6.1. Dealing with Repeated Lines
sort -u sorts the file and eliminates duplicate lines. It's more powerful than uniq (Section 21.20) because:
In return, there are a few things that uniq does that sort won't do -- such as print only those lines that aren't repeated, or count the number of times each line is repeated. But on the whole, I find sort -u more useful.
Here's one idea for using sort -u. When I was writing a manual, I often needed to make tables of error messages. The easiest way to do this was to grep the source code for printf statements, write some Emacs (Section 19.1) macros to eliminate junk that I didn't care about, use sort -u to put the messages in order and get rid of duplicates, and write some more Emacs macros to format the error messages into a table. All I had to do then was write the descriptions.
22.6.2. Ignoring Blanks
One important option (that I've mentioned a number of times) is -b; this tells sort to ignore extra whitespace at the beginning of each field. This is absolutely essential; otherwise, your sorts will have rather strange results. In my opinion, -b should be the default. But they didn't ask me.
Another thing to remember about -b: it works only if you explicitly specify which fields you want to sort. By itself, sort -b is the same as sort: whitespace characters are counted. I call this a bug, don't you?
22.6.3. Case-Insensitive Sorts
If you don't care about the difference between uppercase and lowercase letters, invoke sort with the -f (case-fold) option. This folds lowercase letters into uppercase. In other words, it treats all letters as uppercase.
22.6.4. Dictionary Order
22.6.5. Month Order
The -M option tells sort to treat the first three nonblank characters of a field as a three-letter month abbreviation and to sort accordingly. That is, JAN comes before FEB, which comes before MAR. This option isn't available on all versions of Unix.
22.6.6. Reverse Sort
The -r option tells sort to "reverse" the order of the sort; i.e., Z comes before A, 9 comes before 1, and so on. You'll find that this option is really useful. For example, imagine you have a program running in the background that records the number of free blocks in the filesystem at midnight each night. Your log file might look like this:
Jan 1 2001: 108 free blocks Jan 2 2001: 308 free blocks Jan 3 2001: 1232 free blocks Jan 4 2001: 76 free blocks ...
The script below finds the smallest and largest number of free blocks in your log file:
head Section 12.12
#!/bin/sh echo "Minimum free blocks" sort -t: +1nb logfile | head -1 echo "Maximum free blocks" sort -t: +1nbr logfile | head -1
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