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Having a file of the following contents:


I seek to get a file equal to the original but lacking a n-th column like, for n = 2 (or may it be 3)


or, for n = 0 (or may it be 1)


A real file can be gigabytes long having tens thousands columns.

As always in such cases, I suspect command line magicians can offer an elegant solution... :-)

In my actual real case I need to drop 2 first columns, which can be done by dropping a first column twice in a sequence, but I suppose it would be more interesting to generalise a bit.

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Are the fields guaranteed to not contain ,? (I.e., , is only ever used as a field separator.) –  Michael Kjörling Mar 21 '12 at 11:59
@MichaelKjörling, it would be nice to have a more flexible solution, but in my case - yes: the separator is , and it never occurs inside a field. –  Ivan Mar 21 '12 at 16:38
In that case, Scott's answer should be just the thing. –  Michael Kjörling Mar 21 '12 at 19:37
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2 Answers 2

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I believe this is specific to cut from the GNU coreutils:

$ cut --complement -f 3 -d, inputfile

Normally you specify the fields you want via -f, but by adding --complement you reverse the meaning, naturally. From 'man cut':

    complement the set of selected bytes, characters or fields

One caveat: if any of the columns contain a comma, it will throw cut off, because cut isn't a CSV parser in the same way that a spreadsheet is. Many parsers have different ideas about how to handle escaping commas in CSV. For the simple CSV case, on the command line, cut is still the way to go.

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That works fine as long as it's a simple CSV file. If any of the columns is a string with a comma in it, it'll throw cut off because it's not a CSV parser. If a CSV field has a field separator in its value, it's wrapped in quotes. Btw, on the subject of cut, -f takes field ranges. cut -f, -d3- will output the third field on, removing the first two. –  Alexios Mar 21 '12 at 11:37
You mean cut -d, -f3- –  Useless Mar 21 '12 at 11:54
@Alexios that's a good point. I never really deal with "real" CSV, only the simple subset. I will edit my answer to reflect that. –  Scott McClung Mar 21 '12 at 16:46
@Useless: Damn, yes. That's what I call my ‘cut dyslexia’ striking again. sigh. Scott: CSV files are tricky beasts. Far too many different sub-formats, some of which aren't even *C*SV, but are conventionally called that anyway. –  Alexios Mar 21 '12 at 20:41
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If the data is simply made of comma-separated columns:

cut -d , -f 1-2,4-

You can also use awk, but it's a bit awkward because while clearing a field is easy, removing the separator takes some work. If you have no empty field, it's not too bad:

awk -F , 'BEGIN {OFS=FS}  {$3=""; sub(",,", ","); print}'

If you have actual CSV, where commas can appear inside fields if properly quoted, you need a real CSV library.

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