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I have this list of pdf files in a directory:

c0.pdf   c12.pdf  c15.pdf  c18.pdf  c20.pdf  c4.pdf  c7.pdf
c10.pdf  c13.pdf  c16.pdf  c19.pdf  c2.pdf   c5.pdf  c8.pdf
c11.pdf  c14.pdf  c17.pdf  c1.pdf   c3.pdf   c6.pdf  c9.pdf

I want to concatenate these using ghostscript in numerical order (similar to this):

gs -q -sPAPERSIZE=a4 -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=out.pdf *.pdf

But the shell expansion order does not reproduce the natural order of the numbers but the alphabetical order:

$ for f in *.pdf; do echo $f; done

How can I achieve the desired order in the expansion (if possible without manually adding 0-padding to the numbers in the file names)?

I've found suggestions to use ls | sort -V, but I couldn't get it to work for my specific use case.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

ls | sort -V works here, as in:

gs -q -sPAPERSIZE=a4 -dNOPAUSE -dBATCH -sDEVICE=pdfwrite \
   -sOutputFile=out.pdf $(ls | sort -V)
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Once more, zsh's glob qualifiers come to the rescue.

echo *.pdf(n)
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If there are no gaps, the following could prove helpful (albeit sketchy and not robust concerning edge-cases and generality) -- just to get an idea:

for i in $(seq 1 20); do FILES="${FILES} c${i}.pdf"; done
gs [...args...] $FILES

If there may be gaps, some [ -f c${i}.pdf ] check could be added.

Edit also see this answer, according to which you could (using Bash) use

gs [..args..] c{1..20}.pdf
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If all the files in question have the same prefix (i.e., the text before the number; c in this case), you can use

gs  …args…  c?.pdf c??.pdf

c?.pdf expands to c0.pdf c1.pdfc9.pdfc??.pdf expands to c10.pdf c11.pdfc20.pdf (and up to c99.pdf, as applicable).  While each command-line word containing pathname expansion character(s) is expanded to a list of filenames sorted (collated) in accordance with the LC_COLLATE variable, the lists resulting from the expansion of adjacent wildcards (globs) are not merged; they are simply concatenated.  (I seem to recall that the shell man page once stated this explicitly, but I can’t find it now.)

Of course if the files can go up to c999.pdf, you should use c?.pdf c??.pdf c???.pdf.  Admittedly, this can get tedious if you have a lot of digits.  You can abbreviate it a little; for example, for (up to) five digits, you can use c?{,?{,?{,?{,?}}}}.pdf.  If your list of filenames is sparse (e.g., there’s a c0.pdf and a c12345.pdf, but not necessarily every number in between), you should probably set the nullglob option.  Otherwise, if (for example) you have no files with two-digit numbers, you would get a literal c??.pdf argument passed to your program.

If you have multiple prefixes (e.g., a<number>.pdf, b<number>.pdf , and c<number>.pdf , with numbers of one or two digits), you can use the obvious, brute force approach:

a?.pdf a??.pdf b?.pdf b??.pdf c?.pdf c??.pdf

or collapse it to {a,b,c}?{,?}.pdf.

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