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I'd like to use Unix column to format some text. I have fields delimited by tabs, but within each field there are also spaces. column delimits on white space (tabs and spaces). How can I make column only use tabs as the delimiter?

I was trying to specify tab as the delimiter using:

cat myfile | column -t -s"\t"
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column -t -s '\t'

would separate columns on \ and t characters.

column -s \t is the same as column -s t, as the backslash is interpreted as a quoting operator by the shell.

Here you want to pass a real TAB character to column. With ksh93, zsh, bash, mksh or FreeBSD sh:

column -ts $'\t'

Or enter a real tab character by typing Ctrl-V Tab at the shell prompt (within quotes or preceded by a backslash as the tab character is a token separator in the shell syntax just like space), or use "$(printf '\t')" (those double quotes needed to disable the split+glob operator as the tab character also happens to be in the default value of $IFS).

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I had to do column -t -s $'\t' as bash seemed to think '\t' mean both \ and t, but $'\t' means a literal tab. Bash stinks – ThorSummoner Jun 21 at 22:11

The -t is for selecting the number of columns you want. Leaving this blank does not change anything. Also, you want white space after the -s so try this out:

cat myfile | column -s \t

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Thanks. This is close to what I am looking for. However, now all the lines are merged onto one line. How can I keep each line on its own line? – turtle Nov 30 '12 at 10:09
By default, column fills rows before columns. You may be interested in pr – lurker Nov 30 '12 at 10:35

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