Using bash interactively I am trying to use cut to prevent the lines from going longer than my terminal width. But when using a command with colorized output all the color gets removed by cut. For example: ls -lG | cut -c 1-$COLUMNS.

Is there anyway to get cut to preserve the color formatting?


You've got two problems here

  1. ls -G stops outputting in colour when the output doesn't go to a terminal (here to a pipe instead). GNU ls needs to be passed a --color=always option, and for BSD ls, you need to set the environment CLICOLOR_FORCE to a non-empty value to tell it to always output in color.
  2. Colors are achieved by outputting escape sequences that are a sequence of characters like <ESC>[31m for foreground red. That doesn't have any width when displayed, but as far as cut is concerned, that's 5 characters which will count up to $COLUMNS.

    So you can't use cut here as you need to ignore those escape sequences in the calculation. Instead, you could do something like:

    CLICOLOR_FORCE=1 ls -l | sed "s/\(\(\($esc\[[0-9;]*m\)\{0,1\}.\{0,1\}\)\{$COLUMNS\}\).*/\1${esc}[m/"

    There, sed does the counting and adds a \e[m to revert the color to default in case it has been cut in the process.

Alternatively, you could tell your terminal not to wrap and do the cutting itself with:

tput rmam

(tput smam to restore)

You could define a function like:

nowrap() {
  [ -t 1 ] && tput rmam
  "$@"; local ret="$?"
  [ -t 1 ] && tput smam
  return "$ret"
alias nowrap='nowrap '

(the alias part to force alias expansion after nowrap), to be called as:

nowrap ls -l ...
  • My version of bash (mac OS) does not allow --color to be used with ls. But I put the ls command in a function enclosed with tput rmam and tput smam and that worked great. – ken_o Jan 13 '14 at 23:05
  • @ken_o, sorry I had assumed you were using GNU ls. Gilles edited the answer with the BSD alternative. – Stéphane Chazelas Jan 14 '14 at 7:49

man ls:

          colorize  the  output;  WHEN  can be 'never', 'auto', or 'always' (the
          default); more info below

Your ls is probably configured for --color=auto, which means it only outputs color if it is directly connected to a terminal. (And not to another command like cut.)

You can use --color=always but be aware that the whole color stuff works by inserting special characters (escape sequences) which turn color on and off. If you cut in the middle of a colored word you will remove the "stop coloring" sequence and the next line will be colored, too.

Maybe ls --color=always|less -RS will do what you want.

  • 1
    That would be the right answer on Linux, but the BSD version of ls doesn't have an exact equivalent of --color=always. – Gilles Jan 13 '14 at 23:48

To fake output to a terminal and thus preserve the color formatting ls can be run in a pseudo-terminal using the (FreeBSD) script command (or tools such as ptymagic.c).

script -q /dev/null ls -lG | tr -d '\r' | cut -c 1-$COLUMNS

ptymagic ls -lG | cut -c 1-$COLUMNS

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