I'm looking to write a script that takes a .txt filename as an argument, reads the file line by line, and passes each line to a command. For example, it runs command --option "LINE 1", then command --option "LINE 2", etc. The output of the command is written to another file. How do I go about doing that? I don't know where to start.


6 Answers 6


Another option is xargs.

With GNU xargs:

xargs -a file -I{} -d'\n' command --option {} other args

{} is the place holder for the line of text.

Other xargs generally don't have -a, -d, but some have -0 for NUL-delimited input. With those, you can do:

< file tr '\n' '\0' | xargs -0 -I{} command --option {} other args

On Unix-conformant systems (-I is optional in POSIX and only required for UNIX-conformant systems), you'd need to preprocess the input to quote the lines in the format expected by xargs:

< file sed 's/"/"\\""/g;s/.*/"&"/' |
  xargs -E '' -I{} command --option {} other args

However note that some xargs implementations have a very low limit on the maximum size of the argument (255 on Solaris for instance, the minimum allowed by the Unix specification).

  • 1
    reducible to <file xargs -L 1 -I{} command --option {} other args
    – iruvar
    Aug 12, 2014 at 12:13
  • 1
    @iruvar, no, that would process quotes and remove some blanks. Jul 18, 2016 at 14:40

Use while read loop:

: > another_file  ## Truncate file.

while IFS= read -r line; do
    command --option "$line" >> another_file
done < file

Another is to redirect output by block:

while IFS= read -r line; do
    command --option "$line"
done < file > another_file

Last is to open the file:

exec 4> another_file

while IFS= read -r line; do
    command --option "$line" >&4
    echo xyz  ## Another optional command that sends output to stdout.
done < file

If one of the commands reads input, it would be a good idea to use another fd for input so the commands won't eat it (here assuming ksh, zsh or bash for -u 3, use <&3 instead portably):

while IFS= read -ru 3 line; do
done 3< file

Finally to accept arguments, you can do:



exec 4> "$another_file"

while IFS= read -ru 3 line; do
    command --option "$line" >&4
done 3< "$file"

Which one could run as:

bash script.sh file another_file

Extra idea. With bash, use readarray:

readarray -t lines < "$file"

for line in "${lines[@]}"; do

Note: IFS= can be omitted if you don't mind having line values trimmed of leading and trailing spaces.


Keeping precisely to the question:


# xargs -n param sets how many lines from the input to send to the command

# Call command once per line
[[ -f $1 ]] && cat $1 | xargs -n1 command --option

# Call command with 2 lines as args, such as an openvpn password file
# [[ -f $1 ]] && cat $1 | xargs -n2 command --option

# Call command with all lines as args
# [[ -f $1 ]] && cat $1 | xargs command --option

The best answer I found is:

for i in `cat`; do "$cmd" "$i"; done < $file


... four years later ...

after several down votes and some more experience I'd recommend the following now:

xargs -l COMMAND < file
  • 4
    This will invoke the command once for each word in the file.  Also, you should always quote references to shell variables (as in do "$cmd" "$i";) unless you have a reason not to; if the file contained a * as a word by itself, your code would run $cmd *, which, of course, would run the command with a list of the files in the current directory. Jun 7, 2015 at 5:13
  • 1
    @G-Man, except in zsh, the `cat` would already expand the * (the unquoted $i could still expand some wildcard (a second round) if the expansion of `cat` introduces some). In any case, that approach is wrong indeed. Jul 18, 2016 at 15:23
  • 2
    +1. This will work fine, if each line contains only the input needed for the command being used without spaces.
    – C--
    Mar 12, 2017 at 6:02
  • 1
    This acts on each word, is there a variant of this that acts on each line? Jan 3, 2018 at 9:33
  • 2
    This is working! (the later edit xargs -l COMMAND < file). Thanks!
    – Alan
    Feb 11, 2020 at 1:53
    sed "s/'/'\\\\''/g;s/.*/\$* '&'/" <<\FILE |\
    sh -s -- command echo --option
all of the{&}se li$n\es 'are safely shell
quoted and handed to command as its last argument
following --option, and, here, before that echo


--option all of the{&}se li$n\es 'are safely shell
--option quoted and handed to command as its last argument
--option following --option, and, here, before that echo
ed file.txt
%g/^/s// /
chmod 755 file.txt

Take all the lines of a file and pass them as arguments to a single command i.e.,

command line1 line2 line3 ....

If you need the --option flag to precede each line change the second command to:

%g/^/s// --option /
  • 1
    What -1 for using ed...really? Nov 24, 2014 at 4:58
  • 3
    I didn't downvote you, but the person who did probably had these reasons: (1) This doesn’t do what the question asks for.  This invokes the command once with all the contents of the file on the command line; rather than once per line.  (2) This does nothing to handle characters that are special to the shell (that might be in the file); e.g., ', ", <, >, ;, etc.  (3) This creates an unnecessary temporary file.  (4) Things like this are generally done with “here documents”.  (5) Your ed commands are clumsy; the first two commands can be reduced to %s/^/ / and %j. Jun 7, 2015 at 5:40

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