Sometimes there are a few really annoying lines in otherwise tabular data like

column name | other column name

I generally prefer removing garbage lines that shouldn't be there by grep -v ing a reasonably unique string, but the problem with that approach is that if the reasonably unique string appears in the data by accident that's a serious problem.

Is there a way to limit the number of lines that grep -v can remove (say to 1)? For bonus points, is there a way to count the number of lines from the end without resorting to <some command> | tac | grep -v <some stuff> | tac ?

  • 1
    how about awk 'NR>2' ? – DarkHeart Jan 6 '17 at 4:11
  • looking for something cat a.txt | sed -e '1,2d' | tac | sed -e '1,1d' | tac where 1,2d removes 1st two lines which is column name and hyphen row and 1,1d removes the result count row. And check it out in unix.stackexchange.com/questions/37790/… – Spike Jan 6 '17 at 4:13
  • grep unfortunately can not do it. The closest option would be to limit the number of lines shown before you ignore them: grep -v -m 10 would show the first 10 matches and ignore the rest. – Julie Pelletier Jan 6 '17 at 4:22
  • You can do both of these using the POSIX-specified predecessor to vi known as ex. If you include example input output I'll elucidate further. – Wildcard Jan 11 '17 at 22:28

sed provides a simpler way:

... |  sed '/some stuff/ {N; s/^.*\n//; :p; N; $q; bp}' | ...

This way you delete first occurrence.

If you want more:

sed '1 {h; s/.*/iiii/; x}; /some stuff/ {x; s/^i//; x; td; b; :d; d}'

, where count of i is count of occurrences (one or more, not zero).

Multi-line Explanation

sed '1 {
    # Save first line in hold buffer, put `i`s to main buffer, swap buffers

# For regexp what we finding
/some stuff/ {
    # Remove one `i` from hold buffer
    # If successful, there was `i`. Jump to `:d`, delete line
    # If not, process next line (print others).

In addition

Probably, this variant will work faster, 'cos it reads all rest lines and print them in one time

sed '1 {h; s/.*/ii/; x}; /a/ {x; s/i//; x; td; :print_all; N; $q; bprint_all; :d; d}'

As result

You can put this code into your .bashrc (or config of your shell, if it is other):

dtrash() {
    if [ $# -eq 0 ]
    elif [ $# -eq 1 ]
        sed "/$1/ {N; s/^.*\n//; :p; N; \$q; bp}"
        for i in $(seq $1)
        sed "1 {h; s/.*/$count/; x}; /$2/ {x; s/i//; x; td; :print_all; N; \$q; bprint_all; :d; d}"


And use it this way:

# Remove first occurrence
cat file | dtrash 'stuff' 
# Remove four occurrences
cat file | dtrash 4 'stuff'
# Don't modify
cat file | dtrash
  • This is GNU-Sed specific. To use Sed labels and branching portably in a one-liner, use e.g. sed -e '/some stuff/ {N; s/^.*\n//; :p' -e 'N; $q; bp' -e '}' In other words you cannot portably include anything after a label name within the same argument. (You can also embed a newline, or put the Sed script in a file and use sed -f, but this is the clean portable one-liner branching approach.) – Wildcard Jan 11 '17 at 22:06

You could use awk to ignore the first n lines that match (e.g. assuming you wanted to remove only the 1st and 2nd match from the file):

awk -v c=$n '/PATTERN/ && i++ < c {next};1' infile

To ignore the last n lines that match:

awk -v c=${lasttoprint} '!(/PATTERN/ && NR > c)' infile

where ${lasttoprint} is the line number of the nth+1 to last match in your file. There are various ways to get that line no. (e.g. print only the line number for each match via tools like sed/awk, then tail | head to extract it)... here's one way with gnu awk:

lasttoprint=$(gawk -v c=$((n+1)) '/PATTERN/{x[NR]};
END{asorti(x,z,"@ind_num_desc");{print z[c]}}' infile)

Perhaps reduce the chances of filtering out your data by using a more accurate grep command. For example:

grep -v -F -x 'str1'

For lines that are exatctly str1. Or maybe:

grep -v '^str1.*str2$'

For lines that start with 'str1' and end with 'str2'.

  • 1
    -F means "fixed string", ie. don't interpret this as a regexp. For matching the line exactly, you also need -x. – JigglyNaga Jan 6 '17 at 15:41
  • Quite right. Thanks! I edited the answer to add this. – ifb Jan 6 '17 at 15:42

To do this you might have to use awk.

The simple way I know is this:

cat file | awk '{ $1=""; print}'

You can skip multiple columns too:

cat file | awk '{ $1=$2=$3=""; print}'

If you want to skip the last column and you're not sure how much columns you will have:

cat file | awk '{ $NF=""; print}'

Tested on Ubuntu 16.04 (GNU bash, version 4.3.48)


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