In a directory I have a certain number of files. This could be 53 txt-files, but I could also have 123 files. The files have various random names, but all have the file-handle .txt

I can get a list of all files with ls, and put this into a variable.

list_of_txt_files=$(ls *.txt)

But I would like to partition the list in to multiple individual lists, each list with only 10 elements - i.e. a folder with 53 txt-files, should give me 6 lists. That is 5 lists with 10 filenames, and a 6th list with 3 file-names, and my example with 123 txt-files in a directory should give me 12 lists with 10 file-names, and a 13th list with only 3 file-names.

With my example with 53 txt-files: list no. 1 would hold the first file up until the tenth file , and list no. 2 would hold the eleventh file up to the twentieth file, and so on. I titled my question from the ith to jth element in a list, as I suppose other people might want to break down a list differently. Perhaps from the first file to the 100th file in a directory.

The ultimate goal is to be able to use these lists in a for do loop, and use the cat command, to write out the contents of ten files per list to one file per set of ten files - i.e. in my example with 53 files in a directory, this would give me 6 files. Where the first 5 files contains the content of the 50 original txt-files, and the 6th file contains the content of the last remaining 3 txt-files.

I have considered using the head or the tail command, but cannot quite work out how to specify ranges for these two commands.

2 Answers 2


On a shell with arrays, use them. Say with Bash:

$ touch {01..53}
$ files=(*)
$ echo "${files[@]:0:10}"       
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10

$ for ((i = 0 ; i < ${#files[@]} ; i += 10 )) ; do
     echo "${files[@]:i:10}" ; 
     # or
     # cat "${files[@]:i:10}" > set-$(( i / 10 ))
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40
41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50
51 52 53

The substring expansion (array slice) "${files[@]:i:10}" expands to a list of words, not a single string, so you can loop over it:

for f in "${files[@]:i:10}" ; do
    somecmd "$f"

Don't do files=$(ls *.txt), the ls is completely redundant there, it's the shell that evaluates the wildcard anyway. Usually you just save the wildcard pattern to a variable (pat=*.txt) and use it (unquoted) where needed, or if you want to expand it to the actual file names, use echo *.txt instead of ls. For handling lists of filenames, arrays are just better, if you're not constrained to a plain POSIX shell.

As for splitting a list with head and tail, you'd need to do something like | head -20 | tail -10 to get lines 11 to 20. Or use sed: | sed -n 11,20p.

  • Thanks for a very helpful answer. This solved my problem. And thanks for pointing out that ls is unneeded. I am still in an early learning phase using bash, but I am grateful for the help and expertise provided through this website.
    – sku2003
    Jun 3, 2017 at 19:05

With any Bourne-like shell (but the Bourne shell that couldn't access positional elements over$9), you can do:

set -- *.txt
while [ "$#" -gt 0 ]; do
  something with "$1" ${2+"$2"} ${3+"$3"}... ${10+"${10}"}
  [ "$#" -gt 10 ] || break
  shift 10

With GNU xargs and shells with support for process substitution:

xargs -n10 -r0a <(printf '%s\0' *.txt) something with

With zsh:

while (($#files)) {
  something with $files[1,10]


autoload -U zargs
xargs -l10 -- *.txt -- something with

Also note that you can use a range in zsh's globs:

something with *.txt([1,10])

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