Is it possible to find any lines in a file that exceed 79 characters?

2 Answers 2


In order of decreasing speed (on a GNU system in a UTF-8 locale and on ASCII input) according to my tests:

grep '.\{80\}' file

perl -nle 'print if length$_>79' file

awk 'length>79' file

sed -n '/.\{80\}/p' file

Except for the perl¹ one (or for awk/grep/sed implementations (like mawk or busybox) that don't support multi-byte characters), that counts the length in terms of number of characters (according to the LC_CTYPE setting of the locale) instead of bytes.

If there are bytes in the input that don't form part of valid characters (which happens sometimes when the locale's character set is UTF-8 and the input is in a different encoding), then depending on the solution and tool implementation, those bytes will either count as 1 character, or 0 or not match ..

For instance, a line that consists of 30 as a 0x80 byte, 30 bs, a 0x81 byte and 30 UTF-8 és (encoded as 0xc3 0xa9), in a UTF-8 locale would not match .\{80\} with GNU grep/sed (as that standalone 0x80 byte doesn't match .), would have a length of 30+1+30+1+2*30=122 with perl or mawk, 3*30=90 with gawk.

If you want to count in terms of bytes, fix the locale to C with LC_ALL=C grep/awk/sed....

That would have all 4 solutions consider that line above contains 122 characters. Except in perl and GNU tools, you'd still have potential issues for lines that contain NUL characters (0x0 byte).

¹ the perl behaviour can be affected by the PERL_UNICODE environment variable though

  • What do you mean by "efficient"?
    – rowantran
    Jul 12, 2012 at 18:30
  • I think manatwork means typing efficiency. awk can come closer if you drop ($0), which is implicit anyway ;).
    – Thor
    Jul 12, 2012 at 18:36
  • 10
    BTW, if you anchor the regexp to the beginning of the line with ^, it's slightly faster: e.g. grep '^.\{80\}' file.
    – cas
    Jul 29, 2012 at 9:32
  • 5
    The perl solution does not account for variable size encoding such as UTF-8, unlike all the other solutions.
    – BatchyX
    Jan 30, 2013 at 16:19
  • 7
    Sufficiently large values of N fail with grep but succeed with awk. (e.g. grep '^.\{1000\}' file returns grep: invalid repetition count(s), while awk 'length>1000' file succeeds.)
    – mdahlman
    Dec 18, 2014 at 21:00

Shell approach:

while IFS= read -r line || [ -n "$line" ];
    [ "${#line}" -gt 79 ] && printf "%s\n" "$line"
done < input.txt

Python approach:

python -c 'import sys;f=open(sys.argv[1]);print "\n".join([ l.strip() for l in f if len(l) >79 ]);f.close()' input.txt

Or as a short script for readability:

#!/usr/bin/env python
import sys

with open(sys.argv[1]) as f:
    for line in f:
        if len(line) > 79:
            print line.strip()

If we wanted to exclude newline character \n from calculations, we can make if len(line) > 79 be if len(line.strip()) > 79

Side note: this is Python 2.7 syntax. Use print() for Python 3

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