This example was in a Linux book:

$ cat sort-wc
# Sort files according to their line count
for f
    echo `wc -l <"$f» lines in $f
done | sort -n
$ ./sort-wc /etc/passwd /ect/fstab /etc/motd

What I don't get is why there is only a single backtick, a single double quote and what the >> does. Isn't >> for writing to a file?


1 Answer 1


This is from page 121 of "Introduction to Linux for Users and Administrators" and that's a typographical error in the text. The script is also avaliable in other texts from tuxcademy, with the same typographical error.

The single » character is not the same as the double >> and it serves no purpose in a shell script. My guess is that the typesetting system used for formatting the text of the book got confused by "` for some reason and formatted it as a guillemet (angle-quote), or it's just a plain typo (the «...» quotes are used for quoting ordinary text elsewhere in the document).

The script should read

# Sort files according to their line count
for f
    echo `wc -l <"$f"` lines in $f
done | sort -n

... but would be better written

# Sort files according to their line count

for f; do
    printf '%d lines in %s\n' "$(wc -l <"$f")" "$f"
done | sort -n

The backticks are an older form of $( ... ), and printf is better to use for outputting variable data. Also, variable expansions and command substitutions should be quoted, and the script uses no bash features so it could just as well be executed by /bin/sh.


  • Wow thank you, yes that's exactly where this example is from. I'll need to comb over your better second resolution because that confusing me more, I'm an extreme beginner at shell scripting :)
    – user284179
    Apr 3, 2018 at 18:53
  • @user284179 Once you figure out how printf works (see man 1 printf, it takes a format string followed by other arguments to substitute into the placeholders in the format string), it will be clear.
    – Kusalananda
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:13
  • Your guess about the typesetting error is very plausible. The quote used to be an active character in German LaTeX packages to be able to type ä as “a. With the german package, the combination in question should produce German opening quotation marks, but maybe the author used a variant that gives Swiss quotation marks.
    – Carsten S
    Apr 3, 2018 at 21:43
  • I think I've seen /bin/sh implementations which support backticks but not $(...), so beware of portability issues.
    – user1686
    Apr 3, 2018 at 21:57
  • 2
    @grawity If you have a system with a non-POSIX /bin/sh, then it's so old that you should not be doing development work on it. If it's a production system, it should seriously be considered for replacing as it would potentially be insecure if connected to the internet.
    – Kusalananda
    Apr 4, 2018 at 5:50

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