I need to compare two files content. Both are generated by a third application.

The files look like an env file:


The problem is that sometimes this application generates the content:


I'm using md5sum in order to generate a file with checksums and then I use cmp in order to compare them.

So, the content is the same, but checksums differs.

Any ideas to solve that?

  • 1
    why not simply sort file, remove comment if any, and compare-checksum them ?
    – Archemar
    Jul 4, 2018 at 11:07
  • The contents may be equivalent for your specific purpose, but they're not the same. Big difference.
    – marcelm
    Jul 4, 2018 at 15:34

1 Answer 1


If the files only contain constant assignments, you can sort them first. With process substitution (Bash/zsh):

cmp <(sort foo) <(sort bar)

(or cmp -s as usual)

If you have to do with a standard shell, you'll need temporary files:

a=$(mktemp) b=$(mktemp)
sort foo > "$a"; sort bar > "$b"
cmp "$a" "$b"
rm "$a" "$b"

In any case, you'll have to be sure that the files' lines can be sorted without changing the meaning. Multi-line strings would be broken by the sort, and if you have assignments that refer to the other variables, the assignment order would also matter.

If you want the hash, do something like:

cksum1=$(sort foo | sha256sum)
cksum2=$(sort bar | sha256sum)

But if you're doing the compare locally, it probably doesn't matter much if you just compare the files directly, since you need to read them in full to verify they're the same, and cmp can stop early if it spots a difference, while sha256sum can't.

If the files are on separate machines, then passing just the hash is of course easier. But even then, I'd suggest using SHA-256 (as above) or SHA-512 instead of MD5, if possible(*). Even busybox implements sha256sum, so you might be able to get it.

Of course, even process substitution may resort to temporary files, so the direct compare needs both sorted temporary files to exist at the same time, while taking the hash doesn't. But this should only matter if the files are large enough that duplicating them would run out the storage on the system.

(* MD5 has known weaknesses that allow generating collisions, while the SHA-2 hashes are considered stronger. You could get away with MD5 in some use cases, but that depends on the details and it's better to fail safe.)

  • I'm using #!/usr/bin/env sh. Could I use something like sort t-secret.env | md5sum | awk '{print $1}'
    – Jordi
    Jul 4, 2018 at 11:54
  • 2
    @Jordi You really do not need to compute MD5 checksums for this. Doing so would be much slower than using cmp.
    – Kusalananda
    Jul 4, 2018 at 11:54
  • @Jordi, yes, if you really need the hash. (Or cksum=$(sort foo | md5sum); cksum=${cksum%% *} to use the shell instead of awk.)
    – ilkkachu
    Jul 4, 2018 at 12:22
  • 1
    Using cmp, you don't read the files in full unless they are identical. This is why using cmp is quicker.
    – Kusalananda
    Jul 4, 2018 at 12:23
  • @Kusalananda, yeah, that too.
    – ilkkachu
    Jul 4, 2018 at 12:25

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