I have a CSV file and I want to truncate it from the third semicolon. For example, if I have this file:


I want to get the following output:


I don't know what kind of Unix command I can use for that. What do you suggest?

Note that this manipulation will be done on a KSH script.


For the sake of variety, here's another way with cut:

cut -d \; -f -3
  • I've never really learned to use cut. :-) – Omnifarious Nov 13 '12 at 17:56
  • wouldn't it be cut -d \; -f 3? – gt6989b Nov 13 '12 at 19:34
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    @gt6989b No, that would print the third field. -3 says to print all fields up to and including the third field. – Chris Down Nov 13 '12 at 19:41
  • @ChrisDown, thanks, was thinking about -f 1-3, this is a useful shortcut. – gt6989b Nov 13 '12 at 20:54

This will accomplish what you ask:

awk -F';' '{print $1 ";" $2 ";" $3;}' <input >output

The awk utility is well designed for this task. It can easily cut up individual lines into fields, then manipulate them based on that. The -F';' argument tells awk to use ; as the field separator. The quotes are necessary because the shell would interpret ; as a command separator without them.

The command given to awk to execute for each line (the '{print $1 ";" $2 ";" $3;}' bit) is similarly quoted to keep all the funny characters ({, }, $, " and ; in this case) from being treated specially by the shell and make sure the whole thing is passed to awk as one unit.

And, of course, <input and >output are the redirection directives being given to the shell to redirect the command's input and output from and to a file.

  • You need to set OFS, otherwise the ';' will be converted to spaces. – jordanm Nov 13 '12 at 16:42
  • @jordanm: nod That's one way. The other way is just to put the literal ';' characters in there. :-) I wasn't sure if , would do what I wanted, which is why I had to test it. – Omnifarious Nov 13 '12 at 16:43
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    Most of the current awks allow this shorter way: awk -F';' -vOFS=';' 'NF=3'. (With extra precaution: awk -F';' -vOFS=';' 'NF>3{NF=3}1'.) – manatwork Nov 13 '12 at 16:56
  • @manatwork I like your answer the most. – jordanm Nov 13 '12 at 17:04
  • @manatwork: Wow. I suppose that makes sense. But it's starting to get perlish in its terse obscurity. – Omnifarious Nov 13 '12 at 17:57

You can do this using awk, which is not dependent on the shell. You will need to write the output to a temporary file, and then move it on top of the existing one.

awk -F';' 'BEGIN { OFS=";" } { print $1,$2,$3 }' file.txt > newfile.txt
mv newfile.txt file.txt 

Not the greatest alternative, just in case you need in-place editing and wish to solve it with sed:

sed -i ':b;s/;[^;]*//3;tb' file.txt
  • 2
    Systems that have ksh usually don't have GNU sed, and sed -i is a GNU extension. – Gilles Nov 13 '12 at 21:58
  • Doh! I checked every used sed command against the POSIX specification before posting, but I forgot the command line option. (By the way, personally I always have a ksh implementation on my Linuxes, either Public Domain Korn Shell or MirBSD™ Korn Shell.) – manatwork Nov 14 '12 at 6:47

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