I have a vcf file that contains numerous vcards.

When importing the vcf file to outlook it seems to only import the first vcard.

Hence I want to split them up.

Given that a vcard starts with


and ends with


What is the best way to split each vcard into it's own file.



Thanks for all the responses. As with questions of this nature there's various ways to skin a cat. Here's the reasoning why I chose the one I did.


Here's a roundup of what I liked from each answer and what drove me to select one of them.

  • csplit: I really really liked the conciseness of this method. I just wished it was able to also set the file extension.
  • gawk: It did everything i asked of it.
  • paralell: Worked. But I had to install new things. (it also decided to make a new /bin dir in my home dir)
  • perl: I liked that it created vcf based on contact's name. But the -o option didn't really work


  • So the first one to go was perl because it was a bit broken
  • Next was paralell because I had to install new things
  • Next was csplit, because as far as I can see it can't create extensions on the output files
  • So the award goes to gawk, for being a utility that's readily available, and versatile enough that I can chop and change the file name a bit. Bonus marks for cmp too :)

You can use awk for the job:

$ curl -O https://raw.githubusercontent.com/qtproject/qt-mobility\

$ gawk ' /BEGIN:VCARD/ { close(fn); ++a; fn=sprintf("card_%02d.vcf", a); 
        print "Writing: ", fn } { print $0 > fn; } ' example.vcf
Writing:  card_01.vcf
Writing:  card_02.vcf
Writing:  card_03.vcf
Writing:  card_04.vcf
Writing:  card_05.vcf
Writing:  card_06.vcf
Writing:  card_07.vcf
Writing:  card_08.vcf
Writing:  card_09.vcf

$ cat card_0* > all.vcf
$ cmp example.vcf all.vcf
$ echo $?


The awk line works like this: a is counter that is incremented on each BEGIN:VCARD line and at the same time the output filename is constructed using sprintf (stored in fn). For each line the current line ($0) is appended to the current file (named fn).

The last echo $? means that the cmp was successful, i.e. all single files concatenated are equal to the original example vcf example.

Note that the output redirection in awk works differently than in shell. That means that with > fn awk first checks if the file is already open. If it is already open then awk appends to it. If it is not then it opens and truncates it.

Because of this redirection logic we have to explicitly close the implicitly opened files, since otherwise the call would hit the open file limit in cases where the input file contains many records.

  • You'll need to close the file to avoid a too many open files error in awk. stackoverflow.com/questions/32878146/… So the command becomes: gawk ' /BEGIN:VCARD/ { close(fn); ++a; fn=sprintf("card_%02d.vcf", a); print "Writing: ", fn } { print $0 >> fn; } ' example.vcf – Dan Bennett Oct 15 '19 at 13:10
  • @DanBennett Thank you very much for the hint! I've updated my answer and also simplified the redirection logic/fixed redirection related notes. – maxschlepzig Oct 26 '19 at 9:14
csplit -f vcard input.txt -z '/END:VCARD/+1' '{*}'

The Gnu version of csplit can set the extension - Ignacio's answer I think is the most concise, it just needs that last bit of tweaking to get the extension - using 'printf' format:

csplit -f vcard -b %02d.vcard input.txt -z '/END:VCARD/+1' '{*}'

Here's the relevant snippet from the gnu csplit man page:

   -b, --suffix-format=FORMAT
          use sprintf FORMAT instead of %02d
  • I was using mac and it took me a while to figure out to use gcsplit instead, but once I did this answer helped me. – Luke Gedeon Feb 20 '19 at 1:18

Using GNU Parallel you can do:

cat foo.vcf | parallel --pipe -N1 --recstart BEGIN:VCARD 'cat >{#}'

Or if you can refute http://oletange.blogspot.com/2013/10/useless-use-of-cat.html you can use this instead:

< foo.vcf parallel --pipe -N1 --recstart BEGIN:VCARD 'cat >{#}'

See more examples: http://www.gnu.org/software/parallel/man.html

Watch the intro videos: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL284C9FF2488BC6D1

10 seconds installation:

$ (wget -O - pi.dk/3 || lynx -source pi.dk/3 || curl pi.dk/3/ || \
   fetch -o - http://pi.dk/3 ) > install.sh
$ sha1sum install.sh | grep 67bd7bc7dc20aff99eb8f1266574dadb
12345678 67bd7bc7 dc20aff9 9eb8f126 6574dadb
$ md5sum install.sh | grep b7a15cdbb07fb6e11b0338577bc1780f
b7a15cdb b07fb6e1 1b033857 7bc1780f
$ sha512sum install.sh | grep 186000b62b66969d7506ca4f885e0c80e02a22444
6f25960b d4b90cf6 ba5b76de c1acdf39 f3d24249 72930394 a4164351 93a7668d
21ff9839 6f920be5 186000b6 2b66969d 7506ca4f 885e0c80 e02a2244 40e8a43f
$ bash install.sh

You can use this script to do the job. It's called split-vcf-file.

Example usage

$ split_vcf.pl 

Error! Input VCF filename missing,  -i

Usage: perl split_vcf.pl -i input_file -o output_dir [OPTION]

    -v,         Verbosity levels, 1-3

To run the script:

mkdir vcf_files
split_vcf.pl  -i current.vcf -o vcf_files
  • split_vcf.pl is a windows version. for unix modify the sub make_filename which was adding a "\" in the filenames. – J Dan Nov 7 '16 at 22:39

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