Redirection (computing)

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The standard streams for input, output, and error

In computing, redirection is a function common to most command-line interpreters, including the various Unix shells that can redirect standard streams to user-specified locations.

In unix-like operating systems programs do redirection with the dup2(2) system call, or its less-flexible but higher-level stdio analogues, freopen(3) and popen(3).


Redirecting standard input and standard output

Redirection is usually implemented by placing certain characters between commands. Typically, the syntax of these characters is as follows:

command1 > file1

executes command1, placing the output in file1. Note that this will truncate any existing data in file1. To append output to the end of the file, use the >> operator.

command1 < file1

executes command1, using file1 as the source of input (as opposed to the keyboard).

command1 < infile > outfile

combines the two capabilities: command1 reads from infile and writes to outfile


Programs can be run together such that one program reads the output from another with no need for an explicit intermediate file:

A pipeline of three programs run on a text terminal
command1 | command2

executes command1, using its output as the input for command2 (commonly called piping, since the "|" character is known as a "pipe").

This is equivalent to using two redirects and a temporary file:

command1 > tempfile
command2 < tempfile
rm tempfile

A good example for command piping is combining echo with another command to achieve something interactive in a non-interactive shell, e.g.

echo -e "user\npass" | ftp localhost

This runs the ftp client with input user, press return, then pass.

Redirecting to and from the standard file handles

In Unix shells derived from the original Bourne shell, the first two actions can be further modified by placing a number (the file descriptor) immediately before the character; this will affect which stream is used for the redirection. The Unix standard I/O streams are:

Handle Name Description
0 stdin Standard input
1 stdout Standard output
2 stderr Standard error

For example:

command1 2> file1

executes command1, directing the standard error stream to file1.

In shells derived from csh (the C shell), the syntax instead appends the & character to the redirect characters, thus achieving a similar result.

Another useful capability is to redirect one standard file handle to another. The most popular variation is to merge standard error into standard output so error messages can be processed together with (or alternately to) the usual output. Example:

find / -name .profile > results 2>&1

will try to find all files named .profile. Executed without redirection, it will output hits to stdout and errors (e.g. for lack of privilege to traverse protected directories) to stderr. If standard output is directed to file results, error messages appear on the console. To see both hits and error messages in file results, merge stderr (handle 2) into stdout (handle 1) using 2>&1 .

It's possible use 2>&1 before ">" but it doesn't work. In fact, when the interpreter reads 2>&1, it doesn't know yet where standard output is redirected and then standard error isn't merged.

If the merged output is to be piped into another program, the file merge sequence 2>&1 must precede the pipe symbol, thus:

find / -name .profile 2>&1 | less

A simplified form of the command:

command > file 2>&1


command &>file


command >&file

Chained pipelines

The redirection and piping tokens can be chained together to create complex commands. For example:

ls | grep '\.sh' | sort > shlist

lists the contents of the current directory, where this output is filtered to only contain lines which contain .sh, sort this resultant output lexicographically, and place the final output in shlist. This type of construction is used very commonly in shell scripts and batch files.

Redirect to multiple outputs

The standard command tee can redirect output from a command to several destinations.

ls -lrt | tee xyz

This directs the file list output to both standard output as well as to the file xyz.


See also

  • Here-document, a way of specifying text for input in command line shells

External links

ja:リダイレクション ru:Перенаправление (UNIX)

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