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Bioinformatics Data Skills by Vince Buffalo

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Chapter 7. Unix Data Tools

We often forget how science and engineering function. Ideas come from previous exploration more often than from lightning strokes.

John W. Tukey

In Chapter 3, we learned the basics of the Unix shell: using streams, redirecting output, pipes, and working with processes. These core concepts not only allow us to use the shell to run command-line bioinformatics tools, but to leverage Unix as a modular work environment for working with bioinformatics data. In this chapter, we’ll see how we can combine the Unix shell with command-line data tools to explore and manipulate data quickly.

Unix Data Tools and the Unix One-Liner Approach: Lessons from Programming Pearls

Understanding how to use Unix data tools in bioinformatics isn’t only about learning what each tool does, it’s about mastering the practice of connecting tools together—creating programs from Unix pipelines. By connecting data tools together with pipes, we can construct programs that parse, manipulate, and summarize data. Unix pipelines can be developed in shell scripts or as “one-liners”—tiny programs built by connecting Unix tools with pipes directly on the shell. Whether in a script or as a one-liner, building more complex programs from small, modular tools capitalizes on the design and philosophy of Unix (discussed in “Why Do We Use Unix in Bioinformatics? Modularity and the Unix Philosophy”). The pipeline approach to building programs is a well-established tradition in Unix (and bioinformatics) ...

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