From a program’s point of view there is no difference between reading text data from a file and reading it from your keyboard. Similarly, writing text to a file and writing text to a display are equivalent operations. As an extension of this idea, it is also possible to tie the output of one program to the input of another. This is accomplished using a pipe symbol (|) to join two or more commands together, which we have seen some examples of already in this chapter. For example:

$ grep "01523" order* | less

This command searches through all files whose names begin with order to find lines containing the word 01523. By creating this pipe, the standard output of grep is sent to the standard input of less. The mechanics of this operation are handled by the shell and are invisible to the user. Pipes can be used in a series of many commands. When more than two commands are put together, the resulting operation is known as a pipeline or text stream, implying the flow of text from one command to the next.

As you get used to the idea, you’ll find yourself building pipelines naturally to extract specific information from text data sources. For example, suppose you wish to view a sorted list of inode numbers from among the files in your current directory. There are many ways you could achieve this. One way would be to use awk in a pipeline to extract the inode number from the output of ls, then send it on to the sort command and finally to a pager for viewing (don’t worry about the syntax ...

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