Cheat Sheet: Cutting Text with cut

The cut command is a Unix/Linux tool used to literally cut text from files and output from other commands. With the cut command a user can take text and output only certain parts of the line.

In my opinion cut is the most under recognized and utilized command in Linux/Unix. This is mostly due to the fact that when most Sysadmins want to cut text from files or standard output many will reach for AWK.

While AWK is a great tool for quick and dirty commands; I tend to reach for cut before AWK. The below cheat sheet should show many ways to use cut with every day tasks.

Common Separated Values

 $ cut -d: -f1 passwd.bak 
   root
   daemon
 $ head -1 /etc/passwd | cut -d: -f1 
   root

To change the field simply change the numbers after -f separated by a comma.

 $ cut -d: -f1,2,7 passwd.bak 
  root❌/bin/bash
 $ cut -d  -f3 /etc/motd 
  Ubuntu

This command is pretty handy if you wanted to make a script out of the past few commands you ran.

 $ history | cut -d  -f 4- 
  ping google.com
 $ cut -d  -f-4 /etc/motd 
  Welcome to Ubuntu 12.04
 $ cut -d: -f5-8 passwd 
  root:/root:/bin/bash

Output with a different delimiter (make a CSV)

Convert : to ,
 $ cut --output-delimiter=, -d: -f1- passwd 
  root,x,0,0,root,/root,/bin/bash
Convert space to ,
 $ ps -elf | cut --output-delimiter=, -d -f1-
 F,S,UID,,,,,,,,PID,,PPID,,C,PRI,,NI,ADDR,SZ,WCHAN,,STIME,TTY,,,,,,,,,,TIME,CMD
 4,S,root,,,,,,,,,1,,,,,0,,0,,80,,,0,-,,6083,poll_s,19:07,?,,,,,,,,00:00:12,/sbin/init

Output only lines that have a delimiter

This command will only output lines that have a : (in our example), within the file tmpfile there are multiple lines some with : and some without.

 $ head tmpfile
 Welcome to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (GNU/Linux 3.2.0-29-generic x86_64)
 73 packages can be updated.
 10 updates are security updates.
 root❌0:0:root:/root:/bin/bash
 daemon❌1:1:daemon:/usr/sbin:/bin/sh
 bin❌2:2:bin:/bin:/bin/sh
 sys❌3:3:sys:/dev:/bin/sh
 sync❌4:65534:sync:/bin:/bin/sync

 $ cut -s -d: -f1-4 tmpfile
 root❌0:0
 daemon❌1:1
 bin❌2:2
 sys❌3:3
 sync❌4:65534

Bytes

 $ cut -b1-45 /etc/motd
 Welcome to Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (GNU/Linux 3.2.0-
 $ cut --complement -b10-45 /etc/motd
 Welcome t29-generic x86_64)

Characters

 $ cut -c1-25 /etc/motd
 Welcome to Ubuntu 12.04 L
 $ cut --complement -c10-25 /etc/motd
 Welcome tTS (GNU/Linux 3.2.0-29-generic x86_64)

About Benjamin

Benjamin is a Infrastructure and Software Engineer. On this blog he writes about Linux, Docker, Programming as well as other Systems topics.

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