sort(1) User Commands sort(1)
sort - sort, merge, or sequence check text files
/usr/bin/sort [-bcdfimMnru] [-k keydef] [-o output]
[-S kmem] [-t char] [-T directory] [-y [kmem]]
[-z recsz] [+pos1 [-pos2]] [file]...
/usr/xpg4/bin/sort [-bcdfimMnru] [-k keydef] [-o output]
[-S kmem] [-t char] [-T directory] [-y [kmem]]
[-z recsz] [+pos1 [-pos2]] [file]...
The sort command sorts lines of all the named files together and writes the result on the
Comparisons are based on one or more sort keys extracted from each line of input. By
default, there is one sort key, the entire input line. Lines are ordered according to the
collating sequence of the current locale.
The following options alter the default behavior:
-c Checks that the single input file is ordered as specified by the arguments and the
collating sequence of the current locale. The exit code is set and no output is pro-
duced unless the file is out of sort.
-c Same as /usr/bin/sort except no output is produced under any circum-
-m Merges only. The input files are assumed to be already sorted.
-o output Specifies the name of an output file to be used instead of the standard
output. This file can be the same as one of the input files.
-S kmem Specifies the maximum amount of swap-based memory used for sorting, in
kilobytes (the default unit). kmem can also be specified directly as a
number of bytes (b), kilobytes (k), megabytes (m), gigabytes (g), or ter-
abytes (t); or as a percentage (%) of the installed physical memory.
-T directory Specifies the directory in which to place temporary files.
-u Unique: suppresses all but one in each set of lines having equal keys. If
used with the -c option, checks that there are no lines with duplicate
keys in addition to checking that the input file is sorted.
-y kmem (obsolete). This option was used to specify the amount of main memory ini-
tially used by sort. Its functionality is not appropriate for a virtual
memory system; memory usage for sort is now specified using the -S option.
-z recsz (obsolete). This option was used to prevent abnormal termination when
lines longer than the system-dependent default buffer size are encoun-
tered. Because sort automatically allocates buffers large enough to hold
the longest line, this option has no effect.
The default sort order depends on the value of LC_COLLATE. If LC_COLLATE is set to C,
sorting is in ASCII order. If LC_COLLATE is set to en_US, sorting is case insensitive
except when the two strings are otherwise equal and one has an uppercase letter earlier
than the other. Other locales have other sort orders.
The following options override the default ordering rules. When ordering options appear
independent of any key field specifications, the requested field ordering rules are
applied globally to all sort keys. When attached to a specific key (see Sort Key Options),
the specified ordering options override all global ordering options for that key. In the
obsolescent forms, if one or more of these options follows a +pos1 option, it affects only
the key field specified by that preceding option.
-d Dictionary order: only letters, digits, and blanks (spaces and tabs) are significant
-f Folds lower-case letters into upper case.
-i Ignores non-printable characters.
-M Compares as months. The first three non-blank characters of the field are folded to
upper case and compared. For example, in English the sorting order is "JAN" < "FEB"
< ... < "DEC". Invalid fields compare low to "JAN". The -M option implies the -b
option (see below).
-n Restricts the sort key to an initial numeric string, consisting of optional blank
characters, optional minus sign, and zero or more digits with an optional radix
character and thousands separators (as defined in the current locale), which is
sorted by arithmetic value. An empty digit string is treated as zero. Leading zeros
and signs on zeros do not affect ordering.
-r Reverses the sense of comparisons.
Field Separator Options
The treatment of field separators can be altered using the following options:
-b Ignores leading blank characters when determining the starting and ending posi-
tions of a restricted sort key. If the -b option is specified before the first
sort key option, it is applied to all sort key options. Otherwise, the -b
option can be attached independently to each -k field_start, field_end, or
+pos1 or -pos2 option-argument (see below).
-t char Use char as the field separator character. char is not considered to be part of
a field (although it can be included in a sort key). Each occurrence of char
is significant (for example, <char><char> delimits an empty field). If -t is
not specified, blank characters are used as default field separators; each max-
imal non-empty sequence of blank characters that follows a non-blank character
is a field separator.
Sort Key Options
Sort keys can be specified using the options:
-k keydef The keydef argument is a restricted sort key field definition. The for-
mat of this definition is:
-k field_start [type] [,field_end [type] ]
field_start and field_end
define a key field restricted to a portion of the line.
is a modifier from the list of characters bdfiMnr. The b modifier
behaves like the -b option, but applies only to the field_start or
field_end to which it is attached and characters within a field are
counted from the first non-blank character in the field. (This
applies separately to first_character and last_character.) The
other modifiers behave like the corresponding options, but apply
only to the key field to which they are attached. They have this
effect if specified with field_start, field_end or both. If any
modifier is attached to a field_start or to a field_end, no option
applies to either.
When there are multiple key fields, later keys are compared only after
all earlier keys compare equal. Except when the -u option is specified,
lines that otherwise compare equal are ordered as if none of the
options -d, -f, -i, -n or -k were present (but with -r still in effect,
if it was specified) and with all bytes in the lines significant to the
defines a key field that begins at field_start and ends at field_end
inclusive, unless field_start falls beyond the end of the line or after
field_end, in which case the key field is empty. A missing field_end
means the last character of the line.
A field comprises a maximal sequence of non-separating characters and,
in the absence of option -t, any preceding field separator.
The field_start portion of the keydef option-argument has the form:
Fields and characters within fields are numbered starting with 1.
field_number and first_character, interpreted as positive decimal inte-
gers, specify the first character to be used as part of a sort key. If
.first_character is omitted, it refers to the first character of the
The field_end portion of the keydef option-argument has the form:
The field_number is as described above for field_start. last_character,
interpreted as a non-negative decimal integer, specifies the last char-
acter to be used as part of the sort key. If last_character evaluates
to zero or .last_character is omitted, it refers to the last character
of the field specified by field_number.
If the -b option or b type modifier is in effect, characters within a
field are counted from the first non-blank character in the field.
(This applies separately to first_character and last_character.)
[+pos1 [-pos2]] (obsolete). Provide functionality equivalent to the -kkeydef option.
pos1 and pos2 each have the form m.n optionally followed by one or more
of the flags bdfiMnr. A starting position specified by +m.n is inter-
preted to mean the n+1st character in the m+1st field. A missing .n
means .0, indicating the first character of the m+1st field. If the b
flag is in effect n is counted from the first non-blank in the m+1st
field; +m.0b refers to the first non-blank character in the m+1st
A last position specified by -m.n is interpreted to mean the nth char-
acter (including separators) after the last character of the mth field.
A missing .n means .0, indicating the last character of the mth field.
If the b flag is in effect n is counted from the last leading blank in
the m+1st field; -m.1b refers to the first non-blank in the m+1st
The fully specified +pos1 -pos2 form with type modifiers T and U:
is equivalent to:
undefined (z==0 & U contains b & -t is present)
-k w+1.x+1T,y.0U (z==0 otherwise)
-k w+1.x+1T,y+1.zU (z > 0)
Implementations support at least nine occurrences of the sort keys (the
-k option and obsolescent +pos1 and -pos2) which are significant in
command line order. If no sort key is specified, a default sort key of
the entire line is used.
The following operand is supported:
file A path name of a file to be sorted, merged or checked. If no file operands are
specified, or if a file operand is -, the standard input is used.
See largefile(5) for the description of the behavior of sort when encountering files
greater than or equal to 2 Gbyte ( 2^31 bytes).
In the following examples, first the preferred and then the obsolete way of specifying
sort keys are given as an aid to understanding the relationship between the two forms.
Example 1 Sorting with the Second Field as a sort Key
Either of the following commands sorts the contents of infile with the second field as the
example% sort -k 2,2 infile
example% sort +1 -2 infile
Example 2 Sorting in Reverse Order
Either of the following commands sorts, in reverse order, the contents of infile1 and
infile2, placing the output in outfile and using the second character of the second field
as the sort key (assuming that the first character of the second field is the field sepa-
example% sort -r -o outfile -k 2.2,2.2 infile1 infile2
example% sort -r -o outfile +1.1 -1.2 infile1 infile2
Example 3 Sorting Using a Specified Character in One of the Files
Either of the following commands sorts the contents of infile1 and infile2 using the sec-
ond non-blank character of the second field as the sort key:
example% sort -k 2.2b,2.2b infile1 infile2
example% sort +1.1b -1.2b infile1 infile2
Example 4 Sorting by Numeric User ID
Either of the following commands prints the passwd(4) file (user database) sorted by the
numeric user ID (the third colon-separated field):
example% sort -t : -k 3,3n /etc/passwd
example% sort -t : +2 -3n /etc/passwd
Example 5 Printing Sorted Lines Excluding Lines that Duplicate a Field
Either of the following commands prints the lines of the already sorted file infile, sup-
pressing all but one occurrence of lines having the same third field:
example% sort -um -k 3.1,3.0 infile
example% sort -um +2.0 -3.0 infile
Example 6 Sorting by Host IP Address
Either of the following commands prints the hosts(4) file (IPv4 hosts database), sorted by
the numeric IP address (the first four numeric fields):
example$ sort -t . -k 1,1n -k 2,2n -k 3,3n -k 4,4n /etc/hosts
example$ sort -t . +0 -1n +1 -2n +2 -3n +3 -4n /etc/hosts
Since '.' is both the field delimiter and, in many locales, the decimal separator, failure
to specify both ends of the field leads to results where the second field is interpreted
as a fractional portion of the first, and so forth.
See environ(5) for descriptions of the following environment variables that affect the
execution of sort: LANG, LC_ALL, LC_COLLATE, LC_MESSAGES, and NLSPATH.
LC_CTYPE Determine the locale for the interpretation of sequences of bytes of text
data as characters (for example, single- versus multi-byte characters in
arguments and input files) and the behavior of character classification for
the -b, -d, -f, -i and -n options.
LC_NUMERIC Determine the locale for the definition of the radix character and thousands
separator for the -n option.
The following exit values are returned:
0 All input files were output successfully, or -c was specified and the input file was
1 Under the -c option, the file was not ordered as specified, or if the -c and -u
options were both specified, two input lines were found with equal keys.
>1 An error occurred.
/var/tmp/stm??? Temporary files
See attributes(5) for descriptions of the following attributes:
| ATTRIBUTE TYPE | ATTRIBUTE VALUE |
|Availability |SUNWesu |
|CSI |Enabled |
| ATTRIBUTE TYPE | ATTRIBUTE VALUE |
|Availability |SUNWxcu4 |
|CSI |Enabled |
|Interface Stability |Standard |
comm(1), join(1), uniq(1), nl_langinfo(3C), strftime(3C), hosts(4), passwd(4),
attributes(5), environ(5), largefile(5), standards(5)
Comments and exits with non-zero status for various trouble conditions (for example, when
input lines are too long), and for disorders discovered under the -c option.
When the last line of an input file is missing a new-line character, sort appends one,
prints a warning message, and continues.
sort does not guarantee preservation of relative line ordering on equal keys.
One can tune sort performance for a specific scenario using the -S option. However, one
should note in particular that sort has greater knowledge of how to use a finite amount of
memory for sorting than the virtual memory system. Thus, a sort invoked to request an
extremely large amount of memory via the -S option could perform extremely poorly.
As noted, certain of the field modifiers (such as -M and -d) cause the interpretation of
input data to be done with reference to locale-specific settings. The results of this
interpretation can be unexpected if one's expectations are not aligned with the conven-
tions established by the locale. In the case of the month keys, sort does not attempt to
compensate for approximate month abbreviations. The precise month abbreviations from
nl_langinfo(3C) or strftime(3C) are the only ones recognized. For printable or dictionary
order, if these concepts are not well-defined by the locale, an empty sort key might be
the result, leading to the next key being the significant one for determining the appro-
SunOS 5.11 19 Nov 2001 sort(1)