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Although this is a basic stuff, but still i wonder. Consider these two examples.

Case 1:

[root@dhcppc0 practice]# cat file1 > wc -l
cat: invalid option -- l
Try `cat --help' for more information.

Case 2:

[root@dhcppc0 practice]# cat file1 | wc -l

I wonder, why doesn't redirection work in first case? when to use redirect and when to use pipes? I have been Linux for a long time, but still this basic stuff baffles me.

Please help.

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migrated from Jul 31 '11 at 12:29

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Useless use of cat! (wc -l < file1 would have done the same) – slhck Jul 31 '11 at 12:36
wc -l file1 is even better. – Delan Azabani Jul 31 '11 at 12:48
@Delan In that particular example, yes (it'll even show you the name of the file) -- otherwise, depends on the command. – slhck Jul 31 '11 at 13:14
up vote 5 down vote accepted

The redirection operator is used to stream a command's stdout to a file (>), or to stream a file's contents to stdin for a command (<).

The pipe operator (|) streams the processes' output (stdout) to the next processes' stdin.

The only way to make your first case work would be to use a temporary file, so you would need to use two steps:

cat file1 > tmpfile
wc -l < tmpfile
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Sorry for the stuff lost in the edit! Easier to grasp with an example though :) – slhck Jul 31 '11 at 12:42
@slhck no worries man, that's why we have revisions :) – Breakthrough Jul 31 '11 at 12:44

You use pipes when you want to connect a FD of one executable to a FD of another. You use redirection when you want to connect a FD of an executable to a file.

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Can you please explain me in terms of commands, what you say is more understandable in case of pipes( ). – kingsmasher1 Jul 31 '11 at 12:31
somecommand | someothercommand somecommand > somefile somecommand < somefile – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Jul 31 '11 at 12:32
Ohhh !! i got it. Thank you. – kingsmasher1 Jul 31 '11 at 12:35
I accept the second answer due to his example, but upvote both. – kingsmasher1 Jul 31 '11 at 12:46

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