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Today I'm learning sort command.

I find that, I can use

sort file1 > file2

To inject the sorted file into file2

But when I use

sort file1 > file1

file1 become empty!


I know I can use -o flag to get the sort file1 into file1.

But why the second command produce an empty file?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Output redirection by the shell clears the file's contents before the sort command is run.

From man bash:

Before a command is executed, its input and output may be redirected using a special notation interpreted by the shell. [...]

Redirection of output causes the file whose name results from the expansion of word to be opened for writing [...]. If the file does not exist it is created; if it does exist it is truncated to zero size.

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So sorted writes an empty file into an empty file. – Zen Jun 16 '14 at 9:27
@Zen At least it'll be fast. :-) – Daniel Beck Jun 16 '14 at 11:17
It's really a easy way to empty a file which its shell you want to keep. Just '> file' it – Zen Jun 16 '14 at 11:24
I met a trouble now, as this method produce an empty file. How do I edit this file through command line? Like if I want to replace some words with sed. – Zen Jun 20 '14 at 13:15
@Zen If this is about sed, man sed will actually help you with this on the first page. – Daniel Beck Jun 20 '14 at 15:12

As Daniel Beck has explained why that fails.

Here is a way to do that job the OP want.

sort file1 | tee file1

tee is a T-shape pipe which can write the buffer into the file and pass the buffer as output to the next pipe, here we just need to use its half power.

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Be careful, though. If the first command reads as a stream rather than buffer the whole file (sort does the latter, but others won't), then you'll have a similar problem. – Bob Jun 24 '14 at 3:13
@Bob, I got you idea, like 'sed', so how can I modify a file safely in a command line? – Zen Jun 24 '14 at 3:47
I suspect your only option for a generic method (i.e. where the command itself doesn't provide some way) is to manually create a temporary buffer, e.g. a temp file, and either write to this buffer + copy it back or copy the file and read from the copy. – Bob Jun 24 '14 at 4:34

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