I've got a rather sizable CSV file (75MB). I'm just trying to produce a graph of it, so I really don't need all of the data.

Rewording: I'd like to delete n lines, then keep one line, then delete n lines, and so on.

So if the file looked like this:

Line 1
Line 2
Line 3
Line 4
Line 5
Line 6

and n=2, then the output would be:

Line 3
Line 6

It seems like sed might be able to do this, but I haven't been able to figure out how. A bash command would be ideal, but I'm open to any solution.

  • 2
    Do you really want lines 1, 3, 6, etc., rather than 1, 4, 7, etc.? Mar 3, 2012 at 18:59
  • 2
    Since it is a CSV file, I assume the first line contains meta data (i.e. field names.). If so, the question should be "every nth line after the first".
    – iglvzx
    Mar 3, 2012 at 19:57
  • 8
    1, 3, 6 still doesn't make sense!
    – wim
    Mar 5, 2012 at 0:18
  • 1
    I guess it should be 1, 3, 5 unless n=2 is a magic value for triangular numbers (1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21 etc.)
    – rjmunro
    Mar 7, 2012 at 10:32
  • 6
    Can you update your question to make what you're asking for ("every nth line", "n=2") and your desired output (Line 3, Line 6) consistent? Future readers are going to be confused. Mar 8, 2012 at 4:56

7 Answers 7

~ $ awk 'NR == 1 || NR % 3 == 0' yourfile
Line 1
Line 3
Line 6

NR (number of records) variable is records number of lines because default behavior is new line for RS (record seperator). pattern and action is optional in awk's default format 'pattern {actions}'. when we give only pattern part then awk writes all the fields $0 for our pattern's true conditions.

  • 8
    Thanks to defaults, you don't even need that much: awk 'NR == 1 || NR % 3 == 0'
    – Kevin
    Mar 3, 2012 at 20:39
  • @selman: If you like Kevin's solution, you might want to consider updating your answer. Mar 3, 2012 at 21:45
  • 4
    Care to explain why it does so? That way if someone wants to slightly tweak it, then hopefully your explanation will help them do so
    – Ivo Flipse
    Mar 4, 2012 at 9:41
  • I found that this approach leave me lines 1 and 2 untouch. This is confirmed with awk 'NR == 1 || NR % 2 == 0' myfile.txt | wc -l resulting in a odd number while the original file had an even number of lines. @kev answer works best in my test case. Sep 15, 2015 at 9:21
  • For me this seems to be much slower than the sed equivalent.
    – stephanmg
    Sep 22, 2020 at 12:12

sed can also do this:

$ sed -n '1p;0~3p' input.txt
Line 1
Line 3
Line 6

man sed explains ~ as:

first~step Match every step'th line starting with line first. For example, ``sed -n 1~2p'' will print all the odd-numbered lines in the input stream, and the address 2~5 will match every fifth line, starting with the second. first can be zero; in this case, sed operates as if it were equal to step. (This is an extension.)

  • 6
    Could you explain this command?
    – qed
    Jun 9, 2014 at 18:56
  • 1
    @qed Explanation: 1p prints the first line, 0~3p prints every third line starting from line 3 (the 1p is thus required to print line 1). But note that the 0~3 is not standard but a GNU sed extension.
    – Arkku
    Jul 22, 2015 at 20:45
  • "This is an extension." Which version are/were you using?
    – Victor
    Oct 11, 2015 at 21:41
  • This answer helped me a lot for windows PowerShell. I broadened it like that: sed -n '1p;0~10p' '.\in.txt' > out.txt to print the reduced file into an output-file.
    – kimliv
    Jun 3, 2018 at 23:21

Perl can do this too:

while (<>) {
    print  if $. % 3 == 1;

This program will print the first line of its input, and every third line afterwards.

To explain it a bit, <> is the line input operator, which iterates over the input lines when used in a while loop like this. The special variable $. contains the number of lines read so far, and % is the modulus operator.

This code can be written even more compactly as a one-liner, using the -n and -e switches:

perl -ne 'print if $. % 3 == 1'  < input.txt  > output.txt

The -e switch takes a piece of Perl code to execute as a command line parameter, while the -n switch implicitly wraps the code in a while loop like the one shown above.

Edit: To actually get lines 1, 3, 6, 9, ... as in the example, rather than lines 1, 4, 7, 10, ... as I first assumed you wanted, replace $. % 3 == 1 with $. == 1 or $. % 3 == 0.


If you want to do it with a Bash script you can try:


echo Please enter the file name
read fname
echo Please enter the Nth lines that you want to keep
read n

while read line
    if [ $(( $value % $n )) -eq 0 ] ; then
        echo -e "$line" >> new_file.txt
        let value=value+1 
echo "Check the 'new_file.txt' that has been created in this directory";

Save it as "read_lines.sh" and remember to give +x permissions to the bash file.

chmod +x ./read_lines.sh
  • 1
    If you made this just emit on standard out, read the no of lines to skip from the arguments and read the file from standard in, it would be simpler and more useful. You could still make new_file.txt by doing ./read_lines.sh > new_file.txt.
    – rjmunro
    Mar 7, 2012 at 10:36

A solution in pure bash, that does not spawn a process is:

{ for f in {1..2}; do read line; done;
  while read line; do
    echo $line;
    for f in {1..2}; do read line; done;
  done; } < file

The first line skip 2 lines at the beginning of file, and the while print the next line and skip 2 lines again.

If your file is small, this is a very efficient way of doing the job as it does not start a process. When your file is large, sed should be used as it is more efficient at handling io than bash.


GNU coreutils split can do this, e.g.:

seq 100 | split -n r/3/3

Explanation: split -n r/i/n will take each line k (counting from 0) where (k % n) + 1 = i.

If this is a CSV file and you need to keep the header, split -n r/1/3 will do.


A Python version (both Python 2 an Python 3):

python2 -c "print(''.join(open('file.txt').readlines()[::3]))"

replace [::3] with start, end and step size parameters for more control. E.g. [10:36:5] puts out lines 10,15,...,35.

Note, since readlines() keeps the line endings, the output of this call might end with an empty last line, unless the original last line gets put out by the chosen step size.

A stream version is possible, too (here output only after finished stream):

python -c "import sys;print(''.join(list(sys.stdin)[::3]))" < file.txt

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