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In place line numbering

Terminal - In place line numbering
{ rm -f file10 && nl > file10; } < file10
2010-04-08 21:08:23
User: zlemini
Functions: nl rm
In place line numbering

Add permanent line numbers to a file without creating a temp file.

The rm command deletes file10 while the nl command works on the open file descriptor of file10 which it outputs into a new file again named file10.

The new file10 will now be numbered in the same directory with the same file name and content as before, but it will in fact be a new file, using (ls -i) to show its inode number will prove this.


There are 2 alternatives - vote for the best!

Terminal - Alternatives

Know a better way?

If you can do better, submit your command here.

What others think

It should be noted that this can be dangerous. If the command fails for some reason (disk full, syntax error, Ctrl-C pressed, whatever), you'll have an empty file and no backup.

I think it's always better to use a temporary file:

nl file10 > file10.new && mv -f file10.new file10
Comment by inof 286 weeks and 1 day ago

Your comments about syntax, disk full etc are not specific to this command, they apply to most of the commands on this site.

Be advised, the 'rm' command above deletes the directory entry which is only a reference to the actual inode.

Be more specific as to why you think it is dangerous and i will glady look into improving it.

Comment by zlemini 286 weeks and 1 day ago

I agree with inof. Both versions use two inodes and just manipulate dentries to get the naming right, so neither is more efficient. But inof's version obviously can be interrupted, and the mv doesn't happen until nl has finished. Whereas with rm && nl you may interrupt, and have rm complete without nl finishing, and you are left without a file. It is true that a similar criticism applies to many of the commands at this site, but in this case by rearranging the operations, I think the "danger" is lessened. I think relying on the dentry/inode behavior of the filesystem layer is neat, but inof's version is more OS-agnostic. Would this work under Cygwin?

Comment by bwoodacre 286 weeks and 1 day ago

The issues with replacement using this method are documented at:


Comment by pixelbeat 285 weeks and 6 days ago

Your point of view

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