In [1]:
export LANGUAGE=en  # Be sure the commands output English text


# 1. Tutorial on head and tail¶

This short tutorial will show you how to use the linux command line tools head and tail, to respectively print the first lines and last lines of a file.

## 1.1 head¶

The first reflex is to print the help (option --help) :

In [2]:
head --help

Usage: head [OPTION]... [FILE]...
Print the first 10 lines of each FILE to standard output.
With more than one FILE, precede each with a header giving the file name.
With no FILE, or when FILE is -, read standard input.

Mandatory arguments to long options are mandatory for short options too.
-c, --bytes=[-]K         print the first K bytes of each file;
with the leading '-', print all but the last
K bytes of each file
-n, --lines=[-]K         print the first K lines instead of the first 10;
with the leading '-', print all but the last
K lines of each file
-q, --quiet, --silent    never print headers giving file names
-v, --verbose            always print headers giving file names
--help     display this help and exit
--version  output version information and exit

K may have a multiplier suffix:
b 512, kB 1000, K 1024, MB 1000*1000, M 1024*1024,
GB 1000*1000*1000, G 1024*1024*1024, and so on for T, P, E, Z, Y.

Report head translation bugs to <http://translationproject.org/team/>
or available locally via: info '(coreutils) head invocation'


We will create a dummy file with random content, from the dictionnary (/etc/dictionaries-common/words):

In [3]:
cat /etc/dictionaries-common/words > /tmp/file.txt


Now we can print the first 10 lines of this file /tmp/file.txt:

In [4]:
head /tmp/file.txt

A
A's
AA's
AB's
ABM's
AC's
ACTH's
AI's
AIDS's
AM's


If we want the first 20 lines, we use the option -n NUMBER:

In [5]:
head -n 20 /tmp/file.txt

A
A's
AA's
AB's
ABM's
AC's
ACTH's
AI's
AIDS's
AM's
AOL
AOL's
ASCII's
ASL's
ATM's
ATP's
AWOL's
AZ's
AZT's
Aachen


Let's count how many lines there is:

In [6]:
wc -l /tmp/file.txt

99171 /tmp/file.txt


That's a lot! Imagine we want to see all the file except the last 100 lines, we can use head with a negative value for NUMBER in the -n NUMBER option:

In [7]:
head -n 100 /tmp/file.txt | wc -l  # 100 lines, from 1st to 100th
head -n -100 /tmp/file.txt | wc -l  # All lines but the last 100 lines, from 1st to 99071th

100
99071


## 1.2 tail¶

The other command, tail, works exactly like head except the lines are counted from the end:

In [8]:
tail --help

Usage: tail [OPTION]... [FILE]...
Print the last 10 lines of each FILE to standard output.
With more than one FILE, precede each with a header giving the file name.
With no FILE, or when FILE is -, read standard input.

Mandatory arguments to long options are mandatory for short options too.
-c, --bytes=K            output the last K bytes; or use -c +K to output
bytes starting with the Kth of each file
-f, --follow[={name|descriptor}]
output appended data as the file grows;
an absent option argument means 'descriptor'
-F                       same as --follow=name --retry
-n, --lines=K            output the last K lines, instead of the last 10;
or use -n +K to output starting with the Kth
--max-unchanged-stats=N
with --follow=name, reopen a FILE which has not
changed size after N (default 5) iterations
to see if it has been unlinked or renamed
(this is the usual case of rotated log files);
with inotify, this option is rarely useful
--pid=PID            with -f, terminate after process ID, PID dies
-q, --quiet, --silent    never output headers giving file names
--retry              keep trying to open a file if it is inaccessible
-s, --sleep-interval=N   with -f, sleep for approximately N seconds
(default 1.0) between iterations;
with inotify and --pid=P, check process P at
least once every N seconds
-v, --verbose            always output headers giving file names
--help     display this help and exit
--version  output version information and exit

If the first character of K (the number of bytes or lines) is a '+',
print beginning with the Kth item from the start of each file, otherwise,
print the last K items in the file.  K may have a multiplier suffix:
b 512, kB 1000, K 1024, MB 1000*1000, M 1024*1024,
GB 1000*1000*1000, G 1024*1024*1024, and so on for T, P, E, Z, Y.

With --follow (-f), tail defaults to following the file descriptor, which
means that even if a tail'ed file is renamed, tail will continue to track
its end.  This default behavior is not desirable when you really want to
track the actual name of the file, not the file descriptor (e.g., log
rotation).  Use --follow=name in that case.  That causes tail to track the
named file in a way that accommodates renaming, removal and creation.

Report tail translation bugs to <http://translationproject.org/team/>
Full documentation at: <http://www.gnu.org/software/coreutils/tail>
or available locally via: info '(coreutils) tail invocation'

In [9]:
tail /tmp/file.txt  # Last 10 lines

élan's
émigré
émigré's
émigrés
épée
épée's
épées
étude
étude's
études

In [10]:
tail -n 20 /tmp/file.txt  # Last 20 lines

zygote
zygote's
zygotes
Ångström
éclair
éclair's
éclairs
éclat
éclat's
élan
élan's
émigré
émigré's
émigrés
épée
épée's
épées
étude
étude's
études


The option -n NUMBER has the same behavior, except that it uses -n +NUMBER to ask for all lines but the first NUMBER (where head was asking -n -NUMBER) :

In [14]:
tail -n 100 /tmp/file.txt | wc -l  # 100 lines, from 99071th to 99171th
tail -n +101 /tmp/file.txt | wc -l  # All lines from line 101, from 101th to 99171th

100
99071


That's all for today, folks!