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How to read a file line by line

November 2015

This article introduces the concept of playing a file line by line in Linux with the help of examples and tips along with a guided tour of initiating a loop. The article discusses the errors committed while reading a file line by line on the Linux platform. With samples and illustrations, it shows how the 'for loop' and 'while loop' differ in their respective outputs. It also provides tips on how to use the while loop and depicts its syntax. It concludes with the process behind initiating a loop along with the side effects the while loops can exhibit.

One of the most common errors when using scripts bash on GNU / Linux is to read a file line by line by using a for loop (for line in $ (cat file.txt) do. ..), which in this example leads to an assessment for each line and not every word of the file.
It is possible to change the value of the variable $ IFS (Internal Field Separator, internal field separator) with a for loop before starting the loop.

Sample output with a for loop:
for line in $ (cat file.txt) do echo "$ line" done

The solution is to use a while loop coupled with the internal read.

It is possible to get the result with a for loop provided to change the value of the variable $ IFS (Internal Field Separator, internal field separator) before starting the loop.

While loop

The while loop remains the most appropriate and easiest way to read a file line by line.

while read line           
done <file 


The starting file:
This is line 1     

  • This is line 2
  • This is line 3
  • This is line 4
  • This is line 5

The instructions in the command line:
while read line; do echo -e "$line\n"; done < file.txt

or in a "bash" script:
#! / bin / bash           

while read line           
    echo-e "$ line \ n"           
done <file.txt           

The output on the screen (stdout):           
This is line 1        

This is line 2        

This is line 3           

This is line 4           

This is line 5   


It is entirely possible from a structured file (like an address book or /etc/passwd, for example), to retrieve the values of each field and assign them to several variables with the command 'read'. Be careful to properly assign the IFS variable with good field separators (space by default).

#! /bin/bash          

while IFS=: read user pass uid gid full home shell          
echo -e "$full :\n\          
 Pseudo : $user\n\          
 UID :\t $uid\n\          
 GID :\t $gid\n\          
 Home :\t $home\n\          
 Shell :\t $shell\n\n"          
done < /etc/passwd


while read i; do echo -e "Parameter : $i"; done < <(echo -e "a\nab\nc")

Initiate a Loop

Although the while loop is the easiest method, it has its side effects. It obliterates the formatting of lines including spaces and tabs.
  • Moreover, the for loop coupled with a change of IFS helps keep the structure of the document output.


old_IFS=$IFS      # save the field separator           
IFS=$'\n'     # new field separator, the end of line           
for line in $(cat fichier)          
IFS=$old_IFS     # restore default field separator 
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See also

In the same category

Cómo leer un archivo línea por línea
By Carlos-vialfa on August 11, 2008
Comment lire un fichier ligne par ligne
By jipicy on January 27, 2007
Como ler um arquivo linha por linha
By pintuda on December 15, 2009
Original article published by jipicy. Translated by deri58. - Latest update by Jeff
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