Display Command Output or File Contents in Column Format

Are you fed up of viewing congested command output or file content on the terminal. This short article will demonstrate how to display command output or a file content in a much clear “columnated” format.

We can use the column utility to transform standard input or a file content into tabular form of multiple columns, for a much clear output.

Read Also: 12 Useful Commands For Filtering Text for Effective File Operations in Linux

To understand more clearly, we have created a following file “tecmint-authors.txt” which contains a list of top 10 authors names, number of articles written and number of comments they received on the article till now.

To demonstrate this, run the cat command below to view the tecmint-authors.txt file.

$ cat tecmint-authors.txt
Sample Output
7|babin lonston|40|457
9|gunjit kher|20|156

Using the column command, we can display a much clear output as follows, where the -t helps to determine the number of columns the input contains and creates a table and the -s specifies a delimiter character.

$ cat tecmint-authors.txt  | column -t -s "|"
Sample Output
pos  author         articles  comments
1    ravisaive      431       9785
2    aaronkili      369       7894
3    avishek        194       2349
4    cezarmatei     172       3256
5    gacanepa       165       2378
6    marintodorov   44        144
7    babin lonston  40        457
8    hannyhelal     30        367
9    gunjit kher    20        156
10   jesseafolabi   12        89

By default, rows are filled before columns, to fill columns before filling rows use the -x switch and to instruct column command consider empty lines (which are ignored by default), include the -e flag.

Here is another practical example, run the two commands below and see difference to further understand the magic column can do

$ mount
$ mount | column -t
Sample Output
sysfs        on  /sys                             type  sysfs            (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
proc         on  /proc                            type  proc             (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
udev         on  /dev                             type  devtmpfs         (rw,nosuid,relatime,size=4013172k,nr_inodes=1003293,mode=755)
devpts       on  /dev/pts                         type  devpts           (rw,nosuid,noexec,relatime,gid=5,mode=620,ptmxmode=000)
tmpfs        on  /run                             type  tmpfs            (rw,nosuid,noexec,relatime,size=806904k,mode=755)
/dev/sda10   on  /                                type  ext4             (rw,relatime,errors=remount-ro,data=ordered)
securityfs   on  /sys/kernel/security             type  securityfs       (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime)
tmpfs        on  /dev/shm                         type  tmpfs            (rw,nosuid,nodev)
tmpfs        on  /run/lock                        type  tmpfs            (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,size=5120k)
tmpfs        on  /sys/fs/cgroup                   type  tmpfs            (rw,mode=755)
cgroup       on  /sys/fs/cgroup/systemd           type  cgroup           (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,relatime,xattr,release_agent=/

To save the nicely formatted output in a file, use the output redirection as shown.

$ mount | column -t >mount.out

For more information, see the columns man page:

$ man column 

You might also like to read these following related articles.

  1. How to Use Awk and Regular Expressions to Filter Text or String in Files
  2. How to Find and Sort Files Based on Modification Date and Time in Linux
  3. 11 Advanced Linux ‘Grep’ Commands on Character Classes and Bracket Expressions

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1 thought on “Display Command Output or File Contents in Column Format”

  1. I asked someone what am I missing about the mount command, couldn’t figure it out. … mount what
    also, errors file does not exist if using > to send to a file


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