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Sobell on the Bourne Again Shell and the Linux Command Line - page 4

The Fate of the Command Line

  • November 21, 2005
  • By Ibrahim Haddad

LP: Would you talk a little more about the tr utility?

Ah, tr. Well, first thing that comes to mind is that it is the answer to the trivia question, "Name a Linux utility that accepts input only from standard input and never from a file named as an argument on the command line." It is an odd beast that is useful only sometimes--but when it is useful it is very useful. Here is an excerpt that talks about tr:

"The tr utility reads standard input and, for each input character, maps it to an alternate character, deletes the character, or leaves the character alone. This utility reads from standard input and writes to standard output.

"The tr utility is typically used with two arguments, string1 and string2. The position of each character in the two strings is important: Each time tr finds a character from string1 in its input, it replaces that character with the corresponding character from string2.

"With one argument, string1, and the --delete option, tr deletes the characters specified in string1. The option --squeeze-repeats replaces multiple sequential occurrences of characters in string1 with single occurrences (for example, abbc becomes abc).

"You can use a hyphen to represent a range of characters instring1 or string2. The two command lines in the following example produce the same result:

$ echo abcdef | tr  'abcdef' 'xyzabc'
xyzabc
$ echo abcdef | tr  'a-f' 'x-za-c'
xyzabc

"The next example demonstrates a popular method for disguising text, often called ROT13 (rotate 13) because it replaces the first letter of the alphabet with the thirteenth, the second with the fourteenth, and so forth.

$ echo The punchline of the joke is ... |
> tr 'A-M N-Z a-m n-z' 'N-Z A-M n-z a-m'
Gur chapuyvar bs gur wbxr vf ...

"To make the text intelligible again, reverse the order of the arguments to tr:

$ echo Gur chapuyvar bs gur wbxr vf ... |
> tr 'N-Z A-M n-z a-m' 'A-M N-Z a-m n-z'
The punchline of the joke is ...

"The --delete option causes tr to delete selected characters:

$ echo If you can read this, you can spot the missing vowels! |
> tr --delete 'aeiou'
If y cn rd ths, y cn spt th mssng vwls!

"In the following example, tr replaces characters and reduces pairs of identical characters to single characters:

$ echo tennessee | tr --squeeze-repeats 'tnse' 'srne'
serene

"The next example replaces each sequence of nonalphabetic characters (the complement of all the alphabetic characters as specified by the character class alpha) in the file draft1 with a single NEWLINE character. The output is a list of words, one per line.

$ tr --complement --squeeze-repeats '[:alpha:]' '\n' < draft1

"The final example uses character classes to upshift the string hi there:

$ echo hi there | tr '[:lower:]' '[:upper:]'
HI THERE
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