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How To Parse CSV Files In Bash Scripts In Linux

Work With CSV Files In Bash Scripts

By Karthick
Published: Updated: 19.5K views

Comma-separated values aka CSV is a semi-structured data that uses comma as the delimiter to separate the words. CSV file formats are very popular among data professionals since they have to deal with a lot of CSV files and process it to create insights. In this article, we will be focusing on how to parse CSV files in Bash shell scripts in Linux.

In most parts of this article, I will be using awk and sed tools for csv parsing instead of combining different commands like grep, cut, tr, etc.

The awk utility reduces the complexity of piping multiple commands or writing a loop with logic to grab the data. Instead, you can write a one-liner code in awk to do the job.

1. Preparing CSV File For Processing

Your CSV file may be generated from a database, an API, or you might have run some commands and converted the output to delimit in CSV format. In any of the cases, you have to first analyze the dataset before running your logic on top of it.

As a best practice, you should cleanse your dataset before using it. Why should we cleanse the dataset? There may be situations where there will be empty cell values or no proper formatting in headers, extra columns that are not required for processing, and many more.

I am using the below CSV data, which I grabbed from Kaggle for demonstration purposes.

1,SC Ganguly,8-Jul-72,Left_Hand,Right-arm medium,
2,BB McCullum,27-Sep-81,Right_Hand,Right-arm medium,
3,RT Ponting,19-Dec-74,Right_Hand,Right-arm medium,
4,DJ Hussey,15-Jul-77,Right_Hand,Right-arm offbreak,Australia
5,Mohammad Hafeez,17-Oct-80,,Right-arm offbreak,Pakistan
6,R Dravid,11-Jan-73,,Right-arm offbreak,India
7,W Jaffer,16-Feb-78,,Right-arm offbreak,India
8,V Kohli,5-Nov-88,,Right-arm medium,India
9,JH Kallis,16-Oct-75,,Right-arm fast-medium,South Africa
10,CL White,18-Aug-83,Right_Hand,Legbreak googly,Australia
11,MV Boucher,3-Dec-76,Right_Hand,Right-arm medium,South Africa
12,B Akhil,7-Oct-77,Right_Hand,Right-arm medium-fast,India
13,AA Noffke,30-Apr-77,Right_Hand,Right-arm fast-medium,Australia
14,P Kumar,2-Oct-86,Right_Hand,Right-arm medium,India
15,Z Khan,7-Oct-78,Right_Hand,Left-arm fast-medium,India

1.1. Replace Empty Cells

In some cases, the CSV file will not have any values in particular cells. Take a look at the below screenshot where there are some empty cells between the columns.

Sample csv file
Sample CSV File

I would always replace it with "NA" or "No Value", so there will be no empty cells. You can use the following awk snippet to replace any empty cell with your desired value. In this case, I am replacing the empty cells with "No value".

awk 'BEGIN{FS=",";OFS=","}
        if($i == ""){
         $i="No Value"
    }' ~/Downloads/Player.csv > player_cleaned.csv

The way this snippet works is I am setting the field separator and output field separator to comma (FS=",";OFS=","). Using for loop, iterate through each cell in a line, and if a cell is found empty ($i == "") then replace it with "No value" ($i="No value"). You have to redirect the changes to a new file.

1.2. Capitalize The Header

CSV files may or may not have headers. But if there is a header I would always capitalize it for better readability. You can do it easily using awk or sed. I will show you both the ways.

awk 'BEGIN{FS=",";OFS=","}
            print toupper($0)
        } else {
    }' player.csv > player_cleaned.csv

Here, we are checking if the line is first-line using(NR==1) and using the toupper() function to capitalize it. The same snippet can be written as a one-liner.

awk 'NR==1{ print toupper($0) }NR>1' player.csv > player_cleaned.csv

Using awk, you have to again redirect the changes to a new file. Instead, you can use 'sed' to modify the changes directly into the file. Here \U converts the case to uppercase. If you want to do lowercase conversion, use \L.

$ sed -i -e '1 s/(.*)/\U\1/' player_cleaned.csv
$ cat player_cleaned.csv

1.3. Remove Trailing Comma

Your CSV file may have a comma at the end. To clean the trailing commas, you can follow the below method.

I have purposely added a trailing comma from lines 7 to 11 in my data file.

CSV File With Trailing Commas
CSV File With Trailing Commas

To remove all the trailing commas, run the following sed command:

$ sed -i 's/,$//' ~/Documents/player_cleaned.csv
Remove Trailing Commas In CSV File
Remove Trailing Commas In CSV File

Now we are done with the cleaning part. There may be a few more steps required for you but that depends on how your CSV file is structured and what needs to be cleaned.

2. Pretty Print CSV File In Terminal

If you are trying to display the CSV files in the terminal, then there are a few options where you can print the file in tabular format which will give you better readability.

2.1. Column Command

The first approach is to use the column command. Column command accepts a separator which is set to comma and a delimiter to split the column which is set to tab in the below command. You can also set your own custom delimiters.

$ cat player_cleaned.csv | column -s, -t
$ column -s, -t player_cleaned.csv
Display CSV File With Column Command
Display CSV File With Column Command

2.2. CSV Look Command

Csvlook is a utility that comes with the csvkit package. There is no need to set a delimiter as we did with the column command.

$ cat player_cleaned.csv | csvlook
$ csvlook player_cleaned.csv
Display CSV File With Csvlook Utility
Display CSV File With Csvlook Utility

2.3. Python Pretty Table

If you have the python prettytable module installed, then you can run the following one-liner and redirect the CSV file to generate the table.

python -c "import sys,prettytable; print(prettytable.from_csv(sys.stdin))" < player_cleaned.csv

You can also create an alias for the one-liner and pass the file name as an argument.

$ alias ptable='python -c "import sys,prettytable; print(prettytable.from_csv(sys.stdin))"'
$ ptable < player_cleaned.csv
Display CSV File With PrettyTable Module
Display CSV File With PrettyTable Module

3. Grabbing Data From CSV File

To get the number of columns in the CSV file, run the following command. Here the variable NF represents the number of fields split by a comma as the delimiter.

$ awk -F, 'END{print NF}' player_cleaned.csv

To get the number of rows, run the following command. Here the variable NR represents the current record (i.e) each line is considered as one record.

$ awk -F, 'END{print NR}' player_cleaned.csv

To skip the first line (header) and calculate the number of lines, run the following command.

$ awk -F, 'END{print NR-1}' player_cleaned.csv

This is pretty simple. You can use cat or awk to print the entire CSV file.

$ cat player_cleaned.csv
$ awk '{print}' player_cleaned.csv

Printing the header alone will give you a nice overview of what type of data your CSV file holds. You can use the head or awk command to grab the header alone.

$ head -n 1 player_cleaned.csv
$ awk 'NR==1' player_cleaned.csv


3.4. Exclude Header Line

To exclude the header line and print all other lines use the awk command. The awk variable NR > 1 will make the first line to be skipped.

$ awk '(NR>1)' player_cleansed.csv
Awk - Exclude Header Line
Awk - Exclude Header Line

Sed can also be used to exclude the first line and print all other lines. The 1d flag will delete the first line and print all other lines to stdout (Terminal).

$ sed 1d < player_cleaned.csv
Sed - Exclude Header Line
Sed - Exclude Header Line

We can use the column position to print the entire column. There are two approaches to achieve this. The first approach will be to use awk and the second approach will be to use loops. Awk will be much simpler to grab the column.

Awk by default splits the line based on the delimiter and stores the values in $1, $2, $3, etc. The default delimiter for awk is white space.

Take a look at the below snippet where the field separator(FS=",") and output field separator(OFS=",") is set to comma. The print statement will print the first column, second column, and sixth column.

awk 'BEGIN{FS=",";OFS=","}
        print $1,$2,$6
    }' player_cleansed.csv

You can write the above snippet in one-liner too.

awk 'BEGIN{FS=",";OFS=","}{print $1,$2,$6}' player_cleansed.csv
Print Specific Columns
Print Specific Columns

Now the second approach would be to use loops.

while read -r -a fields
    echo ${fields[0]},${fields[1]},${fields[5]}
done < player_cleaned.csv

Let me explain what exactly happens when you run the above snippet.

  • We are setting the Internal field separator IFS to comma.
  • Using the read command we are creating an array named "fields" and redirecting the input file to the while loop.
  • For each iteration, it will read line by line and store the line as array elements in "fields" so you can use the array index position to grab the particular column alone.

Note: Index value starts from 0..N

If you wish to print the rows that match a certain condition, then you can do it easily using awk. Let’s go over a few scenarios.

To print all the rows that match a value in a column, run the following command. Here I am trying to print all rows that match the value "India" in column 6.

$ awk -F , '$6 == "India"' player_cleaned.csv
Conditional Match
Conditional Match

To print all rows that do not match a certain value, run the following command. Instead of an equality operator, we are using not equal operator.

$ awk -F , '$6 != "India"' player_cleaned.csv
Inverse Condition
Inverse Condition

You can also do a condition check on more than one column using logical AND, logical OR operator. Let’s say I want to check all the rows that have the country as "India" and the batting hand as "Right_hand".

Here, $4 points to the 4th column and $6 points to the 6th column. The symbol && is used as a logical AND operator to evaluate two conditions.

$ awk -F , '$4 == "Right_Hand" && $6 == "India"' player_cleaned.csv
Multiple Conditional Check
Multiple Conditional Check

If you wish to include the header along with the result from the conditional check, use the following command. First I am printing the first line using NR==1, then using the logical AND operator running the conditional check to print the results.

$ awk 'NR==1' player_cleaned.csv && awk -F , '$4 == "Right_Hand" && $6 == "India"' player_cleaned.csv

If you wish to print or redirect the output, then run the entire command inside a subshell by enclosing it with brackets.

$ (awk 'NR==1' player_cleaned.csv && awk -F , '$4 == "Right_Hand" && $6 == "India"' player_cleaned.csv) | column -t -s,
Conditional Check - Header Included
Conditional Check - Header Included

A note about Csvkit

So far whatever we have seen in this article is simple and straightforward. But when your CSV file has a complex structure, then it becomes tedious to parse using the above approach. There is a utility called CSVKIT, which is an excellent utility to work with CSV files in bash.

The problem with the csvkit utility is it is installed by default in your distribution and you might have to manually install it. In your corporate environment, this may not be possible since there may be some restrictions to installing external packages. But this utility is worth the mention and we will create a separate detailed article for it.


In this guide, we have seen how to work with CSV files using awk, sed. You can also use other utilities like cut, grep, tr, etc to get the desired result but awk and sed will make your life simpler and reduce the complexity of writing a lot of codes. If you have any feedback do mention it in the comment section and we will be happy to hear it from you.

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Jordi March 3, 2022 - 1:03 pm

Take a look at Miller (mlr). Far more powerful and easier.

sk March 3, 2022 - 2:17 pm

Thanks. Never knew this tool existed. I will look into it.


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