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Redirecting Standard Output in Linux

In Linux, the command-line interface (CLI) is an integral part of the system that offers vast capabilities for text manipulation and system control. One of the fundamental features that power this versatility is the concept of " redirection," specifically for standard output (stdout). This article dives into the mechanics of redirecting stdout, what it means, and how you can master it to enhance your CLI experience.

Redirecting stdout to a File

The most basic form of redirection is sending stdout to a file. This is commonly done using the > operator.

Here's an example using the echo command, which usually prints text to the terminal:

echo "Hello, World!" > hello.txt

In this case, rather than displaying "Hello, World!" on the terminal screen, the text gets saved in a file named hello.txt. If hello.txt doesn't exist, it will be created; if it does exist, the file will be overwritten.

Simple Redirection

The most basic form is redirecting the stdout of a command to a file using the > operator. The content of the file will be overwritten:

ls > file_list.txt

This will save the list of files in the current directory to file_list.txt.

Redirection with Append

If you want to append the stdout to an existing file, use the >> operator:

echo "This is a new line" >> hello.txt

This appends "This is a new line" to the end of existing_file.txt without removing the existing content.

Using Redirection with cat

The cat command can be used to display the content of a file, and you can redirect this output as well:

cat hello.txt > new_hello.txt

This will copy the content of source_file.txt into destination_file.txt.

Using Redirection with grep

The grep command is used to search text. The stdout, which is the search result, can be saved to a file:

grep "hello" new_hello.txt > results.txt

This saves lines containing "keyword" from search_file.txt into results.txt.

Combining Commands with Redirection

You can combine multiple commands using pipes (|) and then redirect the final output to a file:

ls -l | grep "txt" > txt_files.txt

This will list the details of all files, search for lines containing "txt", and save the result in txt_files.txt.

Redirecting Multiple Commands to One File

Using command grouping, you can redirect the stdout of multiple commands to a single file:

{ echo "Date: "; date; echo "Uptime: "; uptime; } > system_info.txt

Redirecting stdout Does Not Mean Redirecting stderr

It's crucial to understand that redirecting stdout doesn't automatically mean that you're redirecting stderr (Standard Error), which is the stream for error messages. By default, stdout and stderr are both displayed on the terminal, but they are separate streams.

Here is an example using the ls command to list the contents of a directory:

ls /nonexistent > output.txt 2> error.txt

In this case, ls tries to list the contents of a directory that doesn't exist. The stdout is redirected to output.txt, and stderr is redirected to error.txt. Even though output.txt will be empty (since there's no standard output), error.txt will contain the error message.

Life of Redirection: Session-Specific or Permanent?

Redirection in Linux is generally temporary and specific to the command where you apply it. Once the command executes, the redirection ceases, and future commands will use the default streams unless redirected again. It's essential to understand that redirection in this form does not change any system-wide settings or affect other terminal sessions.

However, you can make permanent redirections within the context of a script. For example, you might have a shell script that redirects output to a specific log file every time it runs. But even in this case, the redirection is confined to the behavior dictated by that particular script.


Understanding stdout redirection is pivotal for anyone looking to master the Linux command line. By learning how to redirect output to files or other commands, you can automate tasks, simplify debugging, and manage your system more effectively. The concept might seem simple, but its applications are countless, from logging system events to complex data manipulations in shell scripts. Happy redirecting!

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