bash: split output of command by columns


I want to do this:

  1. run a command
  2. capture the output
  3. select a line
  4. select a column of that line

Just as an example, let's say I want to get the command name from a $PID (please note this is just an example, I'm not suggesting this is the easiest way to get a command name from a process id - my real problem is with another command whose output format I can't control).

If I run ps I get:

  PID TTY          TIME CMD
11383 pts/1    00:00:00 bash
11771 pts/1    00:00:00 ps

Now I do ps | egrep 11383 and get

11383 pts/1    00:00:00 bash

Next step: ps | egrep 11383 | cut -d" " -f 4. Output is:

<absolutely nothing/>

The problem is that cut cuts the output by single spaces, and as ps adds some spaces between the 2nd and 3rd columns to keep some resemblance of a table, cut picks an empty string. Of course, I could use cut to select the 7th and not the 4th field, but how can I know, specially when the output is variable and unknown on beforehand.

10/27/2009 10:26:44 AM

Accepted Answer

One easy way is to add a pass of tr to squeeze any repeated field separators out:

$ ps | egrep 11383 | tr -s ' ' | cut -d ' ' -f 4
10/27/2009 10:34:49 AM

I think the simplest way is to use awk. Example:

$ echo "11383 pts/1    00:00:00 bash" | awk '{ print $4; }'

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